By Lead Travel Writer, Renee Fontaine
“One of the best things about folklore and fairy tales is that the best fantasy
is what you find right around the corner, in this world.”
— Terry Windling
Picture a fairytale — a vision of rolling hills, serene lakes, prancing deer, chirping birds, and flowering trees. As children, we are taught to believe that such places truly exist; and after a few twists and turns on the path of life, we will encounter such a paradise. As we mature with time and age, such fairytale images become blurred. We lose faith that such a paradise can be found. But, be sure, just around the corner such a wonderland does exist. Recently, l found such a path that led me down a rabbit hole to a land more beautiful and serene than any story told. My tale began, as all fairytales do, with “Once upon a time” and a woman with long golden hair.
Once Upon a Time
“Truly, there is magic in fairytales. For it takes but a simply-uttered ‘Once upon a time …’ to allure and spellbind an audience.”
— Richelle E. Goodrich
Once upon a time there was a travel writer who had the good fortune to visit enchanting vacation rental properties for the purpose of sharing with the world the wonders and beauties of such homes and destinations. That travel writer just happens to be me.
One cool spring evening, I was visiting some dear friends in my home state of Minnesota. While sharing a glass of wine, my story unfolded of my upcoming journey to review a lake home in California’s wine region. Discussions of travel, combined with glasses of wine, led to discussions of beauty techniques and contemplations of hair styles. After a few more glasses of wine, a friend, who works as a beautician, allured me into considering hair extensions. Coincidently, I had just recently been looking at photos of myself as a child and admiring how long my hair had been. After a few more glasses of wine, the hair extensions were ordered from the appropriately named beauty supply store, Cinderella Hair.
Two days later, the long golden locks arrived. A small party was arranged at my friend’s Minneapolis apartment. My other friends watched and poured more wine into our glasses as my beautician friend worked her magic. A few hours later the transformation was complete. Looking in the mirror, the words from a fairytale came to my mind, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair.” My long golden locks were truly an image from this classic tale.
Falling Down the Rabbit Hole
A few days later, I arrived at the Sacramento airport at dusk. Hues of pink and orange painted on the horizon made for a stunning sunset over the dry valley. Darkness arrived quickly, creating a panorama of sparkling stars and crescent moon.
Taking the road to the west, silhouettes of low mountains shaped the horizon. The flat, straight road soon became winding as it took me up and around a dark invisible land. The scent of fresh pine and spring flowers floated through the cracks in the window.
The Lakeview Retreat lay quietly waiting for me as I drove down the lushly, landscaped driveway. The warmth and comfort of the home welcomed me the moment I opened the front door. My hosts had graciously arranged a bouquet of daffodils on the dining room table. A bottle of fine wine was waiting for me in the refrigerator.
I meandered my way slowly through the home. A warm and inviting living room with a wood burning stove and comfy sectional sofa create a stylish, yet cozy appeal. The spacious main floor bedroom with private porch and large walk-in closet make a nice haven and is perfect for a guest who enjoys privacy during his or her stay.
A staircase led to the master bedroom with an en-suite bathroom on the second floor. The plush, queen size bed beckoned me. Slipping into my pajamas, I fell sound asleep in the warmth and comfort of the fine linens. Like Sleeping Beauty, I slept deeply, without sound or movement.
Awakening in a Wonderland
The sound of chirping birds and light of the new day gently awakened me with a kiss of the soft pink sunrise. As my eyes fluttered open, I saw the full wall of windows to the east. A magical wonderland laid before my eyes. At the center, a calm serene lake was surrounded by rolling green hills. Flowering trees added hues of pink and purple. Below on the lawn, a small deer was enjoying a breakfast of fresh, spring grass.
Enchanted by the beauty, I dressed quickly and scurried downstairs to plan my adventure.
