FINDING SHANGRI LA IN CALIFORNIA’S NAPA VALLEY – PART ONE( read part two here)
In one hand a golf club, in the other a glass of wine, in front of me the meticulously manicured green of the Executive Golf Course, and behind me, quite literally, a tasting of the best wines Napa Valley has to offer. Is there anything more wonderful than playing golf after a few glasses of exquisitely aged Cabernet Sauvignon with hickory clubs that are 100 years old?
By Bettina M. Gordon, publisher Photos: (c) Meadowood Resort and Bettina Gordon
In my book, this resort shall be called Shangri La Meadowood from today forward. As I swing the hickory clubs I realize that even the best golfer in the world looks like a bloody beginner and nobody notices. We all look like bloody beginners. Which is a good thing in my case. Between you and I: I should not even have access to the greens considering my handicap. I am imposter on the green and nobody notices.
As I raise my glass again to toast I thank my publisher for this assignment to travel to the world renowned Napa Valley, one hour north of San Francisco, where most of the top American wines are cultivated. One of the area’s extraordinary jewels is the Meadowood Resort, which was recently voted by the readers of Travel & Leisure magazine as THE top resort in Napa.
The Meadowood sits in a 250 acre private valley and offers their guests almost everything an active adult with an appreciation of luxury desires: top wines, a Michelin Guide 3-Star restaurant, tennis courts, swimming pools, basketball courts, hiking trails and an original Croquet green – including professional coach Jerry Stark, who is a 15 year member of the Croquet Hall of Fame.
I wander across the golf course that is small in size yet extraordinarily beautiful and head over to meet the golf pro, Doug Pike, who gives me my first lesson in historical-things-to-know. Around 1860, this course was a rice field and the valley was home to the Asian immigrants who worked for the railroad companies, mined for precious metals in St. Helena, labored in the vineyards, and built underground tunnels for wine storage– all with only their bare hands.
Even today, there is an 800 foot long tunnel beneath the resort that is still used to store the resort´s valuable wines. (During the 20th century, the rice field became a Christmas tree plantation and since the 1970s this beautiful piece of nature is used as a golf course, a very lush golf course, with weeping willows, two ponds and a swan that is willing to pose for pictures.
“Meadowood is challenging because it is a narrow, 9 hole, 177 yard course. which includes two ponds,” says Doug (who was 21 when he first turned pro). Today he is in his mid thirties and focuses on teaching the resort guests how to play a perfect game. Golf seems to run in Doug’s blood. His six year old daughter Piper already swings a mean club as well, he tells me. Very well, I think, with a name like Piper Pike the world expects more of the child than crochet or flower picking. At least I do, and her father seems to agree.
Doug is a real personality, easy-going and hard to rattle, which might also have to do with his work environment. “The biggest advantage of the course is its tranquility. Golfers can really concentrate on their game and their one-on-one instruction.” Indeed, there are no motorized golf carts to be seen, and the players appear to be relaxed and not rushed as is often customary at the crowded fast-play courses.
Just as we talk about tranquility we hear loud laughter, a stalwart curse and then see a golf club flying through the air. As I said, even pros play like frustrated beginners with the hickory clubs. And much to the amusement of everybody around. For somebody who likes a challenge and some fun, the hickory clubs are perfect.
(Since my visit the Meadowood launched a new Golf Performance Studio, complete with TrackMan technology that according to Doug “transforms the way players learn and how the game is taught.” I definitely have to check it out during my next trip to Napa Valley.)
Attention – Mountain lions
Golf and wine make me sleepy and so I retreat to my tree-lined cottage for a nap. I just have to find it first. The resort is spread out and it would take me 10 minutes to walk from the lobby to my cottage. Thankfully two employees in “uniform” – shorts and a T-shirt, (it’s California after all) – who are cruising through the property on golf carts (ah, here they are!), guide me in my car to the cottage and carry my suitcases into my luxurious home for the next two nights.
I am staying in a small house with a balcony, granite bathroom, a king sized bed and absolute tranquility. Two hours later I remember why I am here – to “work!” I swing my well rested bones out of bed and decide to take a short hike before the next round of wine tasting and dinner.
Whoever looks for nature at the Meadowood has no trouble finding it. Right behind the cottages is a myriad of small hiking trails that allow guests with wanderlust to track a couple of miles through the hills of the property. It is a sunny afternoon in the spring and I am happy as I am well rested and truly grateful for my line of work when I – with a loud “What the ..?” – come to a screeching halt.
Right in front of my eyes is a poster, nailed to a tree, which announces: “CAUTION! Please beware of the mountain lion sightings in the area. Hike at your own risk! Do NOT hike or jog alone!” Have you ever heard such a thing? I am shaking my head. Scaremonger – your name is America.
“Ridiculous”, I think and march on into the wilderness all by myself. By now I´ve lived long enough in America to know that this poster is there for insurance reasons. So that no guest can later claim they were not warned, just in case they were nibbled on by a mountain lion, which is as likely as winning the lottery. In Europe, where I am from, this would not happen. You hike at your own risk and cannot sue anybody for being stupid or ignorant.
I picked a narrow track with lush bushes and trees on either side. I can hardly see more than a few feet to either side as I climb the hill. It takes me up about 600 feet before I look over my shoulder for the first time. Wasn’t there a rustling in the bushes? Didn’t I read about a female jogger whose neck was bitten through by a mountain lion? My heartbeat rises, and not just because of the altitude.
The truth is: I am the biggest threat to myself. I spent a summer at the border of northern California, Nevada and Oregon with my friends, died-in-the-wool cowboys with weathered faces, spurs and dead animals in their freezers that they hunted for themselves. They never left without their pistols because in ‘mountain lion land’ the Glock (from my homeland Austria, by the way) is your best friend. And I remember how uneasy the horses got when they got wind of a mountain lion close by.
Sure, I know that I am not in nowhere land. I’m on a widespread 4-star property, but still. I’ve observed enough wild mustangs in the high desert, stumbled upon brown bears and froze before rattle snakes to know that the saying “They are more afraid of you than the other way round and will take off right away” is just that. A saying. Scaremonger – your true name is Bettina.
So the hike turns out as it must turn out: I get a mild neck pain, because I constantly glance over my shoulder. I hit the ground when I fell over a root since I can’t see forwards when scanning for wild animals behind me. At some point I start talking to my friends in New York on my cellphone so that at least somebody will know when I fall victim to the wilderness here. My tranquility and composure is gone.
When I come upon a wide dirt road I abandon my hike and head back to Meadowood, right into the arms of Master Sommelier Gilles de Chambure. There I instantly feel at ease…. Click here for the second part.
Category: Explore the World With Me