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For millennia, Native Americans made their home near sacred hot springs in what is now known as the city of Sonoma, about 40 miles from San Francisco. Although times changed, one constant endured: the reverence of the mineral waters. Yet many modern people still forgo the gift of relaxation, thinking it indulgent. Others know better!
Recently voted the “Greenest Hotel Company in the World,” The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is a world-class resort and conference center that inherited the ancient Native American hot springs. Just after the Big 3 Restaurant and Highway Tattoo on Highway 12, a left turn on Boyes Boulevard brings you to their expansive circular driveway, lined with lush gardens. A landscape of oaks, redwoods, Italian cypress, olive, fig and plum trees, as well as lavender, Mexican sage, rosemary, jasmine, hibiscus and bamboo immediately envelope you in washes of natural color and comfort.
Walking in my polar bear-plush pima cotton robe in the hallways of the lux 40,000-foot spa (envision a large church), I felt quite cozy, even with the rain drizzling outside. I had my choice of treatments, and like a kid at Baskin-Robbins, I wanted a taste of each one. But I “settled” for a barefoot Shiatsu, and it did the trick. I staggered out of the room in an endorphin daze, crumpling into a large chair by a crackling fire and lazily nibbled on bits of dried veggies, fresh fruit and some cold lemon water, marveling at tastes and sensations like I was having an acid flashback. And then I soaked. And soaked. And, yes, soaked. The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa has a variety of pools, indoor and out, so you can choose where you want to melt and moan (quietly, of course). I steamed until my flesh throbbed. I floated in the pool. I listened to the birds. I watched the clouds. I gazed at the palm trees. My thoughts slowly peeled off from my brain, and I found myself just being and breathing, every now and then sliding into a different pool or sprawling out on a lounge chair. I was fully cooked.
My room was so scrumptious, I wanted to call all my friends to come and jump on the big four-poster bed. I took a bath in my lavender salted tub by the warmth and glow of the crackling fire. I drank my Fiji water. I watched TV under the fluffy comforter. I read. Every detail of the room was lusciously appointed, from the sunbaked Saltillo tile under my feet, to the high thread count bedding and the adorable little burlap bags of wood—“Just Light This Bag”—that only needed a match to make a successful fire.
The restaurant, Santé, managed to be both upscale and welcoming with its lemon yellows, snowy linens and white-glove dinner service. At one point during my meal, my server, Lori (and new best friend), tentatively approached to ask if I was okay. Elbow on the table, head in hand, I stirred and straightened to a presentable demeanor, trying to act as if it were perfectly normal that my head had fallen into my hand in a eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head swoon over the cheese plate I was having for dessert. I found out later that their former executive chef, Bruno Tison, is a spokesperson for the California Cheese Board. What a surprise.
With a light sweat on my brow, I managed to stammer something original about the excellence of the cheese. Yet one bite of Humboldt Fog later, I was again stopped dead in my tracks by the symphony of flavors and textures welling up not just in my mouth, but buzzing up through my head and radiating out in a full-on takeover of my senses. As the blood drained from my face, I turned, slack-jawed, to stare out the window, hoping to hide my village idiot response. I did manage to keep my mouth closed and the drool from escaping, and ate every bite of the several cheeses and their accessories of nuts, fruits and breads. Santé has garnered much national attention for its cuisine and wine, earning numerous awards (and probably a lot of drool).
To work off some of the gastronomic pleasures of your stay, The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa offers a wide variety of activities to choose from. There’s hiking, biking, and a gorgeous 18-hole golf course. For the gym-minded, there are lots of weights and cardio equipment and a range of fitness classes, including Nia, body sculpting, aquatic fitness and cardio circuit. And to ease the stress at having overindulged during mealtimes, there’s yoga (they wash their mats after every use), meditation and Tai Chi.
Toward the end of my stay, I pondered over what made my stay here so blissful. Yes, they have all of the right stuff and it’s a beautiful place, but what really brought it all to life were the employees. I was able to fully let go of planning, organizing and managing my relaxing getaway and just be, without a ripple of stress. From the time I drove up, to the time I drove out, any time I needed anything, there were smiling people happy to help me out, without any attitude. I was able to re-enter my busy life more awake, aware and alive. That is a huge gift. And I’ll receive it gratefully!