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Guide to Visiting Sonoma

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Carlson

Just 40 miles north of San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge is the Sonoma Valley, northern California’s food and wine mecca — and my getaway destination!

I select the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa as my base of operations because I’m interested in its facilities and its history. Other properties in the area are recent products of the wine tasting boom, but the Sonoma Mission Inn began welcoming guests in 1895, when travelers came to heal in its thermal springs.

I step out of the car and into springtime green. Flowing water in fountains and pools soothes the senses and whispers promises of spa rejuvenation. An attentive staff member escorts me to my luxurious suite where I discover the complimentary bottle of wine provided for all guests. Sipping my California wine, I contemplate first the view from the balcony over the manicured landscape and then the suite, complete with a wood-burning fireplace. Bursts of color in the room mirror the landscape. A pink orchid perfectly complements the neutral-toned marble vanity in the bathroom.

The room is prepared for romance. The Jacuzzi tub is spacious enough for two and a separate glass shower stall leaves the choice to the guest. The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn Signature Apricot and Cream products are a pleasant surprise, from shower gel to shampoo, conditioner, lotion and bath salts. I have never before been convinced by a sample, but after the first application, I’m hooked and ready to try the spa!

A range of treatments, including massages and facials, are available, but it is the mineral waters that make this spa unique. With the waters flowing from 1,100 feet beneath the Inn at 135 degrees, guests are encouraged to engage in the thermal bathing ritual. (Because the ritual is co-ed, a bathing suit is required.) From a warm bath, guests take the plunge into the hot pool. Next a cool shower, herbal steam and dry heat of the sauna work their magic. Re-hydrating drinks are provided throughout. After completing the ritual, I recline in the (aptly named) Serenity Lounge.

Currently on offer is a package called the “Royal Treatment Day Spa.” Guests are invited to choose two 50-minute spa experiences from the extensive list and also receive either a classic manicure or shampoo/blow dry. Complete with a spa gift and fruit smoothie, this day at the spa promises to be like no other. After relaxing by the fire in the lounge, I leave the spa with an appreciation for why people travel far to experience the healing touch of these waters.

My “perfect day” is capped by a visit to the Inn’s 4-star, 4- diamond restaurant, Santé. The dining room features progressive wine country cuisine, utilizing local and organic products. The culinary delights began with the descriptions of the ‘farm to fork’ cuisine from the knowledgeable staff. A helpful sommelier assists in the pairing of wines and the presentation of food begins.

Lamb and Kobe-style beef are perfectly seared. Executive chef Andrew Cain and his professional staff design works of sculpture that appear on my plate. Attention to detail has earned Santé coverage in Gourmet Magazine and Condé Nast Traveler. The wine list features over 300 Sonoma and Napa wines. The chef is committed to seasonal cooking with local produce and the result is elegantly simple dishes that allow the wines of the region to shine. A decadent chocolate tasting dessert concludes the meal, allowing us to sample different types of chocolate.

A mature 75-year-old golf course is yet another feather in the Inn’s cap. The 177-acre Sonoma Golf Club course, lined with massive oaks and lakes, has a reputation of being one of northern California’s best courses. I’m anxious to put myself to the test, but first a “Pilates for golf” class with instructor Jeannette Newman. Many of the best pro golfers are making Pilates part of their fitness regimen to increase strength and flexibility. Once on the historic golf course, we enjoyed the challenging play and spectacular views of the Mayacamas Mountain range to the east and Sonoma Mountain Range to the west.

Thoughtful touches such as boxed lunches and bottled water at resting stations are appreciated. We learned that the course has been selected as the home of the PGA Champions Tour season ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship. Otherwise, the Sonoma Golf Club is reserved exclusively for members and guests of the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. With the two facilities located less than a mile apart, guests can easily return to the healing waters of the spa after a round of golf.

On my final day, I decide it’s time to see more of the valley which boasts more than 250 of the world’s best wineries. The Inn suggests a wine tasting at Chateau St. Jean and there I learn that a unique combination of sun, soil and climate create singular wines to this region. The best way to discover the influences is to do your own tasting — my kind of work! Private tastings, picnics and receptions can be arranged as well.

My explorations are a success and I have arranged for a case of my new, favorite wine to be shipped back home. From my private verandah, I reflect back on the weekend. The Fairmont Sonoma Inn & Spa has a winning formula. Whether it’s the excellent food and wine, golfing, or the thermal springs spa, guests will be enchanted and impressed. My every whim has been satisfied and I am left to watch the playing of sun and shade over the surrounding vineyards.