Stay the Night: Tree House, Sonoma
Northern California is buzzing with harvest activities, but James Litston finds peace at a novel hillside retreat
Saturday 07 September 2013
The Crush. It's what they call this time of year in northern California's Sonoma County. Not only is it bustling with peak-season crowds right now; it's also harvest time – and here in the heart of California's wine country, the crushing of grapes is an event worth celebrating.
Sonoma County has more than 500 wineries ranging from industrial-scale producers to "mom-and-pop" operations in garden sheds. There are 81 wineries in Sonoma Valley alone and this, combined with easy access from San Francisco (an hour's drive north via the Golden Gate Bridge) makes it ideal for a grape-themed escape.
Rental-home options in the area abound, but few can match Tree House's charm and serenity. Hidden among branches on a steep, wooded bluff, this secluded and very private, Craftsman-style house is clad in wooden shingles and green-painted trim to help it blend into its leafy environment. Screened on all sides by towering oaks, it offers the peace and tranquillity of a country retreat but is only a mile from the village of Glen Ellen, with a wealth of wineries lying just beyond.
Tree House is arranged over two floors with a bedroom on each. Entry is via the upper level, whose main living area has picture windows looking out through trees towards forested hills; daylight streaming in is suffused with green. It all feels very relaxed, with a wonderful illusion of being cradled in the branches. The living room is open and inviting, with polished hardwood floors, contemporary furnishings, a gas fire and a library of books on art and design. This leads on to a wooden deck which has a tree growing through the middle.
The upper level features a full kitchen opening onto a sun-lit patio with outdoor seating, grill and wood-fired pizza oven. There's also a "media room" with a TV and a daybed, which can accommodate a fifth guest.
The real treats are outside, though. With a hot tub tucked under the trees and a good-sized pool with west-facing sundeck, this is a place for lazy afternoons soaking up the Californian sunshine.
Out and about
It's no surprise that the top-rated activity here is trying the local tipple. Many wineries have tasting rooms, including Viansa (001 707 935 4726; viansa.com) whose hilltop location and tiled roof lend it a Tuscan flavour. Chardonnay, zinfandel and pinot noir grapes do best here; taste any four wines for $5 (£3.30).
You can self-drive around the vineyards (see sonomavalley.com for a directory), but better to take a wine-tasting tour by mountain bike (001 707 996 2453; sonomavalleybike tours.com; from $89/£59). To eschew responsibility altogether, let someone else do the driving; either create your own bespoke itinerary (001 707 938 8001; beauwinetours.com) or join a group tour in a replica San Francisco cable-car (001 707 938 2600; sonomavalleywinetrolley.com).
Get a bird's-eye view of the valley's vineyards and rolling, golden hills on a scenic flight aboard a vintage biplane (001 415 609 7273; coastalairtours.com). Back on the ground, canoeing is an option on the pristine Russian River (001 707 887 1222; burkescanoetrips.com), whose banks are cloaked in stately redwood trees. And there's hiking and history just outside Glen Ellen at Jack London State Park (jacklondonpark.com), the scenic ranch where the author of White Fang lived and is buried.
Food and drink
A generous breakfast of yoghurt, granola, fresh fruit, eggs, cheese, baguette, local bacon and English muffins is provided on arrival.
Further supplies can be picked up at the excellent Glen Ellen Village Market (sonoma-glenellenmkt.com). This health-conscious supermarket features quality groceries alongside sandwiches, salads and a hot-food buffet (ideal for picnics) plus excellent fresh meats and fish for cooking on Tree House's outdoor grill. A farmers' market held on Sunday mornings delivers further choices of fresh, local produce.
As for eating out, Glen Ellen's restaurant scene far outweighs its tiny stature. One of the best regarded is Glen Ellen Star (001 707 343 1384; glenellenstar.com), which focuses heavily on wine-country produce.
The Fig Café (001 707 938 2130; thefigcafe.com) goes one better with its slant towards home-grown ingredients. Tree House guests can also access the rental company's concierge service for restaurant tips and reservations – or even book a private chef should you be so inclined.
Tree House, 12405 Flicker Hill, Glen Ellen, California, United States (001 707 996 0266; beautiful-places.com/villas/tree_house). Nightly rental starts at $812 (£541). Sleeps five.
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