11.14.2016

Solage Resort - Wine, Water and Wappos


Hot springs, Wappo Indians, Spanish Missionaries, wine – it’s all part of Calistoga’s history. Located in the upper end of the Napa Valley the town has long been a resort destination and Solage Resort is nearly synonymous with Calistoga.

 

The first health resort opened in 1862 and today there are more than a dozen, of which Solage is one of the premier resorts. Before Solage became Solage, it was 22 acres of horse pasture -inauspicious beginnings at best, but the current appeal of Solage is its proximity to charming Calistoga and the surrounding leafy green vineyards. Solage has also won a bunch of travel awards not to mention their excellent restaurant, Solbar, a seven-time Michelin Star-rated restaurant.

Solage has the feel of an organically grown resort. Rooms are set up as adjoining cottages surrounding an open green space, and each room has its own patio and rock wall shower, local coffee in your room was roasted down the street. Each room also offers bicycles for your own use like the 6-minute pedal into Calistoga, or just cruising along the Silverado Trail past historic vineyards. Solage also offers daily complementary classes from Pilates to meditation, spinning, and yoga, and a host of other wellness and fitness classes for a fee. There are two bocce ball courts, and two outdoor swimming pools - both heated to 98° - along with a decked out fitness room.

Me, Mudsliding
But folks come for the spa. Given this is Calistoga, known for their geo-thermal waters (and the smaller, much less well-known Old Faithful geyser) Solage has capitalized on water; heck, even the Wappos had typically one or two sweat lodges in each village around the Napa Valley to take advantage of the local waters. The Solage Spa takes full advantage of this in offering a variety of treatments of which the Mudslide is the most well known. I’m not a spa kind of guy – I get antsy with things - like this but the Mudslide was a very cool experience. There are single and double rooms available so you can do treatments solo or as a couple. The Mudslide is a detox treatment beginning with a mix of volcanic ash and South American mud, mixed specifically for you depending which of the four essential oils you want added to your mud. Those include the Stress Relief with lavender, tangerine, bergamot and geranium; the Revitalizer with spearmint, honey, sandalwood and lime; the Mood Enhancer with orange, mimosa, rose to the Muscle Soother with birch, eucalyptus, rosemary and ginger. 
Once the mix is made you are lead to a room to self-apply the mud and let the detox begin its work. This is a 20-minute process and after the mud is slathered on you it's time to relax in the 104-degree warmth. Then you shower it off and head next to the mineral soak - 10 minutes sitting inside a tub filled with geothermal water from the on-site well to rehydrate you as the mud mix dries out your skin. After that it’s the power nap, about 20 minutes, wrapped in a comforter in a zero gravity chair. But this not just any recliner. Music is piped in through noise canceling headphones (yes, put them on) but is also fed through the chair itself so that you can feel the vibrations of the music resonating through the chair. If you fall asleep you wake up feeling great. If you merely relax the vibrations of the music and the chair is a very cool sensory experience. 
Sound appealing? As a non-spa guy, yes. Yes it is.
Ballooning over Calistoga!
Solage was designed to be the truest expression of a health resort, devoid of artificial experiences. You don't have to be healthy and fit to stay here, - hell, I’m not - and it's not all Lulu Lemon, Birkenstocks and Namaste greetings. It is a modern wellness retreat patterned after its European counterparts (my article on an Austria wellness resort is HERE) and succeeds in offering a counterpoint to a stressful world.

Nearby Visits:
Bennett Lane Winery for killer Cabernet Sauvignon
Cliff Lede Winery for wine and art
Calistoga Balloon for amber-hued sunrise flights over the Valley
Sam’s Social Club for a jumping, hip food spot.
Fresh pressed Cabernet at Bennett Lane Winery


10.02.2016

The Middle of Somewhere – Of Wine, Virginia, and Red Fox


First off, no, this is not about Redd Foxx.
Second - I grew up in California where I still frequent Musso & Frank Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, having first opened in 1919. So when I'm on the east coast I try and look for restaurants that also have longevity. There’s something unique and very cool about eating at the same place that people have eaten at for hundreds of years; a connection to our collective past by way of a gathering place of food and drink. I have dined at places like Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria (started in 1770) and Sobrino de Botin, the oldest restaurant in Madrid, Spain (1725), and the amazingly cool Berggasthaus Ascher in Switzerland (1840s), tucked into a rock in the Alps. So when I was recently in Virginia I knew there would be compelling choices.

