Deep in wine country and privy to Napa's natural beauty, Carneros Resort and Spa is a bold, contemporary vision of traditional local farm structures – the distinctive tin-roofed barns, silos and rancher's cottages dotted throughout Napa Valley have informed an ultra-modern 'agri-chic' aesthetic that marries old-school decked porches, cowhide rugs and rocking chairs with Le Corbusier chaises and a colour scheme Giorgio Armani would be proud of. And you'd have to search long and hard to find a much warmer welcome anywhere in the world.
Eighty-six cottages, including 10 suites and 24 private homes.
Noon, but check with reception as late check-out is sometimes available. Earliest check-in is 4pm.
Double rooms from £893.25 ($1,094), including tax at 15.292 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional service charge of $45.00 per room per night on check-out.
There's a team of concierge staff who are extremely knowledgable about the region, its vineyards and pursuits.
At the hotel
Gardens, luxury fitness centre and spa, spa boutique, private fitness training, free bikes to borrow, concierge team; in-room plasma TVs, free Internet access, underfloor heating, wood-burning fires, and free in-room water, sodas and coffee.
Our favourite rooms
All the cottages have private gardens, patios and decks with gas heaters and romantic outdoor showers. Note that cottage suites consist of two separate cottages connected by a private patio (ideal for families or groups of friends). Vineyard suites have the nicest views, but the cottages represent better value for money.
The large adults-only outdoor heated infinity pool has lovely countryside views and a hot tub to enjoy them from; there's another infinity pool for families, with a hot tub and separate children's pool, too.
The luxury spa offers suitably farm-inspired treatments, such as Swedish massages with orange oil and olive rosemary body scrubs.
Swimwear (you'll be gutted if you forget it); comfortable shoes for walking and post-wine-tasting moments of instability; a great book; yoga kit.
There's a dedicated family pool area and the hotel can organise a host of family activities, from art classes or cheese-making to horse-riding, helicopter trips to babysitting.
Children of all ages are welcome.
Family Suites consist of adjoining cottages with a shared patio, so they're perfect for families – kids will love the alfresco showers. Suites, Two-Bedroom Residences and Private Homes also offer more shared space for families.
The hotel can organise a host of family-friendly activities at the hotel or in Napa, from art classes, cheese-making and nature walks to horse- riding and helicopter trips. This child-friendly hotel's concierge team will contact you before you arrive to find out what sort of things you'd like to do, meaning that finding activities to keep you and your children entertained is a breeze. There are family bikes to borrow on site.
There's an additional dedicated family pool area with a children's pool.
Room service is available 7am till 10pm.
Babysitting can be arranged; rates vary according to time and day. Try to give the concierge as much notice as possible.
There's a library of DVDs to pick from, with many suitable for children. The chefs can create personalised picnic baskets with 24 hours' notice.
Fires stocked with 'good wood'; rocking chairs made of recycled materials; geo-thermal heating and cooling system; menus are geared towards sustainable farming methods and local organic produce.
Take dress-down Friday and then dress it down even more. If you wear heels, you'll only scuff them on the gravel paths.
The Farm serves local organic produce in an alfresco lounge setting with wood-burning fireplaces. It's closed on Monday and Tuesdays though, opening up for dinner during the rest of the week. Boonfly Café serves breakfast, lunch and light meals.
Kick back in Farm's buzzy outdoor lounge bar with a bottle of regional red.
Boonfly Café is open until 9pm; Farm at the Carneros Inn stays open until 10pm.
Order meals to your bed from 7am to 10pm; order a bottle of wine before last orders to drink on your private deck.
The nearest airport is Napa County, just over 10 minutes' drive away. For international flights, you'll need San Francisco airport, which is around an hour away, or Oakland airport is an hour-and-forty-minutes away by car. BA fly direct to both from London. Call our Smith24 team to book your flights.
The Napa Valley Wine Train station is a 10-minute drive from the hotel.
Head north from San Francisco – the drive should take just under an hour.
Worth getting out of bed for
The hotel's pool, spa and private Wine-ins (tastings with a local expert) will keep you occupied, but the concierge can arrange white-water rafting, bike hire, kayaking, canoeing, hot-air ballooning and horseback riding on request. They'll also tip you off to the best museums and galleries nearby, such as the Di Rosa Preserve: Art & Nature on the Carneros Highway: a 217-acre estate that houses a private collection of thousands of works of art by Northern Californian artists in a unique natural setting. When you're in Napa Valley, you should at least visit one vineyard or tasting house. The hotel can arrange a bespoke tasting for you onsite or at one of the many wineries in the Valley, but there are two right on the hotel's doorstep: Artesa has an amazingly romantic balcony and budget-friendly tastings; Domaine Carneros by Taittinger recalls a French château, and has a lovely terrace with table service; reservations aren't necessary and you can share a plate of cheese with your wine, too.
Angèle is 10 minutes away at 540 Main Street on the Napa River, and has an excellent modern French menu. Just a little further afield is the huge and always packed Bistro Don Giovanni for straightforward Italian fare at alfresco tables.
