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Auberge Du Soleil, Rutherford California - All The Resorts In This Relais & Chateaux Have French Nam
By Mary Gostelow

Today the public areas of this Rélais & Châteaux resort are at the top of the whole structure. Keen youngsters in beige polo shirts, slightly darker trousers, greet you, check you in, escort your car down to your level, so to speak.

All the villas have French names, and we were in Calais, suite one. This turned out to be really handy as is the closest of all 50 suites to the heated outdoor pool and magnificently hot hot-tub, and the small-but-well equipped indoor-outdoor gym. The suite's outer door has a vine wreath on it, and elaborate engraved steel plaques can be reversed to say Resting, or Please Make Up (a label with our name also hung outside the door, by the mail box).

Through the door was our private terrace, with front wall high enough to allow us to look out over the flat valley but no-one could see in. The suite is half parlor, half bedroom, the whole with thick oak floor boards with local woven rag rugs. We had stunning heavy oak furniture with rush seating. Light saffron-painted cement walls had same-color wood shutters, and overhead woven rush fans were suspended from the unpolished oak ceiling. I liked the big abstract oils on the walls, and over the working log fire was a four-foot circular mirror. There was a big desk (complimentary wireless connectivity), a Panasonic flat-screen television and dining for four: on the table stood a welcome bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, Round Hill for Auberge Resorts, 2003 vintage.

My husband was ecstatic about the superb wrap-round sound system, with stunning classical music, while I noted the coffee machine, complimentary minibar (with Izze sparkling blackberry and Power-C Vitamin Water drinks), safe, and rust and white striped robes with towel linings. As well as own-label toiletries there were Dr Hauschka bath oils, in a little tin.

It was dinner time. We walked up zigzag paths flanked by olive trees and sensational modern sculpture, all named. The outdoor gallery includes a life-size aviator with helmet but no face; Archie Held's Lovers, stainless with flowing water; Keeyla Meadows' Sunflowers, cheerful ceramics and metal; and Orotero I and II, aluminium bulls. General Manager Brad Reynolds sat on the terrace, looking down over the steep slopes of villas.

Tables were set with Villeroy & Boch china, golden damask clothes, golden glass-held night lights and little orange flowers in terracotta pots. We were offered glasses of Schramsberg Blanc de Noir sparkling, and the most super rough bread slices. I relished chef Robert Curry's pan-fried Sonoma foie gras, and halibut with the fingerling potatoes that no chefs in this part of California can omit, it seems, these days. I passed on dessert, though apparently a favorite is crisp filo-wrapped chocolate dumplings with tarragon ice cream.

We slept like proverbial logs, and I awoke with the dawn, for a refreshing power walk. I trecked to the resort's spa boutique, which has a Rodeo Drive array of one-off handbags as well as multi-coloured pearl jewellery designed by Mary Watson.

Showered and dressed, we hiked back up through the gardens - sorry, sculpture gallery - for breakfast. We could have had coffee-to-go in styrofoam cups, free from the bar, but we chose to pay for the same delicious Graeffo brew outside, back at 'our' table on the terrace. Breakfast here also comes with outstanding fresh juice, good fruits and a chef's special, a small loaf of zucchini bread (next time I might even have space for the Auberge omelette, filled with Napa ham, gruyère cheese, spinach and potatoes, presumably fingerling).

Auberge du Soleil, Napa, United States

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