In the spirit of a fairy godmother, my host had graciously provided me with a treasure trove of information and maps of the area. Sipping a cup of hot tea on the spacious porch overlookingClear Lake, I started to read through the materials. Lake County, located in the heart of the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountains, just 20 miles north of Napa Valley, boasts the cleanest air in California. Clear Lake is the oldest lake in the continental United States and includes a variety of volcanic soils ranging from volcanic to alluvial. Clear Lake is believed to have been in existence for approximately two and a half million years. Overlooking the lake is Mount Konocti, an old dormant volcano which was sacred to the Native American Tribes.
Reading a bit further, I learned that Lake County is truly a wonderland home to hundreds of bird species, large fish, deer and elk population, reservoirs, wildflowers, elevated valleys, fertile farms, and of course, vineyards! The range of fun-filled activities in the area is more diverse than any fairytale ever written, including swimming, boating, water skiing, wakeboarding, jet skiing, tubing, fishing, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, sea plane riding, hot spring soaking, hiking, golfing, bicycling, mountain biking, bird watching, nature walking, berry picking, shopping, antique hunting, and dancing. Woo! That is enough to satisfy any adventure seeking, fairytale loving traveler.
But there is more! The climate and soil conditions make Lake County an ideal location for growing grapes for wine production. In fact, prior to prohibition, Lake County was more predominant in viticulture than Napa Valley. The ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors, caused Lake County’s agricultural community to shift to walnuts and pears. Napa Valley took the lead in wine production when prohibition was repealed in 1933. However, over the past fifteen years, Lake County has begun to shift back to viticulture. Today, Lake County has 32 wineries and 8,800 acres of vineyard plantings!
Fortified with this wealth of information, I pulled my golden locks into a side braid, put on a sweater, and headed out the door to experience this fairytale land.
Hot Springs and Mud Baths
What fairytale would be complete without a good friend to join me on my journey? After all, where would the Little Mermaid be without Sebastian, or Shrek without Donkey? So, my dear friend, Rosalinda, who lives just North of Sacramento, joined me for a few days to explore this magical land.
Leaving the Lakeview Retreat, we drove the winding roads along the lake. Around every curve was a supernatural landscape with large moss-covered boulders, knee-high ferns, and wild turkeys. I expected one of the seven dwarfs to appear at any moment.
Traveling south, passing Middletown, we came to Calistoga, well-known for its hot springs and mud baths. This picturesque town is the epitome of Northern California with western-style architecture, fine restaurants and shops, and west coast friendly patrons. Desiring to experience the relaxation and health benefits associated with the hot springs, we stopped by Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa. In the fortitude of the Three Little Pigs, we soaked in tub of mud, which we were told, is beneficial for detoxifying the body. While soaking in the warm muck, I pondered this theory. Were pigs really healthier than the rest of us? Following up with a long soak in the hot mineral waters, we left refreshed, hungry, and ready to explore the area.
While meandering our way through the shops on Main Street and chatting with the locals, one woman enthusiastically recommended a restaurant in St. Helena called the Goose & Gander.Hungry and curious, we drove south out of Calistoga to St. Helena. Arriving at the restaurant, we found a cozy spot by the bar in the downstairs lounge. We marveled at the décor and ambience. The fresh flowers and herbs scattered throughout the bar combined with the dark wood and soft yellow lighting unite for a Provincial style appeal. The menu was equally inviting, including such unique items as smoked corn croquettes, roasted wild and tame mushrooms, and polenta cakes. This was some of the best cuisine I have experienced all year!
The next afternoon we visited the tasting rooms in nearby Kelseyville – just a short drive from the beautiful Lakeview Retreat. Sitting at Rosa d’Oro’s tasting room bar, Livia, explained that their vineyard is a family run operation. This Italian style vineyard opened in 1991 and specializes in such varieties as Muscat, Nebbiolo Riserva and Sagrantino. They also produce ports. Their favorite is named Carmen after Livia’s daughter. That evening we discovered the Saw Shop Gallery Bistro. The hometown flare atmosphere with sophisticated décor was warm and welcoming. We were greeted like hometown residents.
Another day we were warmly welcomed to Chacewater Winery and Olive Mill. Our host, Raphael, wearing a big smile and speaking with a soft Spanish accent, gave us a tour and tasting. Named after a town in England, this winery opened in 2010. The high-tech juice extraction and production methods are state-of-art. Their Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec are outstanding. The olive oils were equally impressive, ranging from soft and fruity to classic Spanish style.
