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Glen Ellen Zen

by Robert Farmer

When it's time to check out for a while in Wine Country, there is no shortage of places to help you along the way - spas and resorts abound here, each catering to the personal desire to find (and to pamper) one's inner self. But one entire town fits the bill like no other. Glen Ellen, the sleepy little hamlet along Arnold Drive just north of the comparatively bustling town of Sonoma, is a wooded spot where one can escape for a weekend or longer and feel genuinely detached from the rat race.

Like a little taste of Andy Griffith's Mayberry existing in the here and now, Glen Ellen encompasses just a couple square miles and has just one thoroughfare, where most all the town's businesses, shops, galleries, and restaurants are huddled together. It's a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of town when traveling through by car. But I'd advise that you keep your eyes wide open and that you hit the brakes when you've reached town if you're in the mood to get out of the car and check out for a while.

One of the best places in Glen Ellen for escaping is at the Gaige House (www.thompsonhotels.com ), a bed-and-breakfast not cut from any B&B cloth you're accustomed to. It's tucked away off the highway, and unassumingly sits roadside as one of several Victorian-era buildings found in the area. But just beyond its refurbished, homey façade is a luxury boutique inn with a Zen temperament.  Rooms are appointed with Japanese touches, including shoji screens and private tsubo gardens and fountains. Floor-to-ceiling windows connect you to the private patio and garden, making it an easy trip toward personal transformation.

If that doesn't work, try an hour or so in the big-enough-for-two tub, which is carved from what appears to be a giant single piece of black granite. The remarkable fixture is the anchor in the spacious, spa-like bathroom and one of many relaxation-oriented touches at the inn.

I spent an afternoon rocking gently in a hammock slung between two marvelous oaks near the poolside. Through the entire drowse, I scarcely heard another voice, save for the occasional chirp of birds overhead or of the gentle rustling from horses grazing on the shore across the creek.  I personally rustled too only when time to graze. The Gaige House breakfast experience is a gourmet-level treat, skillfully prepared and artfully presented in the chic, small dining room.

But an easy stroll from the Inn to town's center presents a surprisingly solid caliber of dining options for such a small berg. Dinner on the creekside patio at Wolf House Restaurant (www.jacklondonlodge.com ) is a neighborly experience, where the excellent Wine Country-inspired American fare is swiftly brought to table by a staff that seems to know everybody who enters the place.

Glen Ellen is also home to The Fig Cafe & Wine Bar, (www.thefigcafe.com ), popular for its comfort food and lively atmosphere, and Saffron Restaurant (www.saffronrestaurant.com ) which actually boasts a bit of big-city atmosphere and a sophisticated Spanish and Asian-influenced menu.

Jack London, who lived here from 1909 until his death in 1916, never ate so well or had the chance to experience the transformative powers of the masseuse at Gaige House. But he was ahead of us all in his understanding that Glen Ellen was a special place. Though many of his works reference the town, even his infinite wisdom could not predict that one day travelers would come here in search of food and wine along with gourmet chocolate (don't miss Wine Country Chocolates, www.winecountrychocolates.com), and fine cheeses (be sure to try Raymond & Co. Cheesemongers, www.raymondcheesemongers.com).

But the author did know that Glen Ellen gives everybody the chance to leave the stress of everyday life behind - if only for a day.