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Spring 2010

Living the Life

Just because you're vacationing doesn't mean you won't feel at home.

By Peter Crooks and Michaela Jarvis

Imagine you and several of your closest friends relaxing in your own Wine Country villa. It sounds like a dream, but renting a gorgeous home with room enough for everybody is as easy as booking a hotel room. The difference is that you can actually make yourselves at home—and lounge by the pool, cook, reminisce, eat . . .

Dragonsleaf
The name suggests an enchanted cottage. And sure enough, as you pass through the gates of this 80-acre luxury rental property, 10 minutes from the tiny town of Glen Ellen, you’ll feel as if you’ve entered a Wine Country fairy tale.

Just past a tree-shaded pond, you’ll notice that the country road forks around a little hill. Go either way, and you’ll loop to the entrance of a farmhouse that looks as if it has presided over its vineyards for many decades. In fact, the house was finished in 2009 and achieves its rustic-looking exterior from reused wood collected from former farmhouses from the Midwest and East Coast. A 150-year-old windmill adds another vintage touch.

Inside, the three-bedroom home is cozy but not lacking in state-of-the-art amenities. Home chefs will want to make the most of the professional kitchen, so bring your favorite ingredients or ask the estate’s management company, Beautiful Places, to stock the fridge. The house also provides a summertime bottle of rosé and a big red, made from grapes grown in the vineyards. Pair those wines with dinner you prepare in the ultimate backyard barbecue setup. You can also use the surround sound to channel your iPod into banks of speakers in the indoor-outdoor dining room. After dinner, soak in the wine-barrel hot tub or relax by the fire pit overlooking the vineyards.

One very low-tech amenity makes this Wine Country getaway especially idyllic: Dragonsleaf's private lake, with its beach of smooth pebbles on one end and a charming boathouse on the other. The lake turns recreation into an art form, with days spent swimming, paddle boating, or daydreaming on the wood dock near the lake’s center. Nights spent in one of the boathouse’s cozy bunks are the stuff of a child’s all-time favorite family trip. Or, the stuff of a fairy tale.
Call (800) 495-9961 or (707) 996-0266, or go to beautiful-places.com for reservations.

Cline Guest House Villa
Up a private driveway and surrounded by vineyards, the Cline Guest House Villa would be an ideal place to host a weeklong get-together. The main living space is open, and anchored by a huge rustic dining table, comfortable couches and chairs, small tables for playing games or socializing, two fireplaces, and a fully equipped gourmet kitchen. Glass sliders along one side draw you outdoors to the pool and hot tub, which are sheltered by a hill that hugs the property.

The outdoor kitchen is lined up against one wall of the patio and is better equipped than most indoor kitchens. An aluminum roll-down door, the kind that one sees on street-level stores at night, opens to reveal gas burners, a barbecue, and an undercounter refrigerator, which make it possible to host all kinds of events, from a child's birthday party to leisurely adult luncheons.

Although secluded, the villa on the Cline Cellars property offers a wine-tasting room right down the hill, as well as access to Cline's quirky museum of California mission replicas, a rare-bird aviary, and two miniature Sicilian donkeys. Should you decide to wander, the town of Sonoma’s plaza, with its fab shops and restaurants, is eight miles away, and wineries dot the local map. Biking on trails that run through the vineyards near Sonoma’s downtown could not be prettier, and hiking at Jack London State Park in nearby Glen Ellen offers some leafy treks into the hills.

The four-bedroom suites at Cline feel somewhat separated from the rest of the house, almost like apartments. The master suite includes not only a hot tub but also a steam room. Each suite has its own sitting area, three with couches that open into beds. Our favorite suite is under the eves, its slanted ceiling and vineyard views especially dramatic and romantic.
Call (707) 931-7551 for reservations.

Villa Toscano
More than a century ago, landscape painter Virgil Williams roamed California's spectacular terrain, capturing on canvas the grandeur of Yosemite's El Capitan and many Wine Country locales. In fact, the cover image of Virgil Williams, the artist’s biography, is a stunning scene near the rocky peaks of Mount St. Helena. As striking as the painting is, it is surpassed by the splendor of the actual view—which can be seen from the master bedroom balcony of Villa Toscano.

Perched on 80 acres of Sonoma County forest, just a few miles from the borders of both Napa and Lake counties, Villa Toscano seems to exist in a different universe from the busy world below. Although Calistoga and St. Helena’s amazing restaurants are just a half-hour’s drive away, you might not want to leave this elegant rental estate after arriving.

Villa Toscano was completed in 2009, inspired by the owner’s many vacations spent photographing villas across Italy. Villa Toscano suits its dramatic setting: Glass doors downstairs and second-story balconies offer panoramic views, and 12-foot-high wood-beamed ceilings, stone fireplaces, and dark hardwood floors exude old-world grandeur.

Upstairs, you'll find a library with chic leather couches and three bedrooms, all of which have private bathrooms and balconies. The villa accommodates several couples, or a large family, and also offers all kinds of perks, such as a high-tech entertainment room and an enormous professional kitchen. A nearby barn has been refurbished to add another bedroom, as well as a gym.
Call (800) 495-9961 or (707) 996-0266, or go to beautiful-places.com for reservations.

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