Known the world over for wine making and grape growing, Napa isn’t as environmentally enlightened as you might think. Growing grapes requires a great deal of water and -- unless they're organic -- quite a lot of pesticides, too. And Napa Valley culture, influenced by generations-old family farming dynasties, can be slow to change and accept new ways.
For these reasons, green travel has come late to the party in Napa. But now that it’s here, the Napa Valley boasts some of the greenest hotels in the country. The three-year-old Gaia Hotel, for example, was the first LEED-certified gold property in the U.S., and newer resorts like Solage and the Silverado Resort have put in place all sorts of environmentally friendly initiatives. (At Solage, for example, room service requests are fulfilled by staff members on bicycles.)
The latest arrival on the Napa Valley scene, Bardessono Hotel, isn't so much catching up, as surpassing rival properties. One of only a handful of hotels in the U.S. reaching for platinum LEEDS status, Bardessono is green through and through, from the rammed-earth walls and recycled materials it's built from to its state-of-the-art energy system, fed by 900 solar panels and 82 geothermal wells, that produces so much energy last year they had to sell some of it back to PG&E.
Developer Phil Sherburne, who grew up on an Oregon dairy farm and was a semi-famous student organizer in the 1960s, has earned plenty of green cred for his efforts. Robert Redford was one of the first celebrity guests, and Toyota used the hotel's conference facilities to launch the new redesigned Prius.But the main reason to come to Bardessono is that it's just plain gorgeous.
Built on and taking its name from one of Yountville's prime agricultural homesteads, the ranch farmed for generations by the sprawling Bardessono family, this luxury boutique hotel and spa is laid out in such a way that guests spend almost every waking moment outdoors. The rooms, which are clustered in separate pod-like buildings, are designed for almost complete privacy; you honestly don't have to see your fellow guests if you'd prefer not to. (A lure for celebs, I'm sure.) And the gardens are laid out in an airy, pseudo-Zen fashion with rock-tiled paths meandering between stone-lined streambeds.
Among the many water features is a Stonehenge-like fountain that's eerily breathtaking at night.The restaurant, which serves a surprisingly reasonable prix-fixe four-course dinner on Sundays that's attracting locals as well as guests, does farm-to-table cuisine with all the attention to freshness and herb-infused flavor it deserves. And the spa -- all I can say is, it's worth it to pay a little extra for the vinotherapie massage, which features light, aromatic Chardonnay grapeseed oil and leaves you limp as a rag but greaseless enough to hop straight in the pool. Which, with its enormous enclosed, pillow-strewn cabanas reminiscent of a seventies Middle Eastern-themed restaurant, is phenomenal, by the way.
Napa Valley foodie towns like Yountville have long been famous for name-brand restaurants like The French Laundry, but what’s less well known is the leadership Napa Valley chefs have played in what’s now being called “farm to fork” cuisine. What this means is that the heirloom tomatoes in your caprese salad were grown in the restaurant’s own garden, the sheep’s milk cheese that tops them is from the dairy down the road, the oysters on the grill were harvested from nearby Tomales Bay.
Bardessono’s restaurant uses herbs grown in an aromatic kitchen garden right on the property, while a bigger garden producing the bulk of the produce is located on land loaned by a nearby winery. While this garden isn’t open for viewing, right next to it is The French Laundry’s enormous and fruitful garden (both gardens are across the street from The French Laundry on Washington street) careful labeling makes it possible to see exactly what the exotic eggplants, peppers, squash, and berries featured in Thomas Keller’s iconic recipes look like while they’re still on the bush.
Day 2 - Napa
2201 Imola Ave.
Napa, CA 94559
tel: (707) 252-0481