As a diehard city girl, I'm way more comfortable in stilettos than stirrups. Yet there is something oddly alluring about going off the grid for several days and slowing down to enjoy life far away from the urban jungle—especially when chosen locay is in close proximity to wine country! So when I was invited to join a group of city slickers for a jaunt to Solvang's Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, there was no way I could resist.
Located just two hours from LA, this sprawling slice of paradise sits just outside downtown Solvang and is actually a working cattle ranch. Though it's tempting to go into town and experience everything from Danish pastries to mouth-watering wines, it's easy to visit Alisal and never want to leave. Horseback and hiking trails, on-site spa and golf course, tennis courts, a heated pool, and sweeping scenic views abound...not to mention free wi-fi for those who shudder at the thought of going *totally* off the grid. (However, there is zero cell phone reception at the Alisal, so be sure to fire up the Skype for all of your dialing needs!)
After a miraculously traffic-free trip, I arrived at Alisal early on a Monday afternoon—just in time for a 1:30 spa treatment. Don't let the spa's no-frills exterior fool you, as prime relaxation and pampering await within its confines. Strains of soft country music greet those waiting in the spa's lounge, which is dotted with Southwestern accents and all the issues of "Cowboys and Indians" a girl could ever want to read. I sat transfixed by the lounge's crackling fireplace until I was greeted by a fresh-faced young aesthetician named Kira, who would be administering my "Trailblazer" treatment for the next 90 minutes.
Part scrub, part massage, the Trailblazer is one of the spa's signature treatments and will run you $200. It starts off with an organic peppermint salt exfoliation for the skin, followed by a custom massage designed to relieve stress. For the first several minutes, I found myself wishing I'd opted for a full-on massage, as my writerly shoulders have been barking for weeks, and the somewhat vigorous scrub was less than relaxing at first. Yet the longer I lay there, I found myself melting into the bed, and once the warm eye pillow doused with hypnotic lavender and rose scents was placed on me, I was a goner.
After about 50 minutes of being scrubbed, I was guided to the spa's shower to rinse off, and emerged pleasantly surprised by how quickly my skin had transformed to seriously touchable. Upon my return to the treatment room, I got a 30-minute massage with just the right amount of pressure to kill those pesky kinks. (And as a deep tissue massage wimp, it's tough not to make me wince... Bravo, Kira!) At treatment's end, I left the spa relaxed, renewed, and ripe for some lounging.
Hence, next stop was the heated pool, where I curled up in a beach chair with a juicy read, my Kate Spade shades, and a chilled Diet Coke. (Sure, I *could've* checked out one of the spa's yoga or Pilates classes, but my spa-induced laziness won out.) After about an hour of sunnin' and funnin', I headed back to my home for the next three days—-an inviting ranch-style cottage replete with wood-burning fireplace, refrigerator (or Diet Coke repository, in my case), and a porch overlooking Alisal's creek. No TV or phone anywhere in sight, making Operation Off the Grid officially complete! I loved the little touches too, like the "Shoe Shine Mitt" included in the bathroom toiletries, you know, just in case your cowboy boots need a bit of a touchup.
As evening descended on the Alisal, I met up with my group for drinks at the ranch's Waggin' Tongue lounge, followed by dinner in the Cottonwood Room—-where gingham prints, sunflowers, and cowboy-style paintings carry on the down-home motif that permeates the ranch. Much gorging commenced on the Cottonwood's buffet-style barbecue setup with offerings like salmon, steak, cornbread, coleslaw, and beets. After dinner, fellow getaway girl Shana Ting Lipton and I hit up the ranch's Oak Room bar, where Michael Shelton was playing sing-along acoustic tunes by everyone from Oasis to Backstreet Boys. (No one can accuse this crooner of not having range!) A little vino nightcap and the chance to sing and play tambourine—now that's what I call a fun way to end the day.
Sated and satisfied, I headed back to my room amongst a deafening chorus of ribbiting frogs to reflect on a delicious—-in every sense of the word—Day One of the trip. And it was just beginning: wine tasting, golf, horseback riding and more were still to come! Part Two coming soon....
For more information: Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, 1054 Alisal Road, Solvang, CA 93463; 1-800-4ALISAL