Wine Travel Adventure

Bay Area & California travel blog

Category: Hotels & Lodging (page 1 of 2)

The many pleasures of Sonoma

Sonoma County is a land of sprawling beauty. Vineyards and wineries abound, as do secret, forested hideaways with pot farms. It is a place of rivers and redwoods, mountains and warm inland valleys, and a rocky, rugged coastline where cool fog and winds blow in from the Pacific.

The view from Viansa Sonoma, at the gateway to the Sonoma Valley.

Less than an hour from San Francisco, it boasts a number of charming small towns of rural flavor—Sonoma itself, Glen Ellen, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Bodega Bay—each with its own unique history and virtues. There are Michelin-starred restaurants, sidewalk cafés, hipster bistros, tasting rooms, brewpubs, organic fruit and flower marts, gardens galore, oak-laden parks, and lots of cute shopping streets filled with boutiques of every kind.

It’s an awesome place to spend a day, or a week, or however long you have. Here is a quick peek at a few of Sonoma’s many pleasures: Continue reading

Meet you at the Grape Crusher, gateway to Napa Valley

One of the unexpected pleasures of a visit to wine country is how much art there is to see, and these pleasures include the Grape Crusher Statue, a landmark monument at Vista Point in Napa Valley.

Since its erection in the 1980s millions of cars have driven by it and hundreds of thousands of people have stopped to see it. In this sense it is like the “Welcome to Napa Valley” signs on Highway 29—a place to meet up and shoot selfies and have pictures to show the folks back home that you were there, you really were in the land of wine.

At least one couple has gotten married at the Grape Crusher. And its creator, sculptor Gino Miles, jokes that one or two babies may have been made up there too. There is a small parking lot there, a perfect spot for having lunch, enjoying the views, and apparently doing other things as well.

“I’m not from around here,” a woman visitor told this writer as she was trying to find the right angle to take a picture of the Grape Crusher. “But I saw it driving by the other night when I was going to a concert, and I had to come back and see it.”

Those who do what she did—stop and get a closer look at the Grape Crusher—are rewarded by picturesque views of the surrounding hills, Napa River and the wetlands of San Francisco Bay. It is not called Vista Point for nothing. Continue reading

Chic and tasty dining at Solbar in Calistoga


Even before you enter the lovely dining room of Solbar, the surrounding Solage Resort has begun to work its magic. Comfortable outdoor seating and contemporary fountains—some with flames rising from the water—set the casual, upscale tone.

Michelin-starred Solbar is a hotel restaurant, but looks like a chic bistro, and the superb service and food live up to expectations.

Solbar 1

We started lunch with a beet salad ($15). The beautifully prepared beets were prepared four different ways, including in chip form, and served on watercress. An unusual green goddess dressing had a strong cinnamon note.

Solbar 2

Spicy shrimp lettuce wraps ($17) are highly recommended. Tamarind-sauced rice noodles and shredded carrots nestle on avocado slices, and a traditional nam pla sauce spikes up the simply prepared shrimp. Continue reading

The Paris hotel where they shot ‘Bourne Identity,’ other spy flicks

By David Nelson

Hotel ReginaOne of the most appealing contradictions in Paris is Le Bar Anglais (The English Bar), located in the very French Hotel Régina. You may not have stayed in the Hotel Régina, but you are certainly familiar with it. If you are a movie fan, that is. In The Bourne Identity, Secret Agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) dispatches his lover/ally, Marie (Franka Potente), to retrieve crucial information contained on a hotel invoice. The hotel she enters? Hotel Régina.

In La Femme Nikita, Secret Agent Nikita (Anne Parillaud) receives orders to report for an assignment as a room service maid who must deliver a spiked breakfast tray to an important hotel guest. The hotel? Hotel Régina. Continue reading

Traveler’s guide: 11 things they do really, really well in Canada


A traveler takes in the view at Banff Hot Springs.

A traveler takes in the view at Banff Hot Springs.

By Kevin Nelson

Due to the strong dollar and the favorable exchange rate, this is a prime time for Americans to travel internationally. But where to go? There are so many possible choices. Here’s a thought: Canada. Having just returned from a weeklong trip to British Columbia and Alberta, I discovered there are lots of things to like about our neighbor to the north, lots of things they do really, really well. Here are 11 of those things: Continue reading

The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver: 50 shades of luxury

The stylish Notch 8 bar at the Hotel Vancouver.

The scoop: The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is one of Canada’s oldest and grandest hotels, known as “the Grand Dame” for its combination of stylish luxury and history. Some also call it the “Castle in the City,” a nod to its commanding architecture and central downtown location. The first Hotel Vancouver opened in 1887, and the one that stands today on West Georgia Street took more than a decade to build. When it finally opened, in May 1939, two of its first guests were royalty: King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their first tour of Canada. Continue reading

Vintage cars and the Fairmont: An elegant day in the city

The Fairmount on the Sunday of the California Mille.

The Fairmont on the Sunday of the California Mille.