There are bars, of course, but you're much more likely to end up in one of the local wineries or tasting venues. The multi-winery tasting bar Vintner's Collective is housed in the historic stone Pfeiffer building on Main Street and is an excellent place to try some of the valley's famous wines. You'll get an overview of the region's varieties as well as wines from some of the smaller properties.
A wonderful sensation of space enveloped us as we cruised along the Carneros Highway. We had crossed the mystical Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco only half an hour earlier and now the view through the windscreen was a beautiful, two-tone band of land and sky. Hawks were lazily circling over lush and tidy fields and, on either side of the road, vineyards stretched to green hills dotted with grazing cattle and horses.
We were bound for the Carneros Resort and Spa, a spacious and ambitious project of some 80 guest cottages positioned plum in the middle of 27 acres of this viticulturally tamed landscape of the Napa Valley. We turned off the highway and wound our way through the tidy lanes of the estate, protected from the hum of the traffic by a high wall.
As we neared the registration hall the great scale of the Carneros Resort and Spa became apparent and we decided that it could suitably be termed a resort. The Plumpjack Corporation, the owner and operator of Carneros, is used to big projects: they run a hotel in Squaw Valley, and a wine operation, as well as some of San Francisco’s most cherished landmark saloons, notably the Balboa Café.
At Carneros the design concept has been driven by an interest in Californian heritage, recalling the old days of the settlers. There are 72 rooms, 10 suites and 10 homes, all based on vernacular agricultural architecture, the larger buildings resembling silos and barns and the individual cottages suggesting ranchers’ cabins.
Having negotiated check-in and found our cabin, we took time to attempt to assimilate the look and feel of the whole place. Since the cabins are not lonely refuges on the open range but cheek-by-jowl in an enclosed area, their individual decks and pretty wildflower gardens are each sheltered for privacy behind a wall of corrugated metal. We admired the loyal use of a material true to the hard-scrabble pioneer days that the design is based on but we couldn’t help feeling that cedar walls would have been more welcoming, if less innovative. The Plumpjack Corporation had anticipated our critique – we noticed that the next phase of cabins under construction had wooden garden separators.
The cabins, with their quaint porches and obligatory rockers, may look like they were built for 19th-century ranchers but the interiors are set up to pamper the very sophisticated urban tastes of 21st-century hotel guests. We admired the vast bed with its plump pillows encased in fine Italian linen. We liked the fireplace and noted the plasma screen. But we bypassed the bedroom’s charms and headed straight to the outsized bathroom with its intriguing additional outside shower. We chose the alfresco option and stood under the watering-can shower head and washed away the grime from our journey.
Wrapped in bathrobes which, being of a light, clingy cotton instead of bulky towelling were, incidentally, the best these Smiths have ever found, we chilled out on our deck. With local chardonnay and pinot noir to drink, and the singing of settling birds in the background, we briefly pondered the merits of calling it a night – it was only late afternoon. Our saving grace was the knowledge that the tempting offerings of two good restaurants beckoned, each only a short stroll away.
We chose to dine at the Farm, the upscale main draw where we found that the fabulous open design still manages to create intimacy thanks to some clever lighting: Mr Smith feared that he might have overdone it on the chardonnay earlier, as the colour of one wall seemed to be changing. Mrs Smith confirmed over a further glass that this was, indeed, the case. The interior is so designed to draw the eye up into the high and attractive space. The modern Californian cuisine works with the bounty of the region which, on the night we were there, included sturgeon, and superb lamb for the carnivorous Mr Smith. The chefs, in the semi-open kitchen, part obscured by mesquite grills, certainly did the produce justice.
Our preferred gastronomical experience, though, turned out to be at the less formal and smaller-scale Boon Fly Café where we chose to eat the following day. Equally attractive architecturally, the menu here is more casual but the execution is still top-flight. We had pizzas here for lunch and returned in the evening when the exquisite Pacific mahi-mahi fish won the heart of Mrs Smith while Mr Smith challenged a succulent hanger steak prepared to perfection.
Waiters in this area know their wines and, once we had found a suitably polite response to stem the tide of friendly yet repetitive How are yous?, we got great leads on which wines to sample by the glass.
All this indulgence needed to be offset by some activity and the Carneros Resort and Spa’s most attractive assets are its pools – the Hilltop pool, set among open fields, and a lap pool with a world-class fitness centre. The resort’s in-room literature has yet to catch up with the evolving reality and the lap pool did not feature in our bumph so you may be lucky, as we were, to find it pleasantly free of fellow guests. We were not alone, however. Our afternoon there was shared with pink-haired, rock-rap singer Kelis and her devout entourage who were being reverentially filmed by an MTV reality show. As if this wasn’t entertaining enough for us lowly Smiths, in the beautiful room in the background, which serves as the breakfast centre, a recently deposed, top female CEO was addressing an equally reverential gathering of business folk. No doubt her audience was learning how to secure maximum compensation in the case of boardroom dismissals. Whatever, we were treated to great, unexpected theatre.
If the early settlers ate and drank from the fruits of the land as well as we did at the Carneros Resort and Spa then their existence was not as impoverished as I had thought. We were very much taken by life on the range and were delighted to discover that rural dwelling no longer means abandoning modern urban standards. Some might call it California dreamin’.