Great American Drives
Published: January 2011
Whether you’re looking for mud baths or dirt trails, rare antiques or just a really good meal, <em>Travel + Leisure</em> has mapped out easy drives that are sure to steer you in the right direction.
San Francisco to Calistoga, California
A day of spas, with a side of Syrah
Distance 80 miles
Driving Time 2 hours
San Franciscans seeking a holistic holiday have been decamping to Napa Valley’s northernmost town for 150 years. Over that time, Calistoga has managed to remain (for Napa) remarkably unfussy, especially when compared to its tony neighbors St. Helena and Yountville; pickup trucks still cruise the main drag, and most local restaurants are Riedel-free.
Forgo the slightly faster eastern route across the Bay Bridge for the more mellow one through the Marin headlands. Minutes after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll be racing luxury cars on four-lane Highway 101. By the time you reach Route 12, connecting Sonoma and Napa counties, you’ll start seeing tidy trellises of vines whizzing by. Far too soon, the road meets Route 29, Napa’s main artery, clogged with limos transporting responsible tasters.
Hit the Spa
The classic Calistoga mud-bath experience—sinking into an aromatic mass of muck heated to 105 degrees—is not for the prim. This town has more kitschy mud emporiums than one would care to count, let alone visit. But among the long-standing lot, the private Golden Haven Hot Springs (1713 Lake St.; 707/942-8000; treatments from $49) is one of the most professional and up-to-date. Lavender Hill Spa (1015 Foothill Blvd.; 800/528-4772), considered to be one of Calistoga’s cleanest, caters to couples wanting to get their feet wet; two cheery yellow cabins in the garden have double tubs, padded head-to-toe. Lavender Hill’s hour-long Volcanic Mud Bath ($99 per couple)—more bath than mud—involves soaking for 30 minutes in mineral water sprinkled with volcanic ash, salts, and lavender oil, then transferring to a massage table to be swaddled in a blanket and given a vigorous foot rub.
Where to Eat
Open since September, barVino (1457 Lincoln Ave.; 707/942-9900; dinner for two $60) is the watering hole local oenophiles were waiting for. The owners have forged relationships with 25 small-batch wineries and put an emphasis on education: servings come by the taste (two ounces), glass, and half-carafe. Each pour is accompanied by a handout detailing the wine’s makeup and producer, with space for notes. The modern interior winks at wine making: cork walls, rough-edged oak tables, a booth upholstered in burgundy red. Chef Ross Kilkenny, who trained at New York’s River Café, prepares simple small plates (local cheeses, calamari with lemon-infused olive oil) that stand up to the wines.
Stretch Your Legs
The Silverado Trail, tracing the eastern edge of the valley, may as well have been built for biking, with a dedicated lane, gentle hills, and wineries that serve as perfectly spaced pit stops. Rent at Calistoga Bikeshop (1318 Lincoln Ave.; 866/942-2453; from $25 a day), and be sure to stop at Clos Pegase (1060 Dunaweal Lane; 707/942-4981), a winery designed by Michael Graves; the sculpture garden includes works by Mark DiSuvero and Richard Serra.
People often compare Napa Valley to Tuscany—the olive groves, the artisanal food, and now, a castle. Fourth-generation winemaker Daryl Sattui spent the past 14 years building Castello di Amorosa (4045 N. St. Helena Hwy.; 707/286-7212), a 121,000-square-foot medieval-style castle, constructed from hand-carved chestnut beams, basalt, sandstone, and 200-year-old brick. He was nothing if not thorough: among the 107 rooms are a church, stables, and a dungeon, complete with torture devices. (The entire project cost $27 million.) Says Sattui, a self-proclaimed "madman" with an affinity for pocket squares, "I just wanted to build out all of my ideas." Thus, 100 of those rooms are of no use to the public. Politicians and San Francisco socialites—George Pataki, Dede Wilsey—have hosted events in the frescoed Great Hall. Beginning this month, visitors can taste Castello wines (Merlot, Pinot Grigio) in the underground cellar and then take a 45-minute castle tour. For a couple of hours, you’ll forget you’re in Napa—and the 21st century.
Calistoga Ranch (580 Lommel Rd.; 800/942-4220; www.calistogaranch.com; doubles from $525) is like summer camp for pampered adults, with copper-trimmed cedar cabins serving as beautiful bunks. No cars are allowed on the 157-acre property, so everyone—including robed couples en route to the Bathhouse spa—is escorted about in golf carts. Morning yoga takes place in the wine cave, and after a soak in the spa’s mineral pool, guests stay warm under handwoven chenille throws in front of outdoor fireplaces. The 90-minute Cabernet Classic—grapeseed scrub and grapeseed-oil massage ($210)—makes creative use of the Valley’s most famous crop.
New York City to Kent, Connecticut
Smart shopping, from antiques to boutiques
Distance 100 miles
Driving Time 2 hours
A self-reliant Yankee spirit permeates Main Street in Kent, a pre-Revolutionary village in Litchfield County where art galleries and antiques shops coexist with bucolic cornfields. Cafés, boutiques, and independently owned bookstores occupy 19th-century houses set back from the street. "The stores are personal reflections of their owners, who are usually on the premises," says local antiques dealer Elaine Friedman.
From Manhattan, choose leafy Riverside Drive over the often jammed West Side Highway to the Henry Hudson Bridge. Pass up speedy I-87 and 684 for the far prettier route along the Saw Mill and Taconic parkways. The Taconic is called a parkway for a reason; the meandering four-lane highway (no trucks or rest stops) has handsome stone bridges and rustic wooden guardrails. The final five-mile stretch of the drive, on Route 7 North to Kent’s town center, hugs the Housatonic River and is one of the most picturesque parts.
