The Charm Of Sonoma By Victoria Ugarte

Yesterday, we found ourselves in our Hertz vehicle by 9:30am, driving away from San Francisco. Within an hour, we were pulling up at our Inn At Sonoma. As we got out of our car and stretched our legs, Peter and I agreed that leaving a big city was like a breath of fresh air.

It's not that we didn't enjoy San Francisco. San Francisco is beautiful, picturesque, with lots of interesting things to do and wonderful places to see. But we couldn't quite put our fingers on it. Had we gotten used to the wide open spaces and slower pace in New Mexico and Arizona? Did we learn to expect that personal touch and genuine care and interest that was shown to us from people at the quaint B&B's and restaurants in the smaller towns in the Southwest that are so obviously lacking in a larger city?

Was it the misery of the street beggars that sharply contrasted with the conspicuous affluence around them that tugged at our heart strings every time that we left our hotel and walked the streets? Maybe it was a combination of all those factors. Whatever it was, it felt great to get away.

Arriving in time for lunch, Jayne, the Concierge at the Inn at Sonoma, a charming inn that is part of the Four Sisters chain, recommended a lovely restaurant/ wine bar/ art gallery at the Sonoma Plaza called Sunflower for a bit to eat. A short walk from our inn, we enjoyed a scrumptious lentil soup and salad combo in a shady courtyard with the gently trickle of a fountain and the soft chatter of other diners providing some tranquil background sounds. Afterwards, we spent the afternoon walking around the town of Sonoma, taking in shops, boutiques, restaurants, bookstores and historic sites.

The evening saw us enjoying a delectable meal at one of Sonoma's best restaurants, the Harvest Room Cafe. What a jewel of a restaurant! We specified a table in their outside courtyard when we made the booking, which is the place to be, weather permitting. Peter and I chose one of their salads to share as an appetizer, but my main dish blew me away. I ordered the risotto with clams which had me nearly licking the plate clean. It was a special experience all round.

But that was yesterday...

Wineries Near Sonoma:
After breakfast today, we headed out towards Calistoga and spent some time exploring this cute town, after which we drove to the incredible Castello di Amorosa, a re-creation of a Tuscan Medieval castle owned by Dario Sattui that has taken 12 years to build and 200 containers full of raw material transported from Italy to aid in its authenticity. Incredible! The 121,000 square foot Castello includes 107 rooms, 8,000 hand squared stones, 8 levels, 900 feet of caves, a completely hand painted Great Hall that seats 144 people, a consecrated chapel and the most impressive wine barrel rooms in the US. However, the Castle is but a backdrop to showcase some of the napa Valley's best wines. If you enjoy a good red, the 2005 "Il Barone" Cabernet Sauvignon at $75 per bottle was simply outstanding.

After the Castello, we headed over to Dario Sattui's other winery, V. Sattui Winery & Marketplace. Voted Winery of the Year by the California State Fairs in 2004, 2006, and 2007, voted Best Winery in Western US in 2005 by Critics Challenge, and awarded an astounding 115 Gold Medals in 2007 alone, V. Sattui has earned the highest recognition in both national and international competitions. But one of the things that delighted us at V. Sattui was their Italian Marketplace, a buzzing place where you can buy anything you need for the perfect wine country picnic: From crabcakes, mustard prawns, to pastas, paninis, cheeses, salamis and pates, not to mention the exquisite wines. Peter and I packed our shopping basket full of delicacies and sat outside and had a wonderful picnic lunch in V.Sattui's two-acre tree-shaded grove and picnic ground.

Sated and content, we made our way to Dean & Deluca's across the road from the Italian Marketplace for an espresso shot before driving back to Sonoma for a rest before dinner. Did I say just an espresso shot? Dean & Delucas is a foodie’s paradise! It offers a butcher, fresh seafood and shellfish, hors d’oeuvres andappetizers, a bakery, cheese, herbs and spices, candy and confections, wines and spirits, oils and vinegars, and enough kitchen accessories that’ll give any gourmand and bad case of serious kitchen envy.

At 8:15pm, Peter and I walked the short distance from our inn to The Girl & The Fig, a very popular modern French restaurant in the heart of Sonoma Plaza. We shared a crisp and sensational grilled fig and aragula salad, followed by a mouthwatering sauteed flounder fillet with baby squash, cherry tomatoes and red pearl onions. Washed down with a 2007 Cote du Rhone blend of Mouverdre, Grenache and Syrah, it was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Recommended Restaurants in Sonoma:
Sunflower Caffe Espresso & Wine Bar
421 First Street West, Sonoma CA
Harvest Moon Cafe
487 First Street West, Sonoma CA
The Girl & The Fig
110 West Spain Street

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