Calistoga Ranch Staycation

This seemingly never ending pandemic fever has generated a few clients craving countryside escapes; fresh air and room to roam in a secure, secluded environment. One of our favorite wine country properties is Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort Collection, several ecstatic clients have stayed in the last month. One arrived for a long weekend and after checking into their upgraded spa lodge, sent photos of their extraordinary view, thanked us for the exquisite upgrade and asked if they could stay for a few extra days, wish granted!

Calistoga Ranch view from deck

One of the most private and serene locations, Calistoga Ranch is a canyon retreat, each spacious lodge is exceptionally private, many have deck Jacuzzis delivering astonishing views of the mountainside. Perched among the massive pine and oak trees, next to a stream and private lake, it’s all about outdoor living at Calistoga Ranch.

Calistoga Ranch Pool

Over a century ago, Napa Valley was known more for wilderness than for wine, its rolling hills covered in misty forests and bubbling creeks. The 50 freestanding guest lodges embrace the natural surroundings of a peaceful canyon while following the twists and turns of a rock-hewn stream on the valley floor. Rustic luxury amid birdsong and dramatic ancient oaks, the property is tucked into a private 157-acre canyon, the free-standing lodges embrace their natural surroundings, blurring the lines between inside and out.

All the lodges are freestanding wooden bungalows with outdoor fireplaces. We adore the one-bedroom lodges with deck Jacuzzis, where you can bubble away under the starlit oak canopy, sipping champers from your in-lodge bar. The lodges have floor to ceiling windows overlooking the oak studded valley below. Outdoor spa pools, surrounded by all this natural beauty, are as relaxing as they are restoring.

Calistoga Ranch Lodge Suite

Amenities: Heated outdoor pool, vineyard, gardens, spa and gym (not open yet), shops, library, free WiFi. In rooms: LCD TV, DVD/CD player, iPod dock, indoor-outdoor fireplace, alfresco shower, free minibar.

Poolside: Crisp white sun-loungers dot the heated outdoor pool, where you can soak in both the warming waters and the stunning scenery – a dramatic backdrop of the vineyard, the oak groves and the majestic Mayacama mountains. Lunch service every day by the pool..

Impeccable service, fine dining at the Lake House with options for wine tasting. The Lake House restaurant is open to resort guests and owners only, no outside visitors. Guests can dine inside or out, and take advantage of Lake Lommel and surrounding woodlands, we request the tables closest to the lake line under the inky black star-studded sky. The menu changes seasonally but includes choices like charred octopus with sunchoke and summer vegetable harvest with English pea purée, or black angus beef tenderloin with ramp, maitake, mushroom and brioche.

Calistoga Ranch The Lakehouse dining

Indulge in all day self-guided bike tours through the wine country from the resort doors, hiking, yoga, or just chill on your deck and count the soaring birds overhead! Drag your book bag and catch up with your leisure reading, bring the laptop if you must, you may never want to depart.

We have local private wine tours; these exclusive vineyards are small and not open to the public. A driver will escort you to one or two for a delightful afternoon of tasting with the owners. Personal and private.

There are a couple of two-bedroom lodges in secluded hilltop locations. Tucked amidst towering pine trees and mossy oaks, these rarified forest lodges seamlessly blend indoor and outdoor. Each of the two bedrooms opens onto its own outdoor rain shower, while an outdoor hot tub delivers instant bliss. A large fully-equipped gourmet kitchen will delight any recreational chef, indoor and outdoor dining areas set the scene for relaxed wine country gatherings. Two fireplaces-one on the terrace, the other a see-through indoor-outdoor fireplace that overlooks both living room and terrace-beckon gathering around. Warm furnishings, rich polished woods, and handpicked original artwork accent the natural surroundings. That extra something: concierge service and a private chef, upon request, means you’ll never have to leave your sanctuary.

Stay a week or more and achieve a significant discount. Ring us for our extraordinary offerings, we all need a bit of a secluded sanctuary stay!

Calistoga Ranch Lodge Suite Chef Kitchen

Another month of Covid-19 uncertainty has passed and while some parts of the world begin to open up again, I’m sadly aware that this is far from the case globally and especially domestically. From our client requests, it feels like domestic travel will be the mainstay for many, until we have a broader and more accurate sense of clarity or, better still, a vaccine. We can satisfy your Wanderlust with safe secure stand alone properties. Be well.

Tombs, Scarabs and Negotiating in Egypt!

In ancient Egyptian religion, Egyptians viewed the humble dung beetle as a symbol of renewal and rebirth, they used scarab amulets to protect the living during daily tasks and the dead as they journeyed to the afterlife. The scarab (kheper) beetle was one of the most popular amulets in ancient Egypt because the insect was a symbol of the sun god Re.

Since my first African Journey, I’ve been fascinated and somewhat infatuated with dung beetles. Their lifestyle is not particularly attractive, Scarabaeus sacer are known for their peculiar habit of rolling balls of dung even larger than their actual size and depositing them in their burrows. Once there, the females lay their eggs inside the dung balls that would serve as nourishment for the larvae. Once totally consumed, young beetles would emerge from the ground suggesting they came from nowhere. In Africa, they are enormous bugs with striking iridescent bodies, awfully intent on rolling the dung ball up and down hills and through fields.