Driving through the countryside one afternoon, we spotted a group of wild turkeys. We stopped to get a closer look. Three males had their colorful feathers held high and fanned out like a Thanksgiving Day commercial. They were dancing about trying to get the attention of the females who did not give them a second glance.
Curiosity about organic wine varieties brought us to Beaver Creek Vineyards. This organic, bio-dynamic, certified vineyard is a step above purely organic practices. Owner Martin Pohl explained that bio-dynamic vineyards are rich in micro-organisms, bugs and animals grazing on avariety of different plants that enrich the soils and vines. Their wines are the product of these pure elements, resulting in unique fragrance and tastes. I noticed that one of their was named “2010 Fairytale Cabernet Sauvignon.” I laughed at the coincidence as it related to the theme of this article.
One early afternoon, after sipping our daily espresso at Studebakers in Kelseyville, we took a tour of the Six Sigma Ranch and Winery. Winding through the country trails that lead from themain highway to the tasting room, we admired the amazing landscape of rolling hills with rows of vines, grazing cattle, and wooded areas. The 4300 acres of land was developed by owners Kaj and Else Ahlmann as a sustainable ranch and vineyard. Located within an old stagecoach stop, the tasting room mirrors the western impression of the land.
We were warmly greeted by Judy Wilson who offered us a variety of wines to taste. The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc was exceptional!
One more day in wonderland allowed us another vineyard to visit. We arrived at Vigilance late in the afternoon as the sun was lowering behind the horizon. We admired the rows of vines stretched out in all directions as we slowly drove down the entrance. Sheep of all colors and sizes wandered between the vines. They stopped to look at us when we approached.
Arriving at the tasting house, the view was breathtaking – rolling hills of varying shades of green, budding vine shafts, large puffy clouds, and the tail end of Clear Lake. Marcie, at the tasting room counter, greeted us with a warm and friendly smile. She gave us details about the vineyard. Located on 236 acres of prime high-elevation land, Vigilance uses sustainable farming practices. This includes the use of 1,000 head of sheep that serve as a compost machine in charge of canopy management and leaf removal. Marcie offered us a tasting of several varieties including a flavorful 2010 Petite Sirah and 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. My favorite was the Dalliance Red. The deep garnet colors with aromas of cherry, flavors of blackberry, and cinnamon are derived from a blend of five grape varieties.
Happily Ever After
The following morning, I awoke one last time to the fantasy-like view from the master bedroom window. After enjoying my morning tea on the expansive back terrace, I packed my bags and started my way back to reality.
Driving the winding roads to the east, I passed by pale green hills, clear blue lakes, and flowering trees, I traveled out of the fairytale and back to the dry central dessert of Sacramento. But, the Lakeview Retreat and Lake County experience stayed with me. Because once having stepped inside a fairytale, as Alice knows, there is never the possibility of seeing the world in the same light. The whole world is a fairytale when we see it through magical lenses.
As every fairytale lover knows, everyone has the capacity to live happily ever after. All I need now, is for my knight in shining armor; or Richard Gere in an Armani suit, to ride up on his white horse or drive up in his red Maserati to sweep me off my feet – wink! For availability and reservations at the Lakeview Retreat you may call 707-718-4008.
“The world is a fairy tale; we are its guardians.”
– Dejan Stojanovic, The Sun Watches the Sun
This property was selected for the Vacation Rentals for the Wine Connoisseur category due to proximity to many vineyards located in Lake County. This property is also suitable for the categories of Vacation Rentals for the Sports Enthusiast, Super Romantic, and Beach Area Vacation Rentals
Comments Welcome: Make a comment below (our writers work hard…give them some love!) on any of our Live Reviews by Travel Writer Cindy White, Liz Manduca, Emily Yurcheshen, Deborah Nelson, or Renee Fontaine, and get a FREE Digital version of The Vacation Rental Travel Guide when it is hot off the press!