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Big Sur - Hiking Andrew Molera State Park

One of the great delights of living in the Bay Area is the proximity to the natural beauty of California and it's hard to beat the stunning drive down Highway One to Big Sur. This is certainly one of the iconic American road trips, but for me the joy of being in the area is getting out of your car and hitting a trail, so you can be "in" the landscape rather than just looking at it from the asphalt. 

Indian Springs Resort and Spa, Calistoga




Continuing our California summer travels... last Tuesday I went for a quick overnight in the wine country with a friend and thought you might like a taste of the place where we stayed.

At the northern end of the spectacular Napa Valley,  Indian Springs is the antithesis of the flashy wine country resorts of the moment. A refurbished hot spring hotel that has been operating for almost a century, Indian Springs is a place to relax with others and enjoy a soak in the spectacular mineral pool. Martha Stewart retro meets  country modern is the style here.  Calistoga may not have the cachet, or the pivotal location of either St Helena or Yountville, but it has a laid back charm that the others may have lost.



 


The property includes cottages and a recently renovated two story "lodge", which was previously Nance's Hot Springs. The cottages have been tastefully restyled with new bathrooms, but they retain a simple charm and include small kitchens, porches and painted floors. This is a popular destination for small groups and it would be a good place to come with with friends or family








 The emphasis is on simple pleasures; swimming, boules, bicycles to borrow, chess and checkers. The Olympic mineral pool is hot in the winter and  tepid in the summer months. It was warm enough to slip in immediately and I enjoyed switching between floating around and reading my book in the sun. There are plenty of lounge chairs, umbrellas and floats (including noodles) to use in  the pool. Unfortunately, at these prices,  there is no service at the pool apart from a rather modest concession stand.





 It's easy to walk to a variety of restaurants and we enjoyed a meal of small plates (tuna poke, grilled shrimp and a simple salad) at JoLe, which I would recommend. You can find JoLe ain the newly renovated Mountview Hotel.


Downtown St Helena



Travel tip: I thought the cottages were rather expensive in the summer, though this reflects the high season prices in Napa. However, the Winter Special offers a fabulous value from November through March, with two free mud baths for each room reserved between Monday through Thursday. The experience of soaking in hot volcanic mud heated by the local geyser water, scrubbing yourself down and then soaking in a claw foot tub filled with warm mineral water should be enjoyed at least once. It's an old fashioned spa  ritual which couldn't be farther from the "wine" influenced spa treatments, including "grape seed" scrubs seen all over the valley, which always seem to be trying a little too hard to appear local or relevant.


If one needs an incentive to visit the wine country off season this is it!

Heads up, the spa at Indian Springs is  more reminiscent of the Victorian swimming pools I remembered in Britain than a luxurious resort experience, but it is fun  nonetheless. The lack of pretension is part of the charm here, though some may miss the facilities one might expect in this price range including; luxurious changing rooms, jacuzzis, rain showers etc.







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