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Hot Hideaway: Healdsburg

People can’t get enough of Healdsburg, and that includes me. The quaint town tucked in the wine epicenter of Sonoma County has a population of just over 12,000, yet it hosts several thousand visitors every weekend, and for good reason. Michelin-star restaurants, notable art galleries, and charming boutique hotels are bubbling up like Napa’s bestCrémants.  I spent a recent weekend in Healdsburg to savor the winter fog, seasonal flavors, and cozy fireplaces at a few superb spots. 

Located just a few blocks from the town’s main historic square, Hotel Les Mars is a regal sixteen room property with exceptional attention to detail. It was one of the first in North America to earn membership to the elite European hotel and restaurant association,Relais & Châteaux. Although built and completed in 2007, Hotel Les Mars embodies Old World luxury and European elegance.  The lobby, gleaming with creamy floor marble, is next to the library, an enticing nook with hand-carved walnut panels and rows of books bound in worn leather. Rooms, designed after those for royalty in 17th century France, feature massive wooden four post beds, 18th and 19th century antiques and replicas from the personal collection of the Mars family’s, and toile bedding. I loved sleeping in the crisp Italian white sheets looking over through the windows each morning to see crimson and orange leaves flutter away from the trees. The lovely fireplace and French Continental breakfast, brought to the room and included with every stay, coaxed me out of bed in the mornings. It’s a fun indulgence to slip onto a chaise lounge and prop one’s feet up to the fire with the New York Times and a scrumptious breakfast of homemade granola and juice brought right to the door. 

Nightly, guests can enjoy a hosted wine and cheese hour featuring, of course, locally sourced prized bottles and cheese. Although Hotel Les Mars makes it difficult to leaves its premises, the hotel packs excellent picnic baskets for any mid-day excursion. My basket brimmed with locally picked stone fruit, baguettes with rich gouda and smoked turkey, and macaroons which made for a perfect afternoon picnic in the town square. 

Hotel Les Mars certainly keeps one well fed, but exploring Healdsburg’s eateries is an absolute requirement now more than ever. Valette, opened just this year by brother duo Aaron Garzini and Dustin Valette, is already one of Wine Enthusiast’s top 100 wine restaurants in the United States. The sublime success seems overnight, but Valette and Garzini had the dream of a restaurant like Valette for nearly 15 years. While Garzini honed his front of the house skills at John Ash & Co and Rustic Restaurant along with other notable Northern California restaurants, Valette kept to the kitchen, working as a chef on the teams at San Francisco’sMichelin-starred Aqua and Napa Valley’s Bouchon. Eventually, the brothers rekindled their decade long dream, moved back to their home town of Healdsburg, and opened Valette. Their promise to “servehonest food, have impeccable service, and house a collection of boutique, small production wines” is well kept. The open, wood plank walled and ceiling restaurant is rustic chic, and the staff is warm, almost jovial. The menu changes frequently, reflecting the local harvests and seasons, and the best bet to get a true appreciation of Chef Valette is to opt for the “Trust me Tasting menu.” Several courses were standouts during my “trust me” dinner, including the hearty roasted sunchoke soup, butternut squash pasta with a sprinkle of local pomegranate seeds, and the New York Steak with smoked beef “bacon.” Valette is one of those divine restaurants that can convert any picky patron into a delighted diner. The cuisine is that fresh and that well executed.  

A few blocks from Valette is a charming Portuguese restaurant, Café Lucia. Opened in 2012 by Portuguese native,Lucia Azevedo Fincher, who felt Healdsburg wasn’t ready for a Portuguese restaurant ten years ago. Now, however, the culinary scene has rapidly expanded and flourished. The daily oyster hour is not to be missed with freshly shucked oysters prepared several way and include a Rockafeller-Portuguese style. A weekly “Prato do Dia” (Plate of the Day) is launched on Fridays in homage to Lucia’s Portugal island days in Sao Jorge. The plates consistently seem to be a locals’ favorite. 

Healdsburg, a small town with now big taste in cuisine and hospitality, is a wine country imperative. From established accommodations such as Hotel Les Mars to new culinary standouts such as Valette, it’s difficult to be disappointed. 

Katherine Bond

Katherine Sutton Bond is a freelance travel and luxury item writer for Justluxe.com. She's traveled the world and sampled some of the leading hotels and destinations of the globe. She often covers luxury events and technology. ...(Read More)

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