From Calistoga to the Lake Country
By Ann Nelson



We left early Saturday morning for Northern California with the giddy anticipation of little kids going off to camp. My husband and I were going to two places we had never been before. Calistoga would be our first stop; the Lake Country would be our second.  After carefully studying the map, it looked as though much of our trip would be spent traveling though the winding hills of Napa Valley and then hugging the 100-mile coastline of Clear Lake.

The town of Calistoga is just 90 miles north of San Francisco at the head of Napa Valley, and well known for its hot-water geysers and mineral springs. With only 5,000 permanent residents, Calistoga is away from the “glitz” of Napa Valley. This is the place to relax and unwind. Just hearing the name of the town brings to mind thoughts of fresh air and slowly slipping a tall glass of ice water on a hot day. After all, Calistoga is a big name in bottled water. As a matter of fact, the bottling plant offers tours to the public.

There are actually 27 spas in this town, some dating back to the 1920’s. European immigrants were accustomed to soaking in mineral waters back home and continued the practice when they moved here.
After careful research, my husband and I decided that Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort might best suit our needs. This spa has been open since 1952 and is very well respected. “Doc” Wilkinson came to town as a young chiropractor and alternative-health pioneer. After the spa opened, word spread quickly about his careful research and the effective formula he developed for mud bath treatments. Dr. Wilkinson died in 2004 at the age of 89 and his children, Mark and Carolynne, faithfully run the resort now.

The signature treatment, called “The Works” includes a mud bath, a whirlpool mineral bath, steam room and a cocoon-like blanket wrap followed by a 30-minute massage. This treatment costs $109.00. You can pay extra for a longer massage. To be frank, the mud bath required a little adjustment on my part.

Being covered from head to toe in this “magical formula” was unfamiliar to me. I felt just a bit claustrophobic at first, but I knew the mud was healthy and after a few short minutes, I just relaxed and truly enjoyed the experience. The lavender mask on my face and cucumbers on my eyes felt wonderful. My husband, on the other hand, took to this experience like a fish out of water. He loved every minute of it!
While in Calistoga, we stayed at Hideaway Cottages. It is only two blocks to the center of town, and a one-minute walk to Dr. Wilkinson’s. This little oasis surrounded by lovely gardens and mature shade trees was the perfect place.  We dipped in the pool and hot tub to refresh ourselves on this warm summer night and felt like new.  In the morning, we watched a hot air balloon launch from what seemed to be only 100 yards away as it drifted lazily into the cloudless sky.

After leaving Calistoga, we headed north on route 29 to Lake Country; the area is 2.5 hours from San Francisco. During our drive, I was quietly thinking to myself that if I ever left San Diego, this is where I would want to be.

The main feature of the area is a lake named Clear Lake, the largest freshwater lake in California. The American Lung Association, in a 2006 State of the Air report, rated the lake on the top 10 lists of cleanest counties in the nation. National forest, fishing, boating, farmer’s markets, vineyards and wineries surround the area. Today the area is a nesting and roosting habitat for herons, egrets, and white pelicans.

On our way to Upper Lake we stopped and spent a delightful afternoon at Fetter Ceago Wine Garden in the Lake Country. The owner, Jim Fetter has the eye of an artist, the soul of a poet, the enthusiasm of a child, and the mind of a “new-age scientist”. Needless to say, I was impressed with his philosophy of winemaking. This is a family operation. Katrina, Jim’s daughter, was on hand to make a delicious lunch. Javier Mesa, the chief winemaker from Chili, has been Jim’s right-hand man since the beginning.

Located on the lakeshore, the winery grounds are filled with olive trees, lavender herb gardens, fruit orchards, and seasonal vegetables. Fetter’s long-term vision is to create a biodynamic resort spa with small “casitas” located on the lake for guest lodging.

Lake County is not far from the gold-rush center of the 1890’s frequented by gun-toting cowboys. Gary and I stayed at The Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake. The Tallman originally doubled as a stagecoach stop, and simply defines an old soul boutique hotel. Retreat to any of the 17 guest rooms and you will find custom handcrafted furniture, and big fluffy beds with 300-thread-count linens. Some rooms feature garden patios with Japanese Ofurol soaking tubs.

The hotel grounds are filled with beautiful working gardens that supply vegetables and flowers for the hotel and restaurant. The Blue Wing Saloon and Café, nominated as “Best New Business of the Year”, is adjacent to the hotel and connected by a beautiful outdoor sitting area. It is an easy place to just settle into and let the world drift by.

On our first evening here my husband and I enjoyed Braised Short Ribs with slowly-simmered Red Potatoes and Fresh Vegetables, and Pan Roasted Salmon with Pineapple Salsa and Wild Rice.
After dinner we swam in the pool and hung out in the lounge chairs surrounded by the lovely, fresh gardens. What a romantic escape!

Ann Nelson is a freelance writer, presently residing in San Diego, CA.


Hideaway Cottages: 
(707) 942-4108 or
Price range between
$119.00-$215.00 a night.

Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort:
(707) 942-4102 or

Tallman Hotel:
(707) 275-2244  or
Price range between
$139.00-$219.00 a night.

Blue Wing Saloon & Café: (707) 275-2233 or www.BlueWing

Ceago Wine Garden:
(707) 274-1462 or

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