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I’ve always been a curious traveler—someone who likes to explore the further reaches of places. I’m not the sort of person to drop into a resort and then spend my vacation sitting by the pool with a book. But that was before I became the mother of a toddler. These days all I fantasize about is checking myself into a hotel for the night, turning off my phone, and indulging in some serious alone time.
Recently I got to live out my fantasy and spent a long weekend at the Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley, the luxury resort which allows for no children under 16 years old. Bliss! Instead of my two-year-old, I brought my mother, who years ago had a most memorable meal at the restaurant—which is how the resort started in 1981 when the French chef-turned San Francisco restaurateur Claud Rouas decided to bring a little bit of Provence to Northern California. Sitting on the restaurant’s main terrace and gazing out in the Cezanne-style terraced views of the valley below, you could easily think you were in France.
I check into my villa—they were initially built to be private guest houses—and quickly figured out that at 1300 square feet, the room was as big as my Brooklyn apartment. The vibe was a perfect mix of Nancy Meyers fantasy California meets Provencale design, with plenty of bleached woods and big cozy couches. They recently changed the French doors to floor-to-ceiling windows that capture the splendid views outside, giving you that great California indoor/outdoor living. With the sun streaming in from my patio, I didn’t feel a lick of guilt watching a movie since I could still look out from the living room and marvel at the awesome surroundings. (Don’t judge. I’ve spent the last year watching Despicable Me on a continuous loop.) As much as I wanted to stay in my little bolthole of bliss, the outside beckoned.
Once you start walking the grounds, you understand why the resort is the perfect spot for honeymooners—(it’s also a popular destination for weddings). Every villa feels private, like your own self-contained universe. There were a few women lingering at the pool, and a young couple strolling through the newly revamped sculpture garden, but for most of my stay, I always felt like I had the place to myself. It was a busy time of the year when I was there—the first sunny weekend in a long, soggy spring—but I only bumped into others guests at the restaurant, and for good reason.
The eatery is one of the places that helped put Napa Valley on the culinary map when it opened in 1981. The food has a nod to nostalgic hearty French fare—think sweat breads, prime beef with potatoes dauphine—but with modern Asian touches like kampachi crudo and lemon risotto with a yuzu emulsion. My mother, an unapologetic carnivore, went for a doubleheader of foie gras and beef, while I tried the perfectly cooked lamb with couscous and carrots.
I didn’t have ambitions to leave the property but my mother is a foodie, and Napa is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to food and wine. And then the concierge tempted me with the house Mercedes Maybach to tool around in. It seemed like the perfect way to take in the scenery. Yes, we had ambitions to visit the vineyards, especially in the emerging region of Alexandra Valley. But instead, we decided to stay close with a quick visit to Oxbow Public Market in Napa and then a light lunch (oysters, rose) at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Yountville.
But the hotel was calling me back—I needed to swim and lounge outside after suffering through this winter’s grey days. And then there was the resort’s indoor/outdoor spa complete with plunge pools and two saunas. I was booked for a facial, the resort's newest iteration featuring the cult serum Vintner's Daughter, beloved by everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Glossier editors. The resort recently launched an exclusive collaboration with Vintner’s Daughter April Gargiulo, a Napa Valley native, who is literally the daughter of a local vintner. As the aesthetician took me through the hour-long facial, she explained how all the super serums and botanicals would plump up my skin and smooth out the lines, making me feel younger and fresher. When I peeled myself off the table and looked into the mirror, I detected a new sheen to my skin. I’m certain it had a lot do with the facial, but I also think a toddler-free weekend added to my inner glow.