Carneros Inn & Spa
By Kathy Chin Leong
We passed it on the highway. And then we doubled back to find a property that looked like row housing-rows and rows of small bungalows with shiny corrugated tin roofs. On this girl’s getaway with my mom, we didn’t know what to think, even as we drove up to the knoll where we found the restaurant and check-in reception desk.
The Carneros Inn & Spa is the newest property in the Napa Valley. Opened in 2004, it is a high-end, theme-oriented resort that draws primarily from the dairy and farming culture of the Carneros region, sandwiched between the town of Napa and Sonoma on Highway 121. And there it is, right on Hwy 121, a sliver of an exit that is very, very easy to miss.
But after you stay here, you will never forget it. The Carneros is an amazing and unique resort, which is a shining star for the Carneros region.
So, as I said before, there are bungalows remininsceint of the workers’ dorms. But the inside furnishings are anything but country-style. Within each of the Brazilian hardwood floor cottages, there is a plasma television hanging on the wall, CD/DVD player, free DVDs for checkout at the reception area, slate fireplace with kindling and firewood, a large bathroom with warmed slate flooring, and a deep soaking tub, and a separate shower with multiple shower heads (called a Vichy shower which is very, very expensive to purchase and install).
High-tech and high-style reign here interposed with authentic, black-and-white photos of Carneros region families and workers. The dark wood furnishings of a desk with simple lines, matching bed with laundry-fresh, white comforters and pillows, votive candles in palm-sized clear glass holders, and a unique imitation brown-and-white cow-hide chaise make up the room’s décor.
Each cottage features a colorful front door, a rocking chair on the porch, and a backyard patio with deck, outdoor shower, and furniture for lounging and eating. Since the property is new, plantings are still in their growth stages and are still small in size. Rates start at $350.
The owners have made this place a hideaway from the stresses of city life, and here it lives up to its mission. The on-prem Hilltop Restaurant overlooks the rest of the vineyards, and in the summer, folks can eat outdoors at the vast stone table.
Dinner at The Hilltop , which is only open to guests, features a nicely appointed one-page menu that changes seasonally. Food is fresh, tasty, elegantly presented. Further, the chef pays special attention made to regional products such as local goat cheese, grapes, and of course, wine.
Prices are reasonable at $19 for the asparagus and lemon risotto to $26 for the rack of lamb with Castroville artichokes and kalamata olive sauce. It is worth staying here to eat, as the Hilltop rivals any of of the popular restaurants in St. Helena, Yountville, and Napa. Be sure to stay for dessert. Each item is only $7, and you’ll die over the vanilla crème brulee stuffed in lemon crepes with blackberry sauce and lemon sage ice cream.
Although we didn’t try the on-site BoonFly Café , this kitcshy venue is targeted for the breakfast and lunch crowd with hearty, uncomplicated fare. Breakfasts start at $5, very reasonable for the area.
Careful attention to detail is made to virtually every aspect of interior and exterior decor. The outdoor patio with adobe fireplace is linked to the small spa and the infinity swimming pool and jacuzzi, with water that overlaps the edges. The pool looks out to the Carneros region vineyards, so you are literally on the premises of the earthy farmland, another irony as you swim in this salt-water fed, designer heated pool. You will see horses swinging their tails in the field next door, and the spa will give you horsie-treats to feed to the animals.
Everything is integrated well on this site except the exercise center which should be close to the spa and showers. For now, the exercise room is inside one of the resort’s bungalows. A few exercise machines and weights make up the "center." When I went to work out, I had to find it on the map and drive there because I was unfamiliar with the territory. With a couple of people inside already, the room seemed a bit crowded, so I turned around and went back to the cottage. There was always swimming for exercise.
The well-appointed spa features a small gift shop, showers, separate lounging rooms for men and women, and a handful of treatment rooms. A couple’s massage is done in the privacy of your own bungalow, and the masseuses here are professsional and polite.
In keeping with the dairy and environmental theme, you can choose spa treatments with names such as: the grapeseed facial (75 minutes for $150), the warm goat butter massage (30 minutes for $65), and the goat milk manicure (45 minutes for $60).
The quiet and solitude of this property, away from the wineries and town shops, made us slow down our hearts and minds. While I went swimming, mom lounged by the lobby fireplace reading and writing.
We give the Carneros Inn owners a thumbs up in creating a retreat that is respectful of the hard-working dairy culture that has made the fertile region the success that it is today. The bungalow design, the antique photos, the spa locker room with trough-like sinks, and fountains installed in huge aluminum tubs on the premises hail to the farm life existence with a twenty-first century flair.
During our stay several months ago, service was spotty as we waited for golf cart attendants to give us a ride to dinner. The message was never relayed even though we called ahead of time. And then after dinner, the attendants who promised to pick us up also never arrived. Many, many apologizies were made, which more than made up for the little mistakes.
We are confident that the management will work out these minor kinks as the staff continues to hone the expediency of its customer service. Staff is courteous, upbeat, and friendly which made our stay relaxing, pleasant, and on our list of "places-to-go-again."
Carneros Inn and Spa
4048 Sonoma Hwy
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