The Fairmont at the top of Nob Hill is one of San Francisco’s most elegant hotels, and every year it plays host to one of the most elegant automobile events of its kind: the California Mille. The Mille, whose gala opening day takes place Sunday, April 26, is a 1,000-mile rally around the back roads of Northern California that celebrates Italy’s most famous open road race, the Mille Miglia. Sixty-seven vintage cars from around the U.S. and world will participate in this, the 25th running of the annual event.

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Serendipity and pesto sauce in Italy’s charming Liguria region

By Susan Hutchinson Arnett and Harley Arnett

The draw of Europe is irresistible with an impressive array of fascinating destinations, but the country we keep coming back to is Italy. The food is superb, the wine amazing, the art incomparable, and the ancient architecture breathtaking. Still, the attraction goes even deeper than that. The people exhibit a love for life— a relaxed, welcoming vibe that makes you feel like an invited guest rather than a bothersome traveler. And we have found no city more welcoming than Santa Margherita Ligure.Liguria 1

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A bar of legend and mystery: Alexander’s Bar in Athens

By Dave Nelson

Whenever you see CNBC’s international business reporter, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, filing a story on the latest financial/political crisis in Greece, she is standing in the same location: the rooftop garden bar at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens. Of course, most viewers don’t realize where she is. On screen all you can see is Michelle speaking with the Greek Parliament and Syntagma Square in the background.

It’s a great shot and a great view. I know because I have stood in that same spot, drinking Chablis while waiting for a table in the rooftop restaurant. The rooftop bar is nice, and I recommend it, but it is not even the best bar in the hotel. That distinction belongs to Alexander’s Bar downstairs, just off the hotel’s lobby. Legend has it the bar was named for Alexander the Great who drank his first Cosmo there after conquering the known world.

Alexander's Bar Athens

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The best hotel in the world?

Jeugiya hotel, Kyoto

No, not likely. Some people may not even consider it a hotel. Even so, acclaimed 77-year-old Italian automobile designer Giorgetto Giuigaro told WSJ’s “Off Duty” that the Jeugiya Hotel in Kyoto is one of his personal favorites, and that’s worth listening to:

            “My favorite type of hotel is one in the ancient Japanese tradition. The Jeugiya hotel in Kyoto, Japan, is exemplary. Grand hotels don’t seduce me, especially the ones recently raised up in the Middle or Far East. I like hotels that reflect the spirit of the place I’m visiting.”

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The American Bar, Savoy Hotel, Strand, London: A Reminiscence

By Dave Nelson I love hotel bars. They are stylish and over-priced, but who cares? You can drink there without staying in the over-priced rooms. Cool!

Back when the world was young, I took my wife to dinner at the Savoy Grill for her birthday. I was still in theater production back then so the Savoy seemed a natural destination. The Savoy hotel is attached to the Savoy theater, founded in 1881 by impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte with the fortune he made producing the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan.

The Savoy was the world’s first theater (indeed, the world’s first public building) powered and lighted completely by electricity. D’Oyly Carte opened the Savoy Hotel next door in 1889. The hotel was the first to feature electric lighting, elevators, continuously flowing hot-and-cold water, and private bathrooms in the most expensive suites. Cesar Ritz (of the Ritz hotels fame) was the first hotel manager. Auguste Escoffier was the hotel’s first chef.

Every major political and entertainment figure of the 20th century stayed at the Savoy. Churchill had cabinet meetings at the Savoy. (British tax dollars at work!) The Beatles stayed there, as did Babe Ruth, Frank Sinatra, George Gershwin, Enrico Caruso, Judy Garland, and Harry Truman. (American tax dollars at work!)

The celebrity list of former guests is endless and yet the Savoy Hotel still let me in the front door.

We were a bit early for the reservation so we wandered down the main corridor and found a bar. It turns out this was the American Bar, world famous, though I didn’t know it at the time. Its most celebrated bar manager had been Harry Craddock, an England-born naturalized American who deserted the States during Prohibition. (Prohibition was generally not a good time for hotel bars.)

Harry Craddock American Bar

Harry Craddock buries a cocktail shaker in the American Bar’s wall, 1927.

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5 things to do at Meadowood

Meadowood 1Meadowood in Napa Valley has a woodsy, tucked away-from-the-cares-of-the-world feel, which is precisely the point. The posh luxury resort is only minutes away from the wineries and restaurants of St. Helena, but it is still a kind of island unto itself, a Fantasy Island in the midst of wine country.

Guests entering the resort drive up a narrow road through a forested landscape with maples, oaks, redwoods and even a few palm trees here and there. The hotel rooms and lodges—which begin at $575 a night—range along the road up the canyon. Meadowood is not a place where you are going to do much driving while you are there. Guests get around via golf carts or by calling for the hotel SUV to transport them to wherever they’d like to go.

Should you be fortunate enough to find yourself living the fantasy at Meadowood, here are five suggestions on how to spend the day: Continue reading

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