In Calistoga, at the northernmost end of Napa Valley, the rain falls on surrounding vineyards like dispirited tears. Checking into tony Solage, an Auberge Resort on such a doleful day might seem a despondent act—after all, I won’t be able to use the complimentary cruiser bike that comes with my cottage, and hiking into town promises to be a dreary affair. Even thoughts of visiting the myriad, nearby wineries gives me pause. The weather’s uncharacteristically blustery, and a hot toddy sounds far better than a plethora of pours. Frankly, a snuggle by the fire calls—and my two traveling companions, Max Ernst and Huckleberry Finn, a German Shepherd and English Setter respectively, have no desire to traipse anywhere with me outdoors in the rain.
But just as I lose hope, I remember Spa Solage. It seems the perfect place to recoup my sense of wellbeing, to warm myself to my toes. So, I tuck my pooches safely into fluffy dog beds, put up the “Do Not Disturb” sign, and head over to the 89-room resort’s gleaming wellness oasis, a tranquil sanctum, in an already restorative hotel. Calistoga itself, by far my favorite hamlet in Napa Valley, built atop a mineral spring, casts a mood of heart-slowing therapy. Eschewing elements of wine country snobbery, emitting a modicum of old hippie appeal and presenting a quirky mom-and-pop shop chic, the town, dotted with spots to bathe, feels cosseting. But Solage, fully comprehending what makes Calistoga unique, builds on that vibe, and subtly takes it to stylish heights.
At the Bathhouse, adjacent to the warm, geo-thermal pool, my partner and I check in for Solage Spa’s Mudslide treatment, an adventure sure to awaken even the most cantankerous adult’s inner child.
At the Bathhouse, adjacent to the warm, geo-thermal pool, my partner and I check in for Solage Spa’s Mudslide treatment, an adventure sure to awaken even the most cantankerous adult’s inner child. By far, the spa’s most emblematic offering, Mudslide takes the detoxifying, health-inducing, mud-wallowing, tradition of dirt and mulch bathing, standard to the European Alps as well as Calistoga, and combines it with the ancient Roman and Japanese ritual of hot pool soaking. Spa Solage’s contemporary rendition of a classic mud bath has three parts. It begins with personal buckets of warm, volcanic mud. Offered essential oil blends to magnify and customize the mud’s healing properties, we choose one each to add to our grey goop (I opt for an energizing blend, rife with geranium and other floral essences.) Next, ensconced in a private, hamman-like room, we smear mud all over our naked bodies, head to toe. Sheathed in it, cucumbers capping our eyes, we rest until the mud dries, finally rinsing off in outdoor showers—even in the rain. In the next room, oversized bath tubs filled with geo-thermal water, await. After soaking for a spell, we head to the last station. There, we ease into sleek anti-gravity chairs, which seem to hover in time and space. Cozy in fluffy robes, eyes covered, we are told that twenty minutes resting here equals a two-hour deep sleep. To make her point, the attendant applies the coup de gras. She places headphones (that buzz a harmonic vibration) over our ears. The moment feels like being lost in a prayer.
During my time at Solage, well fed at Michelin-star Solbar, happily tippling local wine at surrounding wineries, I determine that I prefer the weather misty, melancholy and wet. That ensures that I continue to take advantage of Spa Solage, and its handsome, richly decked out, spa and wellness area. I join a meditation class with Tim Carl, a former winemaker turned mindfulness guru, who leads intensely intimate and profound contemplative sessions—most notably one that combines photography with awareness.
But my ultimate treatment happens on my birthday. That’s when I meet Robert, Solage’s unadvertised shaman, a thoroughly mystical man who exudes curative energy. At first glance, even from across the geo-thermal pool, while he fusses with setting up crystal bowls, tuning forks, blankets, and towels on the water’s verge, I sense his powers. A gentle soul, a Reiki master, Chopra-trained meditation teacher, massage therapist, and Watsu master, Robert has volumes of resources—but the strongest force comes right from his heart. Just a moment in his aura, and I feel the world unfold and my personal paths illuminate. Trusting him, I try an off-the-menu (request it) aqua vibration experience. It starts with Watsu in the pool, during which Robert helps me stretch my limbs and open my energy channels. It ends snuggled into a floating hammock, drifting peacefully to the sounds of crystal singing bowls and Robert’s ministrations with vibrational healing techniques.
Solage, an Auberge Resort, is meant to be a getaway for oenophile’s in the Wine Country. But its peerless Spa Solage, fully cognizant of our human need for recalibration, makes it a destination for wellness aficionados, too.
Becca Hensley is Editor at Large for Insider's Guide to Spas. Based in Austin, she writes regularly about travel and spas. She believes a good story draws you in like laughter in a crowded room, and challenges you to do it justice. Her work appears regularly in Austin Monthly, Travel Channel, Toronto Star and National Geographic Traveler.