The Interior at the Red Fox
The Red Fox Tavern was built in 1728. The Tavern, originally known as Chinn’s Ordinary, it has gone through many iterations through the years. It was called the Beveridge House in the early 1800s, renamed the Middleburg Inn in the late 1800s, and finally renamed again as the Red Fox Inn in 1937, and it has provided food and lodging more or less non-stop for almost 300 years. The current owners have operated the Red Fox since 1976. It is situated in Middleburg, Virginia. Not familiar with Middleburg? Neither was I. An odd name at best - however it was a practical solution as it is the halfway, or middle, point between Alexandria and Winchester on John Mosby Highway, hence its monotonous moniker.

The Country Benedict
But the tedium ends there. The narrow doorways and low ceiling of the Red Fox remind you this was built many moons ago when people were smaller of stature. The local stone on the interior is painted a thick white, there are fireplaces in both rooms that illuminate and warm the convivial space. Colonial style wood chairs and wide plank flooring complete the visual with lots of paintings of horses and hunting dogs.
I stopped in for brunch and all brunches start with a plate of warm pastries made at a bakery nearby but they are light crisp and delicate. Also warm bread is provided and whipped sweet butter, which sets the stage for a two or three course prefix menu for brunch. But it is the peanut soup for which they are known. Served warm, add a bit of cracked pepper for an extra dimension of flavor. Peanut soup is pretty much peanut soup in that it tastes like, you know, peanut, and this iteration is mild and creamy and something most of us never try (the recipe is listed below from the restaurant), with a long history in the region. I do suggest The Country Benedict also, which offers a delicate, lemony Hollandaise.


Surrounding Middleburg, are numerous wineries adding to the already 230 wineries in Virginia. Best visits include GreenhillWinery nearby who make a delightful all Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc sparkler as well as several red blends. The tasting fee is $14 for 7 wines. The tasting room opens up to a covered porch and freestanding tables and chairs on the lawn. You'll also find local cheese, honey from the bees on their property and packaged frozen Charolais beef to take with you from their own cows. They also offer carriage rides through the vineyard.

Down the road is Chrysalis, a sleek and modern facility perched on a hill overlooking a small valley. Tastings are done both inside and outside which means dogs and kids are welcome. Jennifer McLeod was one of the first to plant Viognier in Virginia, and Viognier is now the state’s signature white wine. I originally wrote about this winery a decade ago for a magazine and now ten years later the Viognier still holds up well with lively nice acidity, notes of honey, apricot and lime.  Also you need to make a stop at 50 West who is turning out some stunningly good reds from grapes grown in Virginia including a very cool 100% Chambourcin Port called Dusk. And every Sunday they have hot mulled wine for $5 a glass. So if you're passing through this middle ground take time on either end of you trip to check out the charming Middleburg area.
The carriage rides at Greenhill Winery
Red Fox Tavern: Peanut Soup, 15 Servings
2 quarts chicken broth, 3 tablespoons flour
Small diced onion
1/3 teaspoon celery salt
Quarter pound butter
1 teaspoon salt
Two stalks celery diced
1 pint peanut butter
Half cup cream
Ground peanuts for topping
Melt butter add onion celery sauté for five minutes but don't brown.
Add flour and mix well.
Add heated chicken broth cook for 30 minutes.
Remove from stove, strain, add peanut butter and celery salt. Thicken with cream, top with ground peanuts, garnish with parsley.






