At the northernmost end of California’s Napa Valley sits Calistoga, a quaint town of less than three square miles and populated by little more than five thousand inhabitants. Founded in 1886 by settler and gold-rush-era business tycoon Samuel Brannan, Calistoga is known for its abundance of natural mineral springs, said by many to have healing properties.
Inspired by the resort town of Sarasota Springs in New York, Brannan snapped up 2,000 acres and is said to have drunkenly declared that he would make this “the Calistoga of Sarifornia.” The name stuck, and Calistoga today is known for its pampering resorts that make use of its mineral-rich waters and mud.
One of the gems of Calistoga is Solage, a resort that sits on its own away from the tourist crowds, yet not too far from the small, historic downtown. Solage combines a modern and progressive atmosphere with a hint of old-time nostalgia.
Like Calistoga itself, Solage is beautiful yet unpretentious. There are no gaudy, imposing structures, but rather a collection of clean, elegant, low-profile buildings that make Solage look more like a village than a hotel. Guests and staff alike can travel between buildings (or go for a ride through town) on one of the property’s many vintage-inspired Electra beach cruiser bicycles, the sight of which adds an extra element of whimsy.
The expansive property is laid out in sections connected by footpaths. Each of the 86 studios features a living area on one side, with bath facilities on the other, separated by a central partition, which provides privacy while keeping an open, airy feel. Six suites are designed with a separate living area, fireplace and a private outdoor patio with hot tub. The king bed in our suite was soft yet supportive, and we loved the small touches, such as the carafe of water with a fresh mint leaf that was left during evening turndown service.
Sustainability is a key focus at Solage. Amenities, produced by a local company using essential oils, are dispensed from large refillable containers to eliminate waste from small, single-use bottles. Buildings are painted with non-toxic, low VOC paints, and non-toxic cleaning products are used by housekeeping staff. Landscaping features drought-resistant plants, which are watered with reclaimed water from the City of Calistoga – especially important as California struggles with a severe drought.
The spa, which features a separate bath house with an outdoor swimming pool using the property’s own naturally heated spring water, features separate outdoor men’s and women’s showers and hot tubs. Couples can also rent out the entire bath house for the evening for the ultimate romantic getaway.
Solage’s signature treatment pays homage to Calistoga’s famous mud baths, which historically involved climbing into a tub of hot, heavy mud (which typically wasn’t changed out between patrons) and getting hosed off afterward. But here, the spa’s Mudslide treatment is a bit less intimidating and far less awkward. Volcanic ash is mixed with California clay, along with the property’s own mineral water (which, we’re told, contains lithium among many other elements). After initial assistance from a therapist, guests can paint themselves – or each other – with the concoction, and can, after the mud does its magic, relax afterward in a cozy chair. A short stroll away is the fitness center, which offers a wide array of the latest equipment and classes, including yoga and barre.
Solage’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Solbar, is helmed by chef Brandon Sharp, who honed his skills in the kitchen at The French Laundry, as well as San Francisco’s Gary Danko. Sharp and his staff prepare what he calls “California soul food,” using local and sustainably farmed ingredients. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, Solbar doesn’t disappoint, with a blend of traditional favorites and unique interpretations. Start your day off with Sol-pe, a playful take on California’s Mexican roots, with scrambled eggs, masa cake with chorizo and black beans in a chile verde sauce. At dinner, the menu is divided between healthier dishes and more robust comfort food. The kitchen did an excellent job accommodating our gluten-free diet, with plenty of options and a knowledgeable staff.
In fact, the service at Solage is an absolute standout. Staff is always attentive and friendly, but never obtrusive. From the moment we arrived, there was always a friendly bellman or valet in front of reception to welcome us, and continued to do so each time we passed, whether on foot or on one of our borrowed beach cruisers. Those who work at the resort, from management to housekeeping, seem as if they truly enjoy being there, and always make guests feel like they’re the top priority.
Though Solage is no secret, it remains a quiet getaway not far from the frenetic pace of San Francisco. As the area continues to grow, fueled by the area’s second tech boom, we hope Solage will keep its low-key, hideaway feel, and we definitely look forward to returning.Visit Solage Calistoga