Destination: Carneros InnModern cottages in California's Wine Country

The Carneros Inn has blossomed. Turning off of Highway 12, which runs from Sonoma to Calaveras counties in Northern California, we barely recognized the entrance to the sprawling 27 acre resort, dotted with standalone cottages, hotel facilities and rental homes. We were here more than a decade ago, soon after the resort opened its doors. At the time, the Carneros Inn looked as if it had sprung straight up out of the dust, its property surrounded by stark corrugated aluminum fences with very little foliage adorning the freshly razed hillside.

Hilltop DIning Room - Patio - 09 - The Carneros Inn (to send)

The Hilltop patio and pool with a verdant vineyard view.

Today, both the landscaping and the surrounding neighborhoods have grown up around the simple but well-appointed buildings. The property is home to quince, fig, apple and pear trees, as well as fragrant (and drought-resistant) shrubs and herbs like lavender and rosemary.

The layout of the hotel is a tad odd; meeting rooms, the bar and the fitness center, as well as Farm Restaurant, are located near the property’s entrance. To get to reception, the spa, and a private dining area, one must drive or walk to the opposite end of the property, traversing the meandering access roads that run by the cottages and up a hill, known appropriately, as Hilltop. Still, the trek is worth it; when the weather is clear, the pool area just past the front desk has a glorious view of vineyards and the surrounding hills.


Our cottage surrounded by native trees and shrubs.

Our Premier Garden Cottage was full of natural sunlight, with a small sitting area just inside the front door and a plush King bed, with a patio door opening onto a private deck, which we couldn’t enjoy thanks to a torrential – but welcome – rain storm. The large bathroom, also filled with plenty of natural light, featured dual sinks, a walk-in shower and a separate soaking tub. A clever swinging glass door opened into a private outdoor shower, which would be perfect for warm, summer days. Amenities are by Red Flower, a New-York-based purveyor of natural bath and body products. The Carneros Inn uses the Italian Blood Orange scent, dispensed from large pump containers, in lieu of little individual-use plastic bottles, which cuts back on waste. Guests who wish to take the bottles with them will be charged, or they can purchase their own in the boutique.

The Spa at the Carneros Inn is clean and simply decorated, with treatment rooms both inside and out, as well as a couple’s suite. Certain treatments pay homage to the surrounding flora and fauna, including a goat milk body wrap that’s made from local goat milk. The spa’s signature scent, Wine Blossom, was created after asking local residents about their favorite neighborhood smells. Seasonal specials change throughout the year, and during our visit included winter mint and warming ginger-scented massages. The spa also offers salon services, and is one of the handful of places that uses Vinylux, a professional nail polish line by Creative Nail Design (the same company behind Shellac) that last nearly as long as gel, without the damaging UV light, and without the need to soak nails in acetone for removal.

A treatment room at the Carneros Inn spa.

A treatment room at the Carneros Inn spa.

Dining choices at the Carneros Inn include Farm restaurant and the more casual Boonfly Café at the property’s entrance, as well as the Hilltop Dining Room adjacent to reception. The latter serves breakfast and lunch exclusively for hotel guests, and is also used as a venue for private group dinners. Cuisine is typical Northern California fare, with an emphasis on local ingredients. We were particularly pleased the catering staff served Vignette, a refreshing, non-alcoholic soda made from local varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The staff at the Carneros Inn is friendly, with a more casual, down-home vibe than the precise, attentive service one would find at more formal resorts. For the most part, we were left to do our own thing, though they always did their best to help when asked. Like Wine Country itself, the Carneros Inn offers relaxed and modern surroundings, all grown up into a quaint little community that makes the best of Northern California’s bounty and beauty.

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