In Egypt, the beetle was associated with the divine manifestation of the early morning sun, Khepri, whose name was written with the scarab hieroglyph and who was believed to roll the disk of the morning sun over the eastern horizon at daybreak. 

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62)

The ancient Egyptians believed that these beetles came from a spontaneous birth from the burrows. This made the populations worship them as the Khepera or “He who came forth” – an aspect and function associated with creation god, Atum. One needs a degree in Egyptology or a detailed spread sheet to keep track of all the Egyptian gods. I’m certain our very informed guide, Haytham, frequently detected glassy gazes when he enthusiastically inquired ‘do you remember this God, Horus who?’ Tracking the deity, Kings, Queens, mothers of, is mind boggling, particularly on 8-hour tour days in the hot Egyptian sun.

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Beetle hieroglyph in left panel

Oddly enough, these critters do indeed have impressive celestial powers. Dung beetles, like the scarab, are astonishing navigators that actually use the sun as guidance when moving their dung balls. Rolling the dung ball along, the beetle will periodically stop, scramble atop its prize, look around to orient itself, and climb back down and start pushing the ball once more. Part of my fascination in watching them in the bush. They are frankly proud creatures which is evident if you observe them.

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Beetle hieroglyph in upper left panel

I knew the tombs in the Valley of the Kings would have an abundance of scarab hieroglyphs. While touring the museums and temples, I was on the prowl for scarabs and ultimately when ascending into the important tombs, we spotted many. I hoped to find an extraordinary scarab memento. In an alabaster factory near the Valley of the Kings, appropriately named Hapi Alabaster, it was chock a block with objects, some rare, some not so much. Egyptian shop owners are slightly assertive; however, I take my time, contemplate and evaluate. Wandering with our group, the shop owner asked if I would like to visit the room of antiquities – at this point in conversation, any seasoned traveler should depart! A guide will always negotiate, and one understands the guide will also profit for delivering a customer. The firms we work with are particular about tourist shopping, I tell our teams – we want authentic items, and for most trips, never a rug shop! In the ‘antiquities’ room behind a closed door, I discovered an exquisite bronze Anubis canopic box, the sides adorned with vivid lapis scarabs, a jackal sits regally on the sliding top; uncover the lid to discover four small urns with animal heads used to hold body remains in mummification. Frequently seen in the tombs and museums, canopic jars were used by the ancient Egyptians during the mummification process to store and preserve the viscera of their owner for the afterlife.

The canopic jars were identified and protected by four different gods who were the sons of Horus. The names of the Sons of Horus were Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef and Qebehsenuef. The canopic jars were four in number, each for the safekeeping of particular human organs: the stomach, intestines, lungs, and liver, all of which, it was believed, would be needed in the afterlife. There was no jar for the heart: the Egyptians believed it to be the seat of the soul, and so it was left inside the body. It’s important to remember that the Egyptians understood their cosmos in terms of cycles, so death was necessary for regeneration and life to continue.

I was besotted with the bronze Anubis canopic box with the lapis scarabs, however, did I want to reveal my enthusiasm, I made a small mound of chosen objects to ponder. The owner asked, would you like to see the secret room, my late father’s private collection? Did I mention depart when one hears certain phrases?  I exclaimed: you are selling your father’s treasures? Calling to one of my travel friends, come to the secret room!  We entered another closed-door storeroom; poking through a cardboard box, I unearthed a small scarab. A hand carved bone scarab wrapped in silver, with carvings on the back. I’m ready to depart, time to negotiate!

Anubis canopic box with lapis scarab

Our brilliant guide, Haytham, began the negotiations– i.e. yelling at the shop owner to gift me the scarab and lower the price of the box – she owns a high-end travel firm, she will send her clients – that’s all I deciphered from the negotiations – in the end, I received the little bone scarab as a gift and paid for the Anubis with blue lapis scarab canopic box. Our small group of agency owners stood agape at the ‘transaction’ some were also purchasing and Haytham again yelled, they own agencies! When exploring Cairo a few days later, a local guide told me the scarab was a fine piece of jewelry, she had never seen such a lovely scarab… I love it and was thrilled to have a professional endorse my diminutive scarab.

Bronze Anubis canopic box with the lapis scarabs

The beetle itself was a favorite form used for amulets in all periods of Egyptian history. Scarabs may be made from a variety of materials including carnelian, steatite, lapis lazuli, basalt, faience, limestone, schist, turquoise, ivory, resin, turquoise, amethyst and bronze. Hundreds of thousands of these artifacts have been excavated in Egypt.

A winged scarab might also be placed on the breast of the mummy, and later a number of other scarabs were placed about the body. Perhaps my little scarab will be entombed with me, not certain if the Canopic jars are practical though, I will leave that up to my son!

Bronze Anubis canopic box with the lapis scarabs – the canopic jars from inside the box

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Anubis Black Dog Jackal Egyptian God of Underworld 

Anubis is known as the god of death and is the oldest and most popular of ancient Egyptian deities. The ancient Egyptians revered Anubis highly because they believed he had tremendous power over both their physical and spiritual selves when they died.

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Anubis Black Dog Jackal Egyptian God of Underworld