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Top-flight wineries, hyper-local fare, outdoor pursuits (river kayaking, anyone?), lush landscapes and the romance-reviving Farmhouse Inn all in one easy-to-reach spot seems too good to be true, right? But it’s all part of sun-kissed (yes, even the weather is ideal) Sonoma County, 90 minutes north of San Francisco.
With rolling vineyards bordered by dense pine forest and dotted with palm trees it’s really almost too much gorgeous flora for one place. But rather than fight it, we took the better half of a day to step away from the tasting rooms to explore it. Our hosts at the Farmhouse Inn recommended River’s Edge Kayak, an outfitter in Healdsburg. They also set us up with an insulated cooler for snacks, beach towels and a pair of flip-flops for me.
We paddled down a five-mile stretch of the Russian River, stopping to swim, watch daredevils swing from the tree ropes into the water and follow fish in the clear, shallow river. Bonus: if you pick up stray litter in the river you can redeem it for free ice cream back on land at the outfitter’s general store.
Opened in late April, you can pop in for your morning cappuccino, seasonal salads for lunch or cap the day with a glass of local wine or beer at Shed in Healdsburg, a café and modern-day provisions wonderland. Poke around in the garden section or get lost in the array of useful and beautiful cooking implements and local foodstuffs. Pull together a picnic of cheese, charcuterie, sandwiches, fried chicken, cold salads and seasonal produce (including ripe peaches plucked from the owner’s garden) for the day’s outing.
WHERE TO PICNIC
Now that you have your hunk of cheese, salami and crusty bread it’s time to hit the wine-tasting trail. It’s never a bad idea to skip the flight and go in for a whole bottle and linger in the Adirondeck chairs or communal picnic tables at wineries with a view like Dutcher Crossing Winery, Mauritson Family Winery or Medlock Ames.
WHERE TO SLEEP
However you spend the day – on grape tasting excursions, farm-to-table snacking, biking the valley or paddling the river – you’ll look forward to your return to the Farmhouse Inn in sleepy Forestville. We did. Set on grounds with a dozen gardens, a placid pool and a most sublime spa, there were plenty of reasons to hang around on this property revived in 2001 by a local brother and sister team. Tastefully styled with antiques and barn-inspired furnishings, the four-poster was pretty tempting for a lie-in, but the gourmet multi-course breakfasts – eggs benedict on home-made English muffins or Nutella crêpes – are well worth bounding out of bed for.
WHERE TO EAT
The Farmhouse Inn Restaurant is a destination in its own right. Lucky for us, we only had to stroll down one flight of stairs from our room to the cosy dining room for a knock-out meal of rabbit three ways and Piedmontese rib eye from Michelin-starred chef Steve Litke, all expertly paired with local, small-batch wines. For dessert, we cuddled up by the outdoor fire pit to make the marshmallow and Valrhona chocolate s’mores left in our room at turn-down – we’ll take that over a mint on our pillow any day.