Situated in the heart of wine country, sandwiched between Napa and Sonoma, the Carneros Inn is a quiet haven amidst the well-trodden wine country tourist trail. At first glance, this secret treasure might appear to be one of many throwback, charming farm properties, with barns, silos and rancher’s cottages lining the landscape. The place was designed to give you the sense that you are in a small village: Amidst the pastoral, authentic wine country feel, you won’t simply find your typical resort staples but also a gourmet market, espresso bar, bocce ball courts, an outdoor lounge and even their very own post office centered around a “town square.” Sitting on a plush 27 acres of vineyards and apple orchards, the resort has managed to strike a balance between fitting into the local agrarian scenery and providing a refined luxury experience.
There is no doubt Carneros Inn offers plenty of family-oriented activity, but the resort earns its major kudos as a lovers’ respite. Travel + Leisure calls it one of the “World’s 25 Most Romantic Getaways” and bridal media has overwhelmingly deemed Carneros Inn “a beautiful setting for any bride’s dream wedding.”
If you are looking for privacy, you are in the right place here, with 85 percent of the resort being accessible to registered guests only. The Orchard Cottages, which can be bought as a time share, contain a rustic wood-burning fireplace, private garden and deck, as well as an outdoor shower and whirlpool. Private full ownership homes and resort suites offer alternative alluring accommodations.
While you might have come to wine country to indulge in the cornucopia of local California cuisine or toss back the vintner’s libations at leisure, there is no lack of bustle for the health conscious at Carneros Inn. What I find to be a most charming inclusion is that one can take a joy ride on a complimentary cruiser bicycle. Ride over to the fitness center for a private yoga, pilates or other fitness training class. For the early riser or those uber motivated to stay active while your sweethheart lounges late in bed, they offer boot camp, zumba, and morning walks and runs through the vineyards.
Shed some stress with one of their spa treatments, all of which are inspired by the natural Carneros surroundings. Utilized ingredients include the rich minerals of the soils of Carneros and farm abundance like goat butter and milk (these have inherent skin healing abilities), as well as flowers, herbs, oils and fruits native to the area. Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Poll gave the spa a perfect 100 score for setting and service, while rating them as one of the top 55 spas in North America.
Wining & Dining
PlumpJack Group, owner of Carneros Inn, also happens to own the esteemed Cade Winery, and may offer guests comps toward a visit. With its modern, stoic design, Cade received GLR’s GreenLux Award in 2010 for Greenest American Winery and provides a stunning hilltop view of Napa Valley. Cade’s sister, PlumpJack Winery, lends itself to a more bucolic flavor, tucked away at the bottom of the Vaca Mountain range. If you are in the mood for wine tasting but don’t want to venture too far from your eden, there are wonderful options only a few minutes away: Etude Winery, located right across the street, is known for their Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, while Domaine Carneros, the local sparkling wine producer, offers a stunning backdrop to enjoy your bubbly. For a wider variety of Carneros wines, Artesa Vineyards & Winery offers all sorts of varietals and – on clear days – a view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Nothing makes you hungrier than a rough day of wine tasting out in the hot, dry sun. Luckily, travelers have a variety of dining options at their fingertips at the Inn, from the most casual deli to fine dining. While local, sustainable and organic farm-to-table fare has come to be expected in much of Northern California, the Inn takes the mantra quite seriously, endeavoring to source from within 150 miles and harvest from their own farm and orchards. On-site green thumb Peter Stonebreaker runs a half-acre culinary garden, a proudly touted feature. Taking the artisanal ideal one step further, they also bake all their own breads, pastries and charcuteries.
Executive Chef Steve Tevereruns the culinary show at Carneros Inn. After graduating from the California Culinary Academy in nearby San Francisco, Tevere worked at La Folie, Left Bank Restaurant, The Lodge at Pebble Beach and as sous chef under Nancy Oakes at Boulevard. While chef de cuisine at The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, Tevere learned the true meaning of sourcing locally and at times even drew from his own garden. He takes into consideration the concept of sustainable seafood in earnest, striving to follow the standards of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.
FARMat Carneros Inn welcomes those on the lookout for a sophisticated evening, where one can dine sumptuously in their outdoor living room-esque alfresco lounge, underneath Cathedral ceilings, next to cozy fireplaces or on the patio. Chef de Cuisine Andrew Budnyjcame to the Inn after being Sous Chef at Ubuntu, an eatery that has its own garden. He brought that garden fresh vision over to FARM, highlighting Stonebreaker’s cared for garden items and other local produce on the menu. All restaurant food waste is then put back into the culinary garden for soil reconditioning.
Budnyi explains, “Stellar ingredients are an essential part of cooking great food, so it is an exceptional opportunity to be working so closely with the people producing the food I cook with.”
The Hilltop Dining Room is just as you would imagine, with spectacular vistas of the all-encompassing vineyards and offering what they call “wine country-inspired” cuisine. Have a nightcap at the adjoining Hilltop Bar, where you can sit admiring the Brazilian cherry wood while you sip on a handmade cocktail straight from the orchards.
Looking to mingle with the locals? Head on over to Boon Fly Café, a spot named after a Carneros pioneer who grew and cultivated orchards and vineyards back in the 1800s. Somehow the place is able to magically bridge the gap between a contemporary and down-to-earth feel. They describe their style as “rustic cuisine based on the agricultural heritage of the region.”
While at Boon Fly, do not pass up the flatbread with Point Reyes Blue Cheese (whose farmstead cheese company is worth taking an afternoon trip up Highway 1), bacon, onions, portobello mushrooms and thyme. Since you are already stuffing yourself indulgently with all this fried chicken and cheese, you might as well go all out and order the truffle fries with parmesan, too, right? Wash it all down with their Bacon Bloody Mary with Smirnoff, a secret special spice blend mixed with tomato juice and garnished with a celery salt rim and an entire strip of bacon. Now that you are in this deep, it can’t really hurt to leave with a baker’s dozen of their supposedly “world famous” donuts for that oh-so-sad drive home.
Be lazy with breakfast in bed one morning during your stay; Inn staff will bring it straight to your doorstep with a private meal served in the comfort of your cottage, suite or home. For a mid-day munch after taking a dip in the infinity edged lap pool, order a sandwich from Otto’s Snack Shack and relax under a shady cabana. Or, if you are planning a day of exploring, grab a gourmet sandwich, latte, bottle of wine or other organic and artisanal picnic goodies from The Marketand espresso bar on site. Heck, they will even put together a personalized picnic basket for you if you so desire. Now, that’s first-class service. Soak it up while you can.
4048 Sonoma Highway
Napa, Calif. 94559
Photos courtesy of Carneros Inn