I have the fondest memories of my time in Sonoma. Often forgotten in the shadow of its showbiz neighbour, Napa Valley, this idyllic area of Californian wine country does not get the praise and attention it deserves. I spent three days soaking up the golden sunshine, tasting the finest wines and feasting on the fantastic food. The people here are kind, genuine and welcoming and the setting is stunning.
Farmhouse Inn – for me this hotel ticked every box… charmingly rustic yet luxurious rooms, Michelin-star dining, beautiful but unpretentious spa and thoughtful details everywhere you look. I checked in late afternoon and was greeted with a chilled glass of local Chardonnay then offered (as much as I liked) from the pick’n’mix station of homemade bath products. I was already in heaven, and then I entered my room. It was like a double page spread in a glossy interiors magazine with a fire blazing, huge four poster bed adorned with cosy countryside blankets, freshly baked treats, and a giant bathroom complete with private steam room waiting to be utilised. Dinner and breakfast were both unforgettable in the Farmhouse Inn restaurant, highlights included delicate and delicious Smoked Eggplant ravioli and a robust and flavoursome tenderloin of seasonal Durham Ranch Elk with butternut squash and pancetta. For breakfast the buttermilk waffles with strawberries and basil mascarpone was unforgettable. As I sat in the evening by the open fire pits toasting their homemade marshmallows, I could not think of a more perfect hotel.
Flamingo Hotel – for a lively and reasonably priced accommodation the iconic Flamingo Hotel is a fun option. The 60 guestrooms are relaxed and spacious and guests have access to the popular Montecito Heights health club and spa, complete with 25 metre lap pool. The Sunday champagne brunch here is renowned among locals.
Bravas – Healdsburg is a lovely neighbourhood to explore in Sonoma. I enjoyed an al fresco feast of Spanish tapas at this authentic eatery from celebrated restaurateurs, Mark and Terry Stark. Don’t miss: Watermelon and Tomato Escabeche Salad with sherried currants and basil; Brussel Sprouts with Sobrasada sausage, tomato and manchego; and the Goat’s Cheese Toast with golden onions and white truffle honey.
While in Healdsburg pop into Moustache Cakes for baked goods and Noble Folk for award-winning ice-cream and pies. Barndiva is a trendy art gallery and bar, and Lulo Gallery sells whimsical jewellery from talented designers Luana Coonen and Sakura Haru and Julia Turner.
The Girl and the Fig – If you need a place to stop for lunch in Sonoma Plaza The Girl and the Fig is a good bet. This friendly casual restaurant serves seasonal ‘country food with a French passion’. I tried the summery and tasty Fig and Aragula salad.
Scribe – This boutique biodynamic winery requires a booking before you are able to go and try the wines. The hipster hang-out produces beautiful artisanal wine, I loved the minimalist bottles.
Paradise Ridge Winery – Romanically set at the top of a hill this beautiful winery has a lovely atmosphere and great wine. Many visit to see the striking sculpture park, including the signature LOVE sculpture by Laura Kimpton and Jeff Schomberg.
Francis Ford Coppola – Owned by the world-famous film director, this winery has been done up in true Hollywood style. Have a complimentary tasting of their Bianco and Rosso wines, and head upstairs to see memorabilia from The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.
The Barlow in Sebastopol – this recently developed industrial space is home to a host of food, drink, shopping and art businesses. My favourites were Tamarind for clothes and accessories and Spirit Works Distillery for their refined sloe gin. Best to visit Thursday to Sunday when the majority of shops and cafes are open.
Buena Vista Winery – The prestigious Buena Vista holds the title of California’s first winery. The founder, self-proclaimed “count of Buena Vista” is the inspiration behind the unique Be The Count Blending Experience. After a masterclass with Spencer I created my own personalised bottle of red wine, a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel. You will be dressed up appropriately and even get the chance to have your own tailor-made label printed for the bottle. After the experience you will be shown round the historic wine tour museum.
Vella Cheese Company – this family owned company has been making award-winning cheese since 1931. All the cheeses are delicious but they are known for their dry Monterey Jack.
Napa Valley – in my opinion this famous region pales in comparison to Sonoma. For foodies though it is worth a visit either for a life-changing meal at The French Laundry or to try Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s 1-star French brasserie just down the road. Order their signature Steak Frites or the roasted chicken with mushrooms and leeks.
Many thanks to the Sonoma County Tourist Board for supporting this trip.