Our rented red Mustang convertible seemed a garish chariot in which to arrive at the sanctuary-like Milliken Creek Inn & Spa, nestled at the foot of the Silverado Trail, a 19th-century wagon route that has since become the most picturesque wine route in the Napa Valley. In horse-and-buggy times, its main house was a stagecoach stop. Now a sybaritic hotel and spa, with two additional houses on its three acres, Milliken maintains a rustic unpretentiousness that is felt immediately.
A fire roared in the salon, soft jazz gave way to Nick Drake’s sentimental hum, and a quartet of leather club chairs and Buddha statues cued the colonial-meets-spiritual décor. Weary from travel, we made a beeline for the wine and cheese (Humboldt Fog, something resembling dark marble—an Irish porter cheese, we learned) set out in the adjacent foyer. The hotel hosts a complimentary ‘magic hour’ in which a local vintner pours choice bottles and guests discover places to visit, or just indulge in the here and now. We had missed the evening’s vintner but thankfully not the spoils.
Emboldened by a light chardonnay, we checked in quickly and dashed out to catch the last gasp of sunset on the patio overlooking the languid Napa River. Redwoods and Japanese maples cast silhouettes on the water’s surface, and the chill (this was March) staved off my buzz.
Milliken has just 12 rooms, and ours was considered luxury. No hyperbole there: it was a sprawling suite in a palette of khaki and white, appointed with British campaign furnishings – rattan chairs, leather-handled travel boxes, king-size bed draped in a gauzy canopy – and 21st-century coups such as a massive plasma TV. A fleet of votive candles, pre-lit as part of nightly turndown service, flickered from strategic perches.
The bathtub – more like a small ship possessing hydrotherapeutic powers – called for instant action. My still-newish raced to the front desk to procure the rubber duck noted in the hotel literature as a gift. Mind you, the hotel has a no-kids policy… The bath ruled, though the hot-tub pressure was titanic and we couldn’t figure out how to reduce it; the hand-held showerhead meant I didn’t bother with the room’s actual shower once during our stay. We sampled L’Occitane products, dried off in sumptuous robes and realised we would go to bed hungry if we didn’t bust a move.
No restaurant on the premises would be a bummer if Napa weren’t foodie Xanadu, a reputation owing much to cult chef Thomas Keller. His French Laundry isn’t recession-friendly and reservations can be hard to come by, so it’s a good thing its sibling restaurant, Bouchon, is superb and more affordable. Milliken seems to have thought of everything and prints cute cards with driving directions to local haunts. We navigated the 20-minute journey to the neighbouring town of Yountville and devoured a first-rate seafood platter and an entrée of sausage and prunes, abetted by excellent regional whites.
Reveling in Frette linens and down pillows, there was only one thing that could entice us to rise and shine: the siren song of bacon. The scent wafted in through the window as if a vapour from the river, which we could see clearly from bed. Why had I ordered granola and yogurt? Breakfast was delivered in a wicker basket, and I promptly commandeered half the beau’s Belgian waffles, fortified with French press coffee. (The following morning we made sure to order bacon.)
Milliken is conveniently situated not only on the Silverado Trail but also near the equally winery-studded Highway 29. We targeted a few spots recommended by the hotel and friends, and drove the Mustang past fields of wild mustard flowers. At the biodynamic Robert Sinskey vineyard, a ‘flight attendant’ won us over when he distinguished two cabernets as ‘the difference between Scarlett Johansson and Judi Dench’. He recommended we check out Elizabeth Spencer, a winery housed in a former post office, and a must if you prefer intimate to Robert Mondavi-type monoliths. In need of a sponge, we stopped into the Oakville Grocery, a popular spot to grab gourmet sandwiches for picnics at wineries or to eat at tables out back.
On our final morning, we walked the pebbled path, ogling the waterfall and the daybeds resting on the lawn below, to the hotel spa, exclusive to Milliken guests. Our tag-team of estheticians presented a tray of custom-blended essential oil concoctions, the lube for our aromatherapy couples’ massage. Because even on vacation I seem to pack my ‘baggage’, I opted for Stress Reliever. I suppose there is an unspoken erotic charge to a tandem rubdown, but lying on a heated table, lulled by choral music and expertly tended to by strong if unfamiliar hands, I was consumed by my own bliss. No offence, Mr Smith.
Post-massage, champagne and chocolates awaited us in the lounge, but I wasn’t ready to re-tox, and someone had spent the previous night conveniently forgetting that port is better sipped then guzzled. And, anyway, we couldn’t delay the inevitable. The staff helped pack up the Mustang, Mr Smith took the top down, I tied my hair in a scarf and off we went – gloating Zen-dilettantes setting forth on the Silverado Trail for another rough day of wining.