The air changed. Like that shift between Cambria and Carmel, it saturated my lungs with something fundamental and forgotten, evocative and cleansing. Less cement, more cypress. I anticipated none of it, though maybe I should have. Reminders of how the best parts of travel are the subtextual subtleties we always forget to expect.
A little high, (emotionally, come now), a little hesitant, no decisions are no brainers when weighing wellness against anything. It’s a dance in which I find myself, a chronic klutz. This trip, previously scheduled for Thanksgiving break, then late December, was banking on that whole third time being a charm thing. Last day of March, a full year after the world stopped, vaccinations under our belt. As of March 14, 2021, Sonoma County had achieved red tier status. Outdoor dining and massage services greenlit. We calculated our risk, we packed our Covid consciousness, we counted our blessings, our masks, our sanitizers. And we hit the highway.
And we brought our new four-footed family member. His name is Auggie.
I’d been so starved for travel, a wanderlust so voracious I couldn’t fathom what empyrean destine could come close to delivering. That first vernal whiff of early spring green. That inundation that seamlessly segues you from the familiar to the foreign, there. That. That is the high I’m speaking of. Travel’s addictive little air born elixir.
Up in Sonoma wine country, in a little nook named Glen Ellen, Olea Hotel resides. Submerged in oak and olive, tranquillity tends the grounds. An auspice of a travel rich tomorrow is afloat. Terraces (every room gets one) take in wine country views, stone paths sprawl beneath the string lights, and a firepit sits beneath the Sonoma sky, for twilight sips, or s’mores beneath the stars.
It is a place that echoes the small town it resides in – effortless charm, unpretentious and kind.
In an age (we’re going to age out, it will happen) of Covid, it is something bigger than luxurious to experience these moments, it is monumental. They hit all the CDC beats; contact free check-in, employees in PPE, constant sanitation and disinfecting and masks and just enough precaution in place to let us know they’ve got it. We put on our masks. And we could relax.
We could relax.
The bathroom floors are heated. The room snacks are complimentary (why don’t more places do this?) so is afternoon happy hour (featuring glorious local varietals) and breakfast, which includes a sweet and a savoury course prepared by a Culinary Institute of America seasoned chef. The hot tub and pool are newly open, heated and the lounges are distanced, and the scent and scenic of those soaring trees. It is a sensory celebrating spa.
And we. We arrived with all our issues in tow. A dog. A Passover diet to keep. Without an ounce of attitude or inconvenience, they made every dietary exception and did so with a culinary giftedness that granted those breakfasts by far the best thing we ate mid-holiday. With a little dish of treats for Auggie.
Dinner at Glen Ellen Star, a roll down the hill, does that thing wine country does so painstakingly well. They plate up wood fired wonders featuring figs and shishitos, sunchokes and squash, and it’s all served up so backyard picnic casual, it’s impossible that it should be this excellent. But it is. Chef Ari Weiswasser was a win out of NYC, a Food & Wine People’s Best New Chef 2015, spent a few years honing his talents at Thomas Keller’s little pet project French Laundry, before opening his own deliverance across from his wife’s family vineyard, Benzinger Family Winery. Rustic and renowned, Glen Ellen Star is aptly titled. They’re not big on substitutions, but if you’re good ordering all as is, you will delight. Ask for Selah.
Second night, Palooza Brewery and Gastropub hit that seminal balance between being entirely fuss free and exceptionally enjoyable. The patio is open, sanitized, distanced and adorable, and adds one more contradiction to the popular opinion that Sonoma is for couples or girls’ weekends or anything other than families. We have two girls, seen sipping on elderflower and lavender lemonades, who would vehemently oppose this theory. We also have a dog, who was made more than welcome. You can leave a tab open, you can while away the evening. And the only issue with the menu was that there were more options than we could select at one seating (should we not have been observing Passover). House made fried pickles. Ahi poke nachos and fish tacos. Adult grilled cheese and lobster mac. A whole smorgasbord of choice chuck and brisket burgers, all available in meatless options, four different varieties of fries. I genuinely cannot think of one single person I know (not one) that wouldn’t find something to sink their teeth into here. We were limited (Passover), but we really weren’t, because gorgeous greens and cauliflower crust pizza. And oh, those Sonoma wines.
The Nuns Fire of 2017 made the majority of Sonoma, virtually all of Glen Ellen, scorched and uninhabitable. Olea Hotel, compliments of the tremendously hard-working wife and husband team Sia and Ashish Patel, has risen from the ashes, every sense of the expression. The ground clearing made room for the pool that now graces their garden, and the cottages that were devasted to nothing, have been rebuilt, doubled in size, and designed to the nines. In addition to their two-hundred-year-old olive trees, ten new ones have been planted. New life, new promise, new rise. Pastoral and peaceful. Being here, in this ambient hinterland, is a metaphor impossible to escape. Our universal Ulysses have been crying. Here, they can inhale deeply, and stop.
Olea Hotel, 5131 Warm Springs Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, United States.
Tel: +1(707) 996 5131
Olea Hotel is located 20 minutes northwest of Downtown Sonoma off Arnold Drive. Highway 37 can be very busy however, when there is a race at the Sonoma Raceway, so it’s worth checking on their website before you set off. Parking is easy as they have a space reserved for each room and it’s self-parking.
Type of Hotel: Boutique Hotel
Number of Rooms: 13 guest rooms plus 2 Sonoma cottages. Olea Hotel is comprised of 5 buildings (including both cottages) scattered amongst the property.
Price Band: Medium
Insider Tip: When you confirm your reservation, they inquire about any dietary issues. Be specific and it will pay off in spades. And If you’re bringing your pet, specify when you make your reservation as not all rooms are pet accessible.
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10
Jolie Loeb is a Luxury Lifestyle columnist based in Los Angeles.
Photographs by Jolie Loeb