This Relais & Châteaux property a block from Healdsburg Plaza takes the prize for opulence with guest rooms spacious and elegant enough for French nobility. Although it lacks a pool and a spa, the hotel, which has an excellent restaurant and bar and a wood-paneled library off the lobby, has the feel of a sumptuous Left Bank mansion.
YOU SHOULD KNOW The hotel charges a $30 service fee per night which it describes as being "in lieu of all cash gratuities for all of the staff," including the valets who park all guests' cars.
Guest rooms are furnished Parisian style with 18th- and 19th-century antiques and reproductions, ornate armoires, four-poster canopy beds, and gas-burning fireplaces. Rooms come in several categories, but with even the smallest measuring 425 square feet, you won't feel cramped. All rooms have crown molding, sitting areas (in the larger rooms near windows), and minibars, Nespresso coffee machines, safes, and DVD players and flat-screen TVs.
The 20-foot exposed-beam ceilings of third-floor Grand King rooms contribute to their palatial feel.
Large bathrooms awash in white-marble tile and outfitted with old-style polished-chrome faucets help maintain the Parisian-mansion ambiance, as do the bidets. Bulgari bath products sit atop well-lit multihued marble vanities in all the bathrooms, which with one exception have jetted hydrotherapy tubs.
The marble-floored lobby has the feel of a grand foyer. Just inside the entrance, a head turn to the right yields a glimpse of the library, paneled in hand-carved black walnut and stocked with leather-bound volumes dating back to the 1800s and perhaps farther; the doorway to Chalkboard restaurant is on the left. Straight ahead through another archway lie two sitting areas with sofas and overstuffed chairs; wine and cheese are served here every evening. Discreetly out of view from the street, front-desk staffers check in guests and cater to pretty much every need.
A small room on the third floor has an elliptical machine, a stationary bicycle, and a few free weights. Although there's not much equipment, what's provided is usually available.
A Continental breakfast of croissants, yogurt, fruit, juice, and coffee or tea is delivered to guests' rooms each morning. Chalkboard, the very fine restaurant off the lobby, is open daily for dinner (and on weekends for lunch) for executive chef Shane McAnelly's playfully ambitious small-plate cuisine.
The bar at Chalkboard serves local and international wines and draft and canned craft beers, along with signature cocktails like a Manhattan made with Charles Goodnight Bourbon and house vermouth and the Pearl Diver Punch, made with various rums, honey butter, lime, and cinnamon-vanilla. During happy hour (daily except Saturday), the bartenders pour a white and a red wine by the glass and a few cocktails like an old-fashioned made with rye, gomme, and bitters. Nibbles on a recent bar menu included fried-chicken sliders and gulf shrimp and grits.
Healdsburg lies about a mile east of highway U.S. 101 about an hour's drive north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Most guests drive a car to the hotel, though for the record Sonoma County Transit Bus 60 stops within a block of it and the Healdsburg shuttle (Bus 67) loops through town. Downtown Healdsburg is highly walkable. You could easily spend two days here shopping, dining, and sipping wine at three dozen or tasting rooms before venturing out into the countryside (a must do).
Across an alley from Hôtel Les Mars at the Shed Café (20-second walk), chef Perry Hoffman oversees the Modern American cuisine; the prix-fixe four-course dinner option is a good way to graze through the menu. Katina and Kyle Connaughton (she farms, he cooks) serve up seasonally oriented Japanese-inspired prix-fixe meals 1½ blocks away at SingleThread Farms Restaurant (3-minute walk). Other good choices include Shane McAnelly's The Brass Rabbit (4-minute walk) for "supper club-inspired" farm-to-table cuisine, Dry Creek Kitchen (5-minute walk) for intricate Modern American, and Valette (3-minute walk) for dishes based on local farm products.
Duke's Spirited Cocktails (4-minute walk), next door to the Brass Rabbit, serves up "farm-to-bar" libations in a hip storefront setting. Spoonbar (7-minute walk), inside the h2hotel, is another hot spot for a chic cocktail—it's especially fun on warm days when the cantina doors open for great people-watching. For dive-bar action (lively local crowd), head to John and Zeke's (2-minute walk).
WHY WE LIKE IT
Hôtel Les Mars cleverly negotiates a path between Old World glamour and California haute casual, providing guests with a luxe, attentive experience that never seems stuffy or pretentious. The staffers understand what luxury travelers require and exceed expectations on nearly every count. The grand decor makes a stay here a ritzy affair, but what sticks in the memory is how overwhelmingly pleasant the experience is.