8.21.2016

Walking Geneva – The City’s Historic Sites

Geneva, Switzerland (photo: Geneva Tourism)
Geneva dates back to at least 58 BC when the Romans established it as a settlement. It finally became an independent republic in 1536, but only really gained autonomy in 1602. Filled with lots of historic sites, the majority of which are located in the Old Town, a historical walking tour can be done at your own pace and time frame as not everything is clustered together. Considering the history of Geneva it makes sense to stay at Geneva’s very first hotel, the stately neoclassical Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, which dates to 1834. The building hosted the first assembly of the League of Nations in November 1920. There is also the Beau Rivage, which opened in 1865. Regardless of where you stay, Geneva is ripe with history…

Maison Tavel
The Maison Tavel (house of Tavel) is the oldest private residence in all of Geneva. In spite of a fire destroying it in 1334, it was rebuilt and is a classic example of medieval architecture, actually meant to identify with its original construction in the 11th Century. Currently it houses the Museum of Urban History and Daily Life of Geneva, featuring a number of relics from Geneva’s past including engravings, paintings and models. The attic contains an impressive scale model of pre-1850’s Geneva when it was still a walled city. Medieval graffiti in the basement of the house is a must see.

Pont et Tour de I’lle
A small island located in the Rhone River (directly in front of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel), this nondescript chunk of land was once a checkpoint for commuting between Northern and Southern Europe. It was accessed by bridge, however Julius Caesar destroyed the original bridge in 58 BC. A château was built here in 1219, although it too was demolished in 1677, and the tower is all that remains today of its historical past. The château was used as a prison and place of execution by the counts of Savoy.

Cafe Papon's Interior: (Photo: Cafe Papon)
Café Papon
One of the oldest cafes of Geneva, Le Café-Restaurant Papon opened in 1808. A restaurant, creperie, tearoom, and cafe, it has been hosting drinkers and diners under its vaulted ceilings and a terrace that stretches out onto the medieval fortifications of the Old Town for over 200 years. Papon has complemented its historical roots, conspicuous in the beautiful stone cellar in which it is located, with modern Swiss style. The menus draw on local, seasonal produce and if available, sample the monkfish cheeks and foie gras.

Courtyard of Hotel de Ville (photo: Geneva Tourism, Olivier Miche)
Hôtel-de-Ville
Though we define a “hotel” differently now, the original meaning included a place where kings and royalty convened. The Hotel-de-Ville in Geneva served as the seat of government as far back as the 15th Century. Its Baudet Tower, the only original structure left, was constructed in 1455 and the building has a cobblestone ramp instead of a staircase, still an architectural oddity and a unique element. Notable accomplishments of this power center; the Red Cross originated here in 1864, the first convening of the Geneva Convention occurred here, and it hosted the early meetings of the League of Nations in 1920.

The Canon and Mosaics (photo Geneva Tourism)
The Arsenal
This arcaded structure dates from 1634 and in the courtyard of the building is a cannon that was cast in 1683. It also houses several pictorial mosaic scenes, each depicting a different moment in Geneva’s history, created by Alexandre Cingria in 1949 including one illustrating Caesar's arrival in Geneva in 58 BC. There are a total of five cannon in all, which were still in commission (though never fired) up to the beginning of the 1800s. They all bear an inscription in Latin, which translates to, “light after darkness,” an homage not only to John Calvin and his impact on Geneva, but also what Switzerland has come to mean to a global population – civility and a lack of violence.

Place du Bourg-de-Four
Bourg-de-Four is the oldest square in Geneva and this spot was first a Roman forum and later a medieval town square. The Palais de Justice here was built in 1707. There is some evidence to suggest it was occupied by an East Germanic tribe in the 5th century, though not confirmed, but we do know it was once a cattle market. Today the square is made up of cafés and bars, each with umbrella-covered terraces. There is a constant hum of activity here, and the neo-classic fountain where six streets converge today was once a Roman aqueduct that brought water from the mountains to the city.

This house-museum is dedicated to the life and works of Voltaire. The museum is housed in Les Delices, which was Voltaire's home from 1755 until 1760. The property was bought by the city of Geneva in 1929, and the museum opened in 1952. It contains about 25,000 volumes on Voltaire and the 18th century as well as a collection of paintings and prints from the period, many depicting Voltaire, his relatives and acquaintances. Tours are available and the gardens are open year round.

Towering over the Old Town in the heart of the city, Saint Peter's Cathedral is Geneva's oldest and most impressive architectural treasure. The Cathedral was begun in 1160 and took over 400 years to complete, suffering numerous makeovers and fires throughout the years. The north tower offers incredible panoramic views of the city, while the basement houses an Archaeological Museum chronicling the excavation of artifacts found beneath the Cathedral, some dating back as far as 350 AD.

