Post-COVID travel to Calistoga a great gift for the holidays December 13, 2020

Ginny Prior/for Bay Area News Group Just a block off Calistoga’s main street is Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort, where the grounds are laced with lush greenery and swaying palms fan the mineral pools, above

It’s Santa’s big week, and the presents are nestled safely under our tree, to quote a movie line from “Jingle all the Way.” Statistics show the number-one present this season is the gift card — for anything from electronics to post-pandemic travel. This year, I’m gifting travel.

There’s the San Diego trip for my husband, complete with a new spinner carry-on. For my daughter, an overnight ski trip to Tahoe. And my son’s present is perhaps my favorite. It’s a trip to Calistoga to go wine tasting and soak in the mineral baths. It’s the gift that keeps on giving — because I’m going with him.

I know what you’re thinking. Mothers travel with daughters, not so much with sons. Since our first trip together, though, a weekend at Disneyland when he was 15, I’ve discovered how much fun it is to spend quality time with my son. And an overnight in Calistoga is a proven winner because the last time we went he said it was “life-changing.”

Not many towns can claim wine country fame and healing hot springs, but Calistoga is one of them. Famous for its Old Faithful Geyser (one of three reliable geothermal geysers in the world that belches on cue), Calistoga is also a wellness mecca known for its mud baths and mineral pools.

Just a block off the main street is Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort, the kind of nostalgic family-owned property that celebrates Calistoga’s small-town appeal. The grounds are laced with lush greenery, and swaying palms fan the mineral pools, each with a different temperature for the perfect open-air soak.

On our last stay, my son and I each got a spa treatment. I had a deep-tissue massage, and my son had the mud bath. I haven’t seen him in that much mud since he played in puddles as a kid. This is the good stuff, though — mud made from Calistoga volcanic ash is said to remove toxins. He later told me he’d never felt so relaxed.

The next day we tested the theory of relaxation, again, with a gourmet wine tasting lunch at Sullivan Rutherford Estate. Estate Director Lisa Barker-Mullen took us on an enjoyable walking tour of Sullivan’s 26-acre estate, known for its production of high-quality Bordeaux varietals. After our elevated tasting of wines from founder James O’Neil Sullivan’s collection (including a $250 reserve cabernet and merlot), we enjoyed a gourmet three-course meal with pairings prepared by Michelin Star Chef Daniel Gomez Sanchez. The package was $200 per person, which I considered a good deal for a high-end, unique offering like this.

My son and I found another favorite winery in St. Helena — VGS Chateau Potelle in the landmark white house with the yellow door and French-inspired garden. Luis Pettinato runs the tasting experiences and has fascinating insider stories for each of the five wines he pours from their VGS and Fourmeaux collections. If you opt for the wines with food pairings ($75), the famed Michelin-rated La Toque provides the appetizers. It was fun to see my son, who never showed much interest in wine until this visit, ask questions and take notes on the decades of industry knowledge Luis shared with us.

And that’s the beauty of travel. It enriches us with knowledge, experiences and lifelong memories. As we look forward to a time after this COVID-19 crisis when it’s safe to hit the road again, the words of Dr. Seuss seem to fit: “Oh, the places you’ll go. There is fun to be done.”