Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mudbaths in Calistoga, Feb. 2011

Here is a better post with lots of pictures

 My friend DF (Delicate Flower) and I wanted a spa weekend and I just happened to know about a Winter Special deal in Calistoga.  If you don’t live in the Bay area, the town of Calistoga may sound familiar to you, but maybe you aren’t really sure why or where it might be.  It may sound familiar because there is a brand of bubbly water or because it has been a spa town since pretty much forever.  It is conveniently located on the north end of the Napa Valley.

We met up at our resort, Indian Springs, and relaxed in the room for a little.  I love this little resort.  It was started in the 1880’s and expanded in the early 1900’s so it has a quaint feel to it.  The buildings and spaces are larger and you can imagine yourself as a part of high society from back in 1920, or at the resort from Dirty Dancing!  Even though the downtown is small, it is packed with stores and restaurants and there seem to be at least 10 hotels/resorts/spas offering mineral springs mud baths.  The history of the hotel says that even the local Indian tribes came here for the mineral springs and mud.

We head downtown for dinner and get totally distracted by the local bookstore Copperfield’s Books (see how quaint it is, a non-chain local bookstore!) which has a fantastic selection of gardening magazines and books on food and wine that have connections to the area.  We have dinner at Brannan’s Grill-I like that they mix in some vegetables with the giant platter of calamari and they split the salad we are sharing without even asking.  The drinks are well made, dessert was tasty and they have a keyboardist/singer for the evening-just lovely.

We waddle back to the hotel and then over to the pool in cozy bathrobes.  The Olympic sized, mineral spring water-filled pool is one of the best things about Indian Springs.  It is open till midnight so you can float under the stars, it is filled with the hot mineral water right out of the ground so it is toasty and steam rises off the surface, and it is filled with pool noodles and rafts so you don’t even have to hold yourself up.  DF and I are a little OCD so we ‘rescue’ the 50 or so rubber duckies and organize them in phalanxes around the edge of the pool before we leave for the night J 

The next morning is mud bath time!  I know a lot of people think that the idea of a mud bath is gross.  But it is not like mud from a mud puddle, the texture is much more like cornbread batter-you lie on top of a tub full of it and you don’t sink, they actually have to scoop the mud on top of you..  The whole experience goes like this: lay in mud, shower, soak in the tub, sweat in the steam room, and then lie quietly under blankets.  It is completely relaxing.   I almost fell asleep, and am warm through and through.  I am not a fan of winter, even in California it is hard to be warm to the core, but the mud treatment kept me warm for the rest of the day!  I don’t have any other mud baths to compare to, but Indian Springs has some great things going for it.  The buildings are extremely well maintained, but still have a quaint atmosphere and the staff are professional and kind.  If you come here and don’t feel relaxed/pampered/happy there is something seriously wrong with you!

So at this point most people will go wine tasting…but DF and I have a love of the nutty, off the beaten path and quirky so we have different plans (if you are part of this crowd let me recommend American Gods by Neil Gaiman).  Our first stop is the Calmart grocery store in town to pick up a picnic lunch.  The whole store, but especially the deli counter, was way more than I expected for a town this size.  Fancy dessert case, above average sandwiches and salads, fun drinks, fresh bread, and a nice cheese section make for lovely picnic fixings.  Armed with our picnic we head to California’s Old Faithful which is just a few miles up the road.  So everyone has heard of Old Faithful in Yellowstone, but it turns out there are only 2 other geysers in the world to go off on a regular schedule.  One is in New Zealand and one is in Calistoga.  We pay our entrance fee in the gift shop ($10, but only $9 if you have your AAA card-the shop woman was very excited that we had one…) and go out back to the geyser.  It is a small pond with a number of picnic tables around the edges and encircled by giant stands of bamboo and horse tail grass.  There are actually quite a few groups of people eating, taking pictures, or running around.  We pick a table and start to eat as we wait for the geyser to go off as promised every 5-10 minutes.

Sure enough it is only a few minutes and the geysers goes off.  People rush to take photos and video with the geyser in the background, and the kids that were off somewhere come running over, shouting and pointing.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not an awe-inspiring display of Nature’s force.  The water shoots up 20 ft high a couple of times and then lower and lower, and there is a little steam around the edges, but that is really it.  I had read some of the reviews on TripAdvisor and many people were disappointed and didn’t think $10 (or even $9) was worth it.  But that made it even more intriguing to me!  I would think that if you have been to Yellowstone, this would be underwhelming and you might skip it, but if you have been to both Yellowstone and New Zealand, you kind of have to visit the California geyser to complete the set!  As this is my first geyser I'm perfectly happy.

Now, you might not think the geyser by itself is worth the $$.  But wait!  They have thought of that and have added in a petting zoo!  They have four-horned sheep, fainting goats, and llamas.  The best part is that they are just around the corner, so that the whole time we are picnicking the animals are randomly and continuously bleating.  For some reason it cracks us up to hear the disembodied bleating while eating, while watching the pond.  And then after eating we go to the petting zoo and it turns out to have quite a few animals complete with 1 and 3-week old lambs.  SQUEE!  Tiny little lambs gamboling about with their tiny little bleats, or simply standing in the hay trough because they are so tiny!! (I doubt I will ever have another chance to use the word gambol…).  We also learn a little bit of useful (?!) information like llamas only spit if they are over-socialized.  How can all that goodness NOT be worth $9?

We head a little south and check out a tiny Pioneer Cemetery just off the road on a hillside.  It is filled with many of the folks who originally started the towns around here.  There are quite a few plots and most of them have markers.  But we do notice that the map has some family plots with no one in them which makes us wonder if they could still be used by those folks today.  As we look around we do see just 2 or 3 markers with dates in 1990’s or 2000’s.  Interesting!

And our final attraction of the day?  The local Petrified Forest.  Again there were quite a few reviews complaining about the price and sadly here I have to agree.  Yes, it is a lovely (short!) walk in the woods and you will view a collection of petrified trees.  And because they are stone trees surrounded by real trees it is a different kind of interesting then the stone trees out in the middle of the desert.  But the other is a national park and this is not for a reason.  And the gift shop does not even have magnets!  

After all that we even had some time to shop the downtown street-it is perfect for an afternoon stroll with pretty much what you would expect to see in a spa town-cute stationary and knick-knacks, interesting antiques/consignment items (used Jimmy Choo shoes?!), and bath/beauty items.

For dinner we have reservations at the fanciest restaurant in town, JoLe (Farm to Table).  Wow.  This is a fantastic dinner.  The staff are readily available but not intrusive, the cocktails are innovative and delicious (almond milk and blackberries!) and the food is soooo tasty.  We have the tasting menu and get to try the butternut squash soup, brussel sprouts, lamb, duck, coconut pie, and banana bread pudding.  

Next morning some lounging about before checking out-we didn’t even get around to playing tennis on the clay courts-that will have to be next time J.  Then head south a few miles and decide to have breakfast in St. Helena.  This is also a cute downtown that we walk up and down while the town is waking up. It is bigger and fancier than Calistoga.  There are restaurants and stationary stores, but also a lot of jewelry stores, fancy chocolate, and real estate offices.  We check out a couple of properties, and there are some crazy opportunities.  Do you want to rent 50 acres with a 5 bedroom house including space for the nanny?  $30,000/month will get you that in upper Napa valley-good to know!  We feast on chorizo breakfast burritos to keep us satisfied for the drive home.  Good bye wine country-so sad to leave-we’ll return as often as we can!

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