I hope you’re sitting down. I’m going to skip right over our mediocre free hotel breakfast and move right on to the mud baths, because I know that’s what you’re dying to hear about. Kurt & I showed up at the Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa this morning at about 8:45 for our 9 a.m. mud bath appointment. That is a sentence I never thought I’d type. When we arrived, I asked the girl who checked us in if she was as nervous as I was. She ignored me. I was too nervous to care. We killed about 10 minutes in the waiting room before Marta, our attendant, came to escort us back to our treatment room.
There was no beating around the bush with any fancy relaxation area or lounge — Marta led us right into a room with a mineral jacuzzi in the corner, two showers along the side, and two large tubs of steaming mud in the middle. It smelled a little bit like a farm, but it wasn’t nearly as pungent as we expected. On our way in, Marta asked if we had a camera for pictures. We were like “…um…no.” I mean, we did have the camera (we always have the camera), but who thinks about getting their picture taken in a big vat of mud? Only crazy people, right? Marta showed us where to hang our clothes, explained how to lower ourselves into the tubs of mud, and said she’d be back after we got settled in to check on us.
As soon as she left the room, I started giggling and I basically didn’t stop until halfway through the mud bath. Kurt did some giggling too, I think. The whole thing was pretty hilarious at that point. So we stripped down and tried to maneuver into our respective tubs. We followed Marta’s instructions to the letter — we perched on the edge, looked over at each other with trepidation, shrugged our shoulders, and tried to plunge ourselves derriere-first into the mud. Much to our surprise, we only sank in about an inch, and we were basically both just lying on top of the mud. The mud is a mixture of volcanic ash, mineral water from hot springs, and peat moss. The peat moss is the smelly part, but it’s what makes you float in the mud. And apparently it really makes you float. So we had to kind of wiggle down and use our hands to scoop the mud on top of us. As I’m typing this, I still can’t quite believe we did it. Once we got covered up, we looked at each other and resumed giggling. To say it felt weird would be a massive understatement. When we’d squirm around, we’d move a little deeper and the mud would get hotter. Marta had warned us not to try to stand up in the tubs, because pushing your feet down to the bottom will be really hot and you can burn yourself. Who knew mud baths could be so dangerous?
After we were covered, Marta came back in. She put cool cloths across our foreheads, offered a mud mask for our faces (which we both accepted), and covered up our shoulders with the mud (the only part we couldn’t get ourselves). At that point, I asked her how often she gets a mud bath. She said she only gets massages. She used to get mud baths, but then she realized that she hates them. Honesty like that is refreshing. Almost as refreshing as spending 15 minutes in a huge vat of mud.
Anyway, she left again, and we continued to marvel at the fact that we were actually doing what we were doing. A once-in-a-lifetime experience on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. At that point, we agreed that it was something that should be photographed. I guess Marta knew something we didn’t before the whole thing started. Surprisingly (or maybe it isn’t surprising, since so many people do this when they come to the Calistoga area), the mud bath turned out to feel really good, and it was very relaxing. You feel like you’re weightless and floating, and the warmth of the mud is comforting. I guess that’s why people have done this kind of thing allegedly dating back to Cleopatra.
When our time in the mud was up, Marta came back to explain the next step of the treatment. Before she did that, I asked if she could get our camera out of the bag, take off the lens cap, put the camera on automatic, and then take our picture. She was nice enough to jump through those hoops for us, and, as a result, we have some excellent shots of us immersed to our necks in mud, just living the dream.
The next step was to get out of the tubs, wipe the big chunks of mud off, and then get under the mineral water showers to get rid of the rest. No small task. And of course that process was accompanied by more giggling. After hosing each other down, we moved on to the mineral water Jacuzzi in the corner of the room. We were in there for another 15 minutes or so, enjoying some water with lemon and finding places where still had mud clinging to us (for example, I missed behind my ears, and Kurt missed his entire chin). Every few minutes one of us would comment on what a great story this whole thing was going to make for the blog.
The final step of the treatment came after we dried off, put on robes, and moved to a more traditional spa-type room with 2 beds. We laid down on our backs, covered with a towel, and Marta came back in to wrap us up in blankets. She put cool towels on our heads again, turned off the lights, and left us to “cool down” for another 15 minutes or so. There was calming music, a candle, and a nice scent in the room. Very relaxing. Near the end, I sneezed. Kurt immediately informed me that I had totally ruined the mood. More giggling. Marta let us know when our time was up, and then we got dressed and left.
It might be our imaginations, but we both think our skin feels smoother and healthier now, and we both felt great afterward. Although it was definitely outside of both of our comfort zones, we’re definitely glad we did it (and not just because it’s making this post an interesting read for you guys). The mud bath idea wasn’t ours – it was recommended to us by . . . you guessed it . . . our San Francisco gurus from the Washington Square Inn wine hour! Those guys really gave us some great ideas, and I’m glad we took their advice.