6.19.2016

Montreux: Half a Century of Jazz in Switzerland


Photo: c2014_ffjm-marc_ducres
I recall when I turned 50. I wasn’t impressed with my reaching five decades on Planet Earth, yet it was nonetheless something to ponder. No matter what your perspective on getting older, 50 is a milestone. Though Montreux Switzerland has roots dating to Roman times and was first mentioned in 1215, this small village of fewer than 30,000 people hosts one of the premiere music festivals in the world - the Montreux Jazz Festival. MJF is certainly the most scenic music festival, its postcard views of Lake Geneva out across to the Alps is breathtaking in every season. Turning 50 is a reason to celebrate Switzerland’s iconic jazz festival.
The Festival runs July 1 – 16th and uses 15 different venues - intimate classic jazz rooms, to larger stages for traditional performances to a host of free concerts and workshops, some even outdoors. But don’t let the word “jazz” throw you.  Sure, the early days saw legendary performers like Ella Fitzgerald, improvisational piano guru Keith Jarrett, Etta James, Chick Corea, Spyro Gyra, even Jonny Cash, Nina Simone, Fats Domino, Irish pop group The Coors, and countless others. Festival 2016 goes beyond jazz to become a celebration of the arts. The line up for 2016 includes Herbie Hancock, to Buddy Guy, but also ZZ Top, Slayer, and European groups large and small like African Acid is the Future, to hip hop, saxophonist Charles Lloyd, to guitarist Bireli Lagrene, and even DJ Shadow. There is, literally, something for everyone.


There are a number of hotels in the area and I highly recommend the LeFairmont Montreux Palace, with its waterfront setting and balconies that open up to the lake. I stayed on the 6th floor and the views, hospitality and sunsets are magnificent. Directly across the street is their lawn, one which has bronze jazz figures strewn throughout, and it’s an easy walking distance from the train so you don’t need a car assuming you fly into Geneva or Zurich.

The views from the 6th Floor
The sound of your heels on the marble floor telegraphs that you have arrived at Le Fairmont, as if the bright yellow awnings weren’t a clue. The Fairmont is at once opulent yet comfortable, refined but lived in. It has been a hotel its entire life since it opened in 1906 with the exception of being used as a hospital during both Word Wars. What’s striking about the Fairmont is that the hallways seem unreasonably wide, but this was common at the time when women wore barrel-shaped hoop skirts and women passing in a narrow hallway was simply not acceptable, nor easy. Of the 236 rooms, most offer a bathtub and separate shower and most rooms were refurbished in 2011 reflecting a slightly 1950s Moderne style. 

Along the Montreux waterfront
There are many original doors and windows from the old days with original brass fittings and lamps, chandeliers and sconces that should not be missed. On the way to the spa for example along a corridor you would normally pass by are a collections of wonderful old photos of the hotel and Montreux from the early 1900s. The original entrance to the hotel is now a parking lot entrance and the car rental service there may not know their place in history. Three restaurants are on site like the Jazz Café, and MP’s Bar & Grill, which have forgone the formality of previous years, instead they reflect a hip, trendy style with cuisine to match. There is also walking path that fronts Lake Geneva, which not only offers artworks along the path, but it’s also populated with a diversity of mature trees from Europe, Japan and Africa. No matter where you stay in Montreux, the city is postcard pretty and the Jazz Festival only adds to the allure of this ideal Swiss town.







3.14.2016

Charlie’s World – A Sneak Peak at Switzerland’s Charlie Chaplin Museum


(Photo:Michael Cervin)
American film icon Charlie Chaplin lived his last 26 years, not as an American film star, but as a cast away without a country, finding solace in a home perched above Lake Geneva, in Corsier-sur-Vevey Switzerland. His estate is being turned into a museum and Chaplin’s World –The Modern Times Museum, scheduled to open Spring 2016, aims to honor the professional and personal life of one of the world’s most beloved movie stars. I toured the construction site in late 2015 to get a first hand look and originally wrote about it for Forbes. This is a more in depth look at Chaplin’s Manoir le Ban.

