I'll Take My Massage At Solage

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By Courtney Cochran

In Napa for a conference last week, I stopped by new spa/hotel hot spot Solage in Calistoga to see what all the fuss was about.  The Auberge property, aimed at a younger demographic and completed in mid 2007, has taken some flak for its uber-minimalist design and "bungalows" rumored to recall military barracks more than cozy wine country cottages, so naturally I was eager to check it out and cast my vote.  

On a low note, true to the rumors I found the dwellings and landscaping disappointingly stark, the whole thing reminiscent of a deserted mini-tract-home community where the developers (perhaps prompted by the recent mortgage crisis) left in the night before finishing the landscaping.  The ghost town vibe wasn't helped by the worrisome lack of guests; aside from myself and four other diners at the poolside BarSolage café there wasn't a soul stirring on the nearly treeless "environmentally sensitive" grounds.

High Notes: Service & Spa
Happily, unlike the landscaping the service was anything but spare. Everyone I encountered during my visit, from bellhop to waiter to spa attendant, was cheerful and eager to help, in all likelihood relieved just to have someone to attend to.  Whether this level of attention can continue when patronage at Solage picks up (it should be noted that January is wine country's slowest month for tourism) remains to be seen, but it's a good sign nonetheless.  

On the whole, the best part of the Solage experience seems to be the spa, which is immaculate, vast, and offers a good variety of standard and more innovative services.  While some of the spot's treatments sound a little contrived (sample: The Mudslide Experience features treatments administered in the mud "bar" by a "mud-tender"), others such as advanced facials from the school of celeb facialist Kate Somerville are solid additions to local spa offerings.  

Where Minimalism Makes Sense
And it's in the spa where the minimalist vibe that falls short on the rest of the property finds its best expression.  Spas are by nature simple, clean and zen, and so it's probably no surprise that the resort's restrained modernism seems right at home at SpaSolage.  

If they'd only plant a few more trees, I might be able to say the same for the rest of the place.   

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