Stop and Shop
Kent’s residents are beyond discerning—influential people from the worlds of fashion, publishing, the arts, and philanthropy own second homes here. A refreshingly idiosyncratic mix of shops meets the exacting standards of locals and visitors alike. Friedman, the owner of Lyme Regis, Ltd. (43 N. Main St.; 860/927-3330), makes twice-yearly visits to England to select her quirky assortment of oddities, from figural inkwells and snuffboxes to vintage valentines. The boldest antiques are found at R. T. Facts (22 S. Main St.; 860/927-1700) where owners Natalie and Greg Randall stock muscular griffins, statuary, and lanterns, for the home and garden. And B. Johnstone (4 N. Main St.; 860/927-1272) is a winsome boutique run by Bartley Inge Johnstone, an effervescent interior designer who handpicks her collections of clothing and new and vintage housewares.
Where to Eat
Kent’s rather limited dining scene got a boost three years ago when Christine Holland opened Restaurant Moosilauke (23 Maple St.; 860/927-4145; dinner for two $96) in a rustic 18th-century house, a romantic setting for market-driven dishes such as mulled cider-glazed Berkshire pork chops. For a quick pick-me-up, discriminating chocoholics will want to make a pilgrimage to Belgique (Rte. 7 at Rte. 341; 860/927-3681), a European- style patisserie proffering handmade truffles and brioches in a mustard yellow Victorian carriage house.
Eric Sloane (1905-85) was a local artist, author, and illustrator whose extensive collection of Early American, pre-Industrial Era tools was the nucleus for the eccentric Sloane-Stanley Museum (Rte. 7; 860/927-3849; www.chc.state.ct.us/sloanestanleymuseum.htm; open May through October). The wall-mounted displays of axes, saws, baskets, and other farm implements recall Julia Child’s iconic peg-board of pots and pans. A dog treadmill, which harnessed canine power to churn butter, is a reminder of the ingenuity of American farmers before electricity. A full re- creation of Sloane’s studio—with its massive fireplace, jars of paintbrushes, and crowded bookshelves—rounds out the picture of the New England renaissance man.
Staying at the six-room Inn at Kent Falls (107 Kent Cornwall Rd.; 860/927-3197; www.theinnatkentfalls.com; doubles from $195) is like visiting your stylish "country" friends who are partial to Frette sheets and cushy, snow-white-slipcovered furniture. Owner Ira Goldspiel, a former New York fashion executive, and general manager Glen Sherman, a Florida transplant, greet guests each morning with a breakfast of housemade granola and double-baked brioche French toast. The floors in this meticulously renovated 18th-century farmhouse creak just enough for atmosphere, but everything else is up-to-date (rooms have Internet access and CD players). If it’s available, book the Lakes Suite, which has a claw-foot bathtub set in front of a candlelit fireplace.
Phoenix to Tubac, Arizona
Outward-bound, between desert and forest
Distance 157 miles
Driving Time 2.5 hours
South of Tucson, the 9,500-foot Santa Rita Mountains rise like islands out of a flat, sea-like desert. At a Forest Service park in Madera Canyon, Oregon-like woods are crisscrossed with hiking and biking trails of all levels. Come evening, canyon visitors retreat to the arts-and-crafts town of Tubac, situated in a beautiful desert valley with a stream running through it.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any smart shortcuts out of Phoenix’s sprawl. But just beyond the city limits is the moon-like Sonoran Desert, with roadside blooms of yellow prickly pear. Things get truly interesting after you pass through Tucson, switch to I-19, and start gaining altitude. En route to Madera Canyon Recreational Park, the curving strip of hot blacktop will start to rise and fall like a wild roller coaster, moving between desert and forest and finally tundra at the summit—all within a 2,000-foot ascent.
Take it Outside
The 13-mile-long Elephant Head Trail, which begins near the top of Madera Canyon, can be a bruiser—you’re bicycling past barrel cactus at peak speed—but the views are unmatched. There’s paved road on both ends of the course, so bicyclists can be dropped off and picked up easily. Tucson-based Sol Journeys will meet you at the I-19 trailhead for a guided daylong ride with picnic lunch, yoga wind-down, and a half-hour post-biking massage (www.soljourneys.com; custom trips from $175 per person). For hikers—and birders—the Bog Springs-Kent Spring Loop, a 4.3-mile trek through dense woods linking several different fern-laced springs, will not disappoint. More than 15 species of hummingbirds, as well as the Trogon—a large parrot-like bird from Mexico—take shelter here.
Where to Eat
The Mexican border lies just 23 miles south of Tubac, so it’s no wonder that tacos, enchiladas, and margaritas are popular. Wisdom’s Cafe (1931 E. Frontage Rd., Box 25; 520/398-2397; lunch for two $35), a lovable dive, has been serving tasty beef enchiladas for more than 60 years. For the area’s most sophisticated Mexican food, Dos Silos (520/398-3737; dinner for two $55), on the grounds of the Tubac Golf Resort, prepares dishes such as chicken mole and corn casserole.
The 68-room Tubac Golf Resort (1 Otero Rd.; 520/398-2211; www.tubacgolfresort.com; doubles from $179), set on a 500-acre historic ranch, is within walking distance of the Anza trail, a lazy path following the cottonwood-lined Santa Cruz River (www.nps.gov/juba). For a more intimate stay, check into the Tubac Secret Garden Inn (13 Placita de Anza; 520/398-9371; www.tubacsecretgarden.com; doubles from $125), a bed-and-breakfast run by the welcoming Leila Pearsall, who serves fresh cinnamon rolls at breakfast. The classic Southwest interior—terra-cotta Saltillo tiles on the floor, white adobe walls—give you the sense that you’re in an old western.