When a young journalist from a prominent city sets off on his first travel-writing assignments, the destinations are thrilling but they are just that, destinations. As in: Take the tour, get all impressed, be wowed on occasion or even blown away, then head home and write about it.
Home—the beloved place the airlines print on every return ticket. For me, Boston, Mass. And, in later years, addresses a bit removed, but still cherished New England, where things make sense. It’s the place on Earth that formed my sensibilities, coarse or refined as they may be. I’ve got the local pride thing going, and it runs deep.
Which is why my first trip to Sonoma, California, was so disturbing. The combination of that old mission town’s nonchalance and devotion to visual detail threw me a sharp curve. It was folky and soulful and sophisticated at the same time. To fend off an identity crisis, I studied its streetscape for some blemish or blot or banality. None could be spotted. Gulp.
Mind you, I am not a wild-eyed Wine Country booster. It’s a tour that any bon viveur needs to take once or twice, but once or twice may do the trick. Back home by a firelit hearth, you can sip the supple whites and reds those California wineries produce and think fond thoughts of vineyards looming into view and receding to the horizon.
But the town of Sonoma is I-could-move-here material, no matter what your native territory might be. As a place to live or just wander through it seems to constitute a cultural microclimate. You will find yourself at a heightened consciousness as you explore it. When the relocation daydream is put away, and you’re dutifully traveling home, your consolation is to know that The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is still there on Boyes Boulevard with its perfectly scaled architecture and prescient service staff. Put this sublime resort on your must-visit list and watch for bargain airfares to the Bay Area, or even Sacramento to the east.
The golf course at the FSMI&S is a Sam Whiting-designed rumpus room of cresting fairways and greensites that your approach shots must discover, rather than attack. Now over 75 years old, it’s got the Golden Age subtlety and hand-built contours you have to make special trips to find. The hotel itself takes its ambience from the underground thermal spring waters that originally made the site a destination. You swim in what seems to be a no-chlorine pool and that just psychs you up for a trip to the spa proper.
From there it is on to the refinements of the lobby bar, dining room and the resort’s vintage golf links. Take pictures, imprint the memories, ship yourself some good wine… then when you’re back home in Wherever, USA you can relive a singular travel experience.