The Manoir during Chaplin's time there
Born in England Charlie Chaplin came to the U.S. in 1911 and you pretty much know the story: the biggest movie star in the world, his Little Tramp is one of the most iconic images on the planet. Chaplin was a pioneer filmmaker and storyteller and many of the creative story devices he created are still used in films today. But when his U.S. citizenship was revoked during the McCarthy hearings in (Chaplin found out while aboard ship heading to Europe to promote his latest film Limelight) he was crushed at hearing the news was forced to think on his feet. He began to imagine staying put in the Cote D’Azur, Paris, and London but Switzerland won out in part because Chaplin’s brother-in-law mentioned that Charlie might prefer the quiet discretion of the Swiss banks in which to place his money. As it happened, an American diplomat was ready to unload his house in Vevey (an hour outside of Geneva) and two weeks after Chaplin first saw Manoir le Ban, he was moving in.

The Manoir under construction, 2015. Photo Michael Cervin
Originally built in 1840, Chaplin’s Manoir le Ban sits on 35 acres and originally was, more or less, a pig farm. Chaplin bought the estate then succeeded in living a not-so-quiet life, entertaining guests and frequently visiting nearby Montreux impeccably dressed and showing off. The Manoir consisted of a main house, barn, garage and living quarters for Chaplin’s dozen servants, as well as a swimming pool and tennis court. Charlie Chaplin died in 1977 and the estate went to his family. At one point Disney was interested in the property. When the family sold the estate in 2008 to a group of investors it was for the sole purpose to create Chaplin’s World, set to open in mid 2016. I was given exclusive access to see the boisterous construction firsthand in October 2015.

The library under construction, 2015. (Photo Michael Cervin)
“This is the project of my life,” Yves Durand, president of the Chaplin Museum, tells me wearing white a hardhat and bright orange vest, his small frame reduced even further by the construction workers and the buildings currently in a state of disrepair outside Montreux. “Every square meter is important.” Durand, somewhat obsessed with Chaplin, told me that as a young boy he had Chaplin posters tacked to his wall, a constant image of the Little Tramp affixing its mesmerizing quality onto his brain.

Chaplin's Office, 2015  (Photo Michael Cervin)
As part of Chaplin’s World the house, barn and servants quarters are being completely remodeled. What was once the garage and servant’s quarters will be business offices. The old barn will house a restaurant tentatively called The Limelight, and gift shop. And an entirely new building is underway, a cavernous two-story structure, which will feature different aspects of Chaplin’s film life including a walk down a main street from Chaplin’s Tramp days. Full screen and multi media images of Chaplin’s films, and movie stars from the 1920s, 30s and 40s will ornament the place in the form of 20 life-sized wax caricatures. There are 200,000 archives including 15,000 photographs to be sorted through, and new Little Tramp merchandise and branding will follow. They anticipate 300,000 visitors annually.

Statue of Chaplin in Vevey, Switzerland
Chaplin’s residence including library, office and bedrooms are being transformed into what will be, ideally, a dedication to the personal life of Chaplin. The main house will contain personal memorabilia from his estate, from the impact of the McCarthy hearings to Chaplin’s dalliances with young girls. You will be able to go inside Chaplin’s bedroom, his office, and the library and even to the top of the house, which was the children’s area (Chaplin and wife Oona had eight children living at the Manoir) with artifacts about Chaplin, many of which were donated by the Chaplin family. This is an ambitious project at a cost of 50 million Swiss Francs, according to Durand. “We feel a responsibility to do this correctly, to be the nicest museum in Switzerland,” he says.

The grounds too are being completely redone, adding a much-needed parking lot, which used to be Chaplin’s garden, and converting the decrepit landscaping to its former glory. Staying in place are several mature pine and cedar trees including one Durand says was a favorite of pop star Michael Jackson who, along with the likes of Albert Einstein, visited Manoir Le Ban. Chaplin’s tennis court and swimming pool are gone but the stunning views of Lake Geneva and the Alps remain, as will the memory of a man who forever transformed the film industry.