Everything after the mud baths will probably seem less interesting, but keep reading because we really did do one other awesome thing today. After learving Golden Haven, we grabbed lunch in Calistoga at a place called the Sarafornia Café, where the food was really good and we could tell that the locals eat there too. Then we headed out to taste some wine. First, we toured the Sterling Vineyards. The main building there is designed to look like a winery in Greece — all white, with cool bell towers — and it’s up on a hill overlooking the vineyards. To get to the winery, you take a tram (like a gondola). We tried some good wines there and got free souvenir tasting glasses.
Next, we went to Castello di Amorosa, which is owned by some famous guy here (Dario Sattui, I believe) who spent 15 years building a winery that looks like an Italian castle. It’s enormous, and the tour was excellent. Everything about the castle is made the way it would have been hundreds of years ago when castles were really being built. So no power tools, only handcrafted stones, bricks shipped from real Italian castles, handmade wooden doors, etc. It has a chapel, a moat, a drawbridge, guard towers, a 2 acre lake, 107 unique rooms, and 8 stories (4 of which are underground). Before entering, we saw some sheep, chickens and frogs, and we got close looks at some of the grapes, which are just starting to turn from green to red.
Our 2:30 pm tour was led by a guide named Georgette, and she was really awesome. She knew her stuff about the castle’s architecture and how it was built, as well as the wines that are made there. This winery doesn’t distribute its wine anywhere. You can buy it while you’re there, or you can join the wine club and have it shipped to you directly. They use wine barrels made of french oak, which cost $1,000 each, and they only use each barrel twice. Then they either sell them to visitors for $45, or to other wineries that are less discriminating about their barrels. The grapes are hand-picked, hand-sorted, and then they’re compressed (not crushed) to preserve as much flavor as possible. They say that the less technology involved and the less you manipulate the grapes, the better the wine will be.
There was a 2:45 tour behind us led by a guy named Joe. Joe was speedy and didn’t seem all that interested in being engaging (or even keeping track of all of the members of his tour group), so pretty soon he lapped us. That happened after a couple of awkward moments where he’d get his group right up next to ours and start talking about things Georgette just told us (except he was much less interesting). Georgette got annoyed and we finally took an unscripted stroll in the compression area so that he could get by us. I asked Georgette if she and Joe were going to rumble later. She laughed and said “no way, he could take me. He eats half a cow and a trough of potatoes for dinner each night.” Kurt and I were loving it.
The best part of the tour was when we went into the 4 underground floors, which basically seem like a maze of hallways branching off in every direction with wine bottles and wine barrels lining everything. It smelled great and was really fun to see. There were also some jail cells, a pit of despair, a torture chamber (complete with Iron Maiden!), and a room where an episode of the bachelor was filmed. In the largest underground room, we did a barrel tasting of a cabernet sauvignon that has only been aging for a year. It won’t be ready to sell for another 3 years, but it showed us how much of a difference the aging process makes. Georgette used a wine flute to get the wine out of the barrel (a big curved glass tube that she’d stick in, then cover the end with her finger, then it would come out full of wine — a technique I used to use myself with a straw and chocolate milk). It was pretty great.
The tour ended with us doing an extended tasting where we were each supposed to pick 5 wines. Kurt and I chose 10 so that we could each try more wines by sharing each glass. We ended up getting about 15 because Georgette just wanted us to try some others too. When tasting a merlot, she gave us chocolate chips and we learned how awesome the wine tastes when swallowed with chocolate. If you want to try it at home, take a sip of wine, swirl it around and swallow it. Then take a bite of chocolate and chew it up. When you’re ready to swallow the chocolate, take another sip of wine and swallow it all together. It’ll change your life. We had dark chocolate with a cabernet sauvignon (fully aged), and she let us try a reserve cabernet that was twice the price and twice the deliciousness. At the end we had sea salt chocolate (my new favorite thing) with a very sweet wine, and that turned out to be delicious too.
Of course we fell in love with the place and with Georgette, so we ordered a case of wine to be delivered to our apartment in October. It was the only reasonable thing to do. That makes us members of the wine club, and it means we’ll get invited to all kinds of cool events we’ll probably never be able to attend, like a medieval dinner with a joust, and a costume halloween party held in the torture chamber with a “death by chocolate” theme. Oh, and of course I got a magnet.
After that, we went to dinner in Calistoga at a place called the Hydro Grill (really good burgers, recommended by Georgette, who gave us a 10% off referral coupon), then came back to the hotel to enjoy some wine we bought yesterday, do some travel planning, and work on the blog. All in all, one of our best days yet. Mud baths and a castle — what more could you ask for?