It was the perfect travel storm: a wedding invitation in California’s wine-soaked Sonoma County + Mr Smith’s birthday + one grandmother enthusiastically volunteering to mind our toddler. This confluence of good fortune could only mean one thing: the world was ending soon. So, we promptly sent in our response card and booked flights.
And, if the end of days was imminent, I was further cheered by the chance to stay at the Farmhouse Inn, a former family farm reimagined as a luxe boutique retreat by siblings Joe and Catherine Bartolomei.
Cruising into sleepy Forestville, just 20-minutes from the now-bustling town of Healdsburg, we wound our way along back roads surrounded by tidy vineyards, towering pines and waving palm trees and rolled up to the inn. At reception, we were greeted by one of the rotating cast of smiling local women (one sunnier than the next, so noted Mr Smith). Welcomed with a glass of local chardonnay (a preview of the afternoon tasting to be held in the garden), we were encouraged to slice a hunk of house-made herbal bath soap and scoop up sugary scrubs for our tub.
Nestled above the hotel’s restaurant, the placement of our Heritage Deluxe room was reminiscent of classic country guesthouse. Well, one with a Michelin-starred chef in its kitchen. How quaint. A plump four-poster piled high with pillows and white bedding took center stage. That is, until we stepped into our ginormous bathroom with double farm sinks, a slate Japanese soaking bath and walk-in-closet-sized double rainfall shower. Oh yes, we would be sampling those scrubs and potions later…
But, the most charming details were the freshly cut sunflowers in a vase, the glass cake stand displaying two intricately frosted cupcakes and a birthday card for Mr Smith, all set in the alcove in front of the gas fireplace. I had mentioned that we were celebrating Mr Smith, but certainly didn’t expect such a reception. Thanks for making me look good, Farmhouse.
Room sorted, we moved on to our next order of business: a dip in the placid pool, a splash of blue artfully trimmed with reaching rose bushes. The grounds throughout are a botanical wonderland tended to by Jana, the on-site gardener. Shaded beneath her sun hat, she can be heard rhythmically clipping native wildflowers and heavy-headed hydrangeas, her nose nuzzled deep as a bee in a thicket of flowering plants or fruit trees. She even stepped in to help a bumbling Mr Smith attempting to pluck a bouquet of fragrant herbs and blooms from the chef’s garden for me.
We would have been content to hang around the tranquil, jasmine-scented grounds all weekend, but we had a happily packed schedule of nuptial-related events, tasting room stop-offs and lingering picnics at stellar wineries on our list.
There was still time, though, to take a recommendation (along with loaner flip-flops for me and an insulated cooler for snacks) from the concierge and spend the better part of a day paddling down the Russian River on a five-mile kayak ride. Turns out there’s more than grapes to the wine country… Of course, we threw ourselves into this athletic pursuit only after an elegant three-course breakfast – featuring Nutella crêpes and eggs benedict on homemade English muffins – served in the garden.
And, naturally, we couldn’t dive into our outdoor activity without a hands-on warm-up of sorts at the Carriage House spa. Creating individualized treatments with oils and infusions – many made from plants just steps away – our therapists worked their magic. Suffering from a cold, I opted for a Wellness Solution massage that rid me of my ailment faster than the most lethal amounts of Vitamin C and antibiotics ever could. No small miracle, to be sure, and one that left me in tip-top shape for our adventures.
Saving the best of the inn for last, I surprised Mr Smith with a birthday dinner at the hotel’s restaurant – a destination in its own right – on the final night of our stay. Strolling down one flight of stairs to the tastefully barn-inspired dining room, we were greeted as regulars by the host. The personalized birthday menu helped Mr Smith feel even more like a VIP. Very nice touch.
Deliberating over the right-outside-the-door-to-table menu from award-winning chef Steve Litke, our patient waiter guided us towards a knock-out meal of rabbit three ways and Piemontese rib-eye. And, having a sommelier so uncomfortable with empty glasses (he classified it as a disorder) was right in line with our glass-clinking mood; each course was expertly paired with local, small-batch wines hardly available outside that room.
Opting out of dessert at the table, we instead grabbed the s’mores kit left in our room at turn-down. Cosying up by the outdoor fire pit, we smushed together the house-made marshmallows, Valrhona chocolate and graham crackers – the ideal night cap, and infinitely better than a mint on our pillows.
Between the wedding (that dress…the dashing couple…a cinematic winery reception), a toddler-free weekend and memories of our own Sonoma honeymoon seven years earlier, love was very much in the air. Against the vineyard backdrop and bunking at a romance-reviving inn with delightful little surprises at every turn, how could it not? Ultimately, we’re pleased that this fortuitous escape did not signal the worst – because we’re going to need to come back here to mark another seven years. Or, better yet, next year if the stars align…