(Photos Michael Cervin unless noted. Additional photos courtesy  
  Chaplin's World™ © Bubbles Incorporated SA)







3.06.2016

Book Review - National Geographic’s Guide to National Parks


We were born to be outdoors. We are linked to nature by evolution and spirit. And in America we have taken steps to secure vast tracts of land to honor our heritage and our future. We call these our National Parks.  Yet many of us do not fully take advantage of the incredible stunning beauty of our collective parks - these temples of vistas and waterfalls, shrines of trees and forests, these cathedrals of granite and sandstone. Admittedly I have been to few of the places listed in National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States-8th Edition, so as I thumbed through the pages of this book, through the cool facts and figures, through the captivating images, the book did exactly as it was intended - it inspired me, made me crave to travel and place my feet on ancient soil, wrap my hands around verdant plants and breathe in the scents only magnificent natural surrounds can do. Yeah, you probably know and maybe have visited the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Yosemite. But do you know anything about IsleRoyale in Michigan, or Dry Tortugas in Florida? The book details 59 National Parks including the Channel Islands in my backyard of Santa Barbara.

I have written four Moon travel books so I know firsthand the tremendous amount of work that goes into a book like this. I love the precise detail for each of the parks, practical information you may not always know. Aside from that I’m a fan of quirky – and this book provides odds and ends too, like the fact that Capital Reef in Utah is, “so remote the nearest traffic light is 78 miles away.” Or try this on - in California’s Sequoia National Park, there are spots, “farther from a road than any other place in the lower 48 states.” This is not a book for a select few. This is a book for everyone, a book you need to own even if you never plan on taking a plane anywhere - the photos alone will transport you. But this is also a book about celebration and about how our respect and admiration of our planet can be literally manifested in our ability to protect natural beauty so that we may always stand in awe of the world around us.

National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States/8th Edition
$28 - 494 Pages

2.13.2016

The Emperor Needs No Clothes - Who Is In Max’s Innsbruck Tomb?


By all accounts Maximillian I seemed to love life, and why not? He was the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from 1508 until he died in 1515 (although he was never officially crowned by the Pope), so pretty much anything and everything was available to him. Before that he was archduke of Austria where he laid the groundwork for much of Europe as part of the Hapsburg dynasty. Like many of that generation, and up to our present narcissistic beliefs, it was crucial, and I mean crucial, to be remembered after death – to be loved and adored well into infinity. Therefore plans were underway a decade prior to Max’s demise for his memorial; an elaborate marble tomb flanked by dozens of life-size bronze statues in stunning detail that flank Max’s sepulcher.

Just one of the large bronze statues
I visited the Tomb and was impressed by the scope of the monument, but what illuminates the imagination is the near jaw dropping detail. A stately Renaissance-style grill on all four sides of the tomb is topped by the kneeling Maximilian and supported at the four corners by statues of the cardinal virtues. It’s important to remember that this was all done by hand, before computer generated images, 3D printing, or cheap Chinese labor. And this is what is so remarkable about the tomb – the immense handiwork and time it took to complete it. Max’s tomb is housed inside the Hofkirche or “court church,” in downtown Innsbruck, Austria. The church itself is rather unremarkable so this is really about Max and his elaborate tomb. The sides of the marble tomb have 24 hand-carved inlaid panels depicting various scenes from his life such as his wedding and battles carved by Alexandre Colin of Belgium. He died before it was completed so his son carried on with the work of finishing the tomb.

The stunning detail of the marble panels is exquisite
The website, The World of the Habsburgs, which chronicles the dynasty says this about the tomb: “The design represents a combination of classical tomb and medieval funerary cortege and is symptomatic of Maximilian’s concept of art, which sought to revive classical ideals while remaining bound to medieval traditions.” Hum. “The monument was intended to glorify the Habsburgs and legitimize their imperial status by referencing the Roman emperors and their tombs.” Well then, mission accomplished.

Max kneels atop his own tomb
But here is the twist - this elaborate tomb so dutifully created, planned and executed, this staggeringly intricate piece of art - well, Max isn’t buried here. Who is? Actually…no one. There are no bones of Max inside the tomb, or anywhere near it. His remains are in Vienna, not Innsbruck, 300 miles away. So all this work, craftsmanship, time, dedication and toil resulted in an empty coffin. But you can, and should, visit the Tomb of Maximilian for the sheer magnitude of artistry represented here if you are in Innsbruck. It is a reminder that much of what history leaves us is less about political dynasties and nation building, and more about artists who toil in virtual obscurity, leaving behind physical manifestations of their God-given abilities.