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Mud Beds and Fancy Breads: Golden Haven Hot Springs (Calistoga) and Clif Bruschetteria/Velo Vino Tasting Room (St. Helena)

Calistoga's Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa & Resort, and a
view of their mud baths for couples
Golden Haven Spa & Resort: My spouse and I have figured out that experiential gifts are often more memorable and satisfying than the material ones, and this last Christmas we decided that our gift to one another would be something we had never done prior (but we hope to do again): a mud bath/spa treatment from a region of the country well renowned for such.

The most northern town of the Napa Valley, Calistoga (population just over 5,000) was probably best known originally for its mineral and hot springs. The native Wappo Indians were the first to use the hot springs for their healing properties, and settlers to the area soon discovered this fact. According to legend, European settler Sam Brannan, entranced with the hot springs during an exhibition, bought acres of land in the late 1800's to develop a spa reminiscent of those found in Saratoga, New York. Brannan intended to call his spa "the Saratoga of California" at its opening, but was bit by the malaprop bug and instead declared it "the Calistoga of Sarafornia." Calistoga eventually stuck as the name of the surrounding community.

While spas and resorts may vary in style, the typical mud bath experience at any of them is basically same: people immerse themselves in a combination of hot water and soil of varying consistencies for a designated time. A spa attendant will help you with procedures and provide you a forehead cold compress once you are immersed in the mud.

Some of the sights found around Golden Haven Spa and Resort
Such was the case at Golden Haven Hot Springs, a hotel, spa and resort facility just to the east of the downtown area. Golden Haven may not be as elegant or lavish as some of its Calistoga compatriots, but they specialize in tailoring the process for couples and delivers the experience perfectly well for those who don't need the extra bells and whistles. We found all the staff there to be friendly and helpful, and were also fortunate to have found some last-minute specials which helped defray the economic cost of what was about as full-blown a package as one could get.

The process of immersing yourself in the mud (Golden Haven's mud is kept at a temperature of around 105 degrees and combines local hot spring water and a soil/peat mixture from the California Foothills) is a bit of an adventure. When one flops (graceful movement is almost impossible here) into the bath, you will find yourself floating on top of the mud; you must scoop mud onto yourself to achieve the desired cocooning effect. Extracting yourself is equally challenging; one must scoop the mud off the top of your body and then muscle themselves out of the bath.

Once cocooned, however, the experience is quite simply luxurious. I felt as if I were floating in outer space, and accompanying warmth soon had the desired relaxation and extraction (in the form of body sweat) effect. It would be very easy to fall asleep and nap for awhile if you weren't careful.

After showering the mud off ourselves, we proceeded with a hot mineral water bath that only added to our relaxation quotient. The transformation to completely pliable lumps of human jelly were furthered with a cooling off session via blanket wrap in a darkened cooling room, and finalized with a 30-minute massage. Spa-goers also have access to the pool for a post-session swim (we decided not to opt for this option.)

Along with pool access, Golden Haven offers those who book a stay at their resort access to bocce courts, a picnic area, and complimentary bicycle use. Room and spa specials are available through their website.

Golden Haven Spa & Resort
1713 Lake Street
Calistoga, CA 94515
(707) 942-8000
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Best known for their energy bars and related products, the Clif family
has branched off into more fancy culinary waters.
Clif Family Bruschetteria/Velo Vino Tasting Room: After the spa treatment, we were looking for something relatively quick, cheap yet tasty in heading back down the Napa Valley. A little pre-trip research uncovered this pleasant surprise of a food truck, operated by the same folks behind the well-known Clif Bar.

Opened in the middle of 2014, the Clif Bruschetteria food truck was inspired by Clif Bar owners' experiences of bicycling through Northern Italy and their experiences with the cuisine. Tapping some local talent (John McConnell, who had worked previously at Terra Restaurant in St. Helena), their menu is centered around bruschetta and other Italian specialties using ingredients from Clif's own organic farm and other locally-based food purveyors. Items are available a la carte; however, the Chef's Choice ($25), which includes a selection of items from that day's menu, provides a perfect way for a group of people to sample the food truck's wares.

Our food spread (including a closeup of the bruschetta) plus a view
of the Velo Vino Tasting Room interior.
Most days, the food truck is parked next to the Clif Winery Velo Vino tasting room, which proves to be a mutually beneficial relationship for the wine taster seeking out some food to fill the stomach, or the food truck customer looking for a nice wine (espresso drinks are also available) to enjoy with their meal. The tasting room, with an appropriately bicycle-oriented theme and plenty of Clif-oriented products in sight, offers a relaxed atmosphere for visitors. An outdoor patio with fire pit lies in the rear of the tasting room building, allowing plenty of space for people to gather and hang out.

We brought back a glass of their Chardonnay and Riesling ($12/$10) to the back patio area to enjoy with our food order. Both our Porchetta (porchetta, aioli, red onion, garden herbs and parmesan; $10) and Pomodoro (tomato fonduta and goat cheese with chunks of garlic; $8) Bruschetta were fresh-tasting, on larger-than-we-expected pieces of delicious bread. Their special Polenta ($5) proved to be a great side dish, with a wonderfully creamy texture and with truffles lending a sublime taste profile.

If nothing else, these two Clif Family ventures provide a perfect stopover point for bicyclists touring the roads around St. Helena. However, any traveler traversing through this area of the beautiful Napa Valley could do a lot worse than to give this food truck and tasting room a try.

Clif Family Bruschetteria/Velo Vino Tasting Room
709 Main Street
St. Helena, CA 94574
(707) 968-0625
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