An 1875 Victorian with a storied past and a glorious colonnaded wraparound porch anchors this boutique property along the Russian River. Isabelle Simi, whose father and uncle started Simi Winery, which she ran for many years, lived in the home for more than three-quarters of a century. Starting with the made-to-order breakfast their chef prepares each morning, innkeepers Tom and Mitzi Bangs, who opened River Belle in 2017, aim to deliver a unique and relaxing experience. On most days, patrons' biggest challenge is figuring out where to chill out—in the decorous front parlor (complete with baby grand), on the porch, or in lounge chairs or the hammock on the riverfront lawn.
More than a dozen tasting rooms operate within a block or so of the inn, and Healdsburg Plaza and its shops and restaurants (and more tasting rooms) is less than a mile away.
Tom, a contractor, extended the original home—and the porch—east toward the river. Ten of the inn's dozen rooms are off a long hallway that begins at the top of the 1875 home's original staircase, with two riverfront suites on the ground floor. Antiques, reproductions, and period-style curtains recall Simi's lengthy occupancy, but with high-thread-count sheets and fancy bathrooms, the feel is au courant.
Four second-floor rooms in the back have Juliet balconies with splendid views; the two ground-floor suites have private patios.
As with the rooms, the bathrooms glance backward but appeal to contemporary sensibilities with lavish marble or tile floors and shiny chrome fixtures. Some bathrooms have deep soaking tubs (in two cases adjacent to see-through fireplaces); others have tubs with river views.
YOU SHOULD KNOW Two bathrooms have only a shower.
Arriving guests drive toward the back of the property to a broad portico where they're greeted in a small reception area, a grandfather clock keeping time as check-in begins. A stand holds brochures for neighboring sights and restaurants, and a signboard lists suggested activities and, on some days, the name of a local winery whose representative will pour wine in the late afternoon.
Caprese-pesto omelets, sweet-apple sausage quiche, and Belgian waffles with fresh fruit and Chantilly cream are among the items prepared each morning by the inn's chef, who also bakes a pastry daily. Each night before retiring, guests fill out "Triple Dubs" menus, indicating what among the many choices they desire for breakfast, when they'd like to dine, and where: in a river-view dining room, on its patio, on the porch, or in-room.
On warm mornings, many guests take breakfast on the river-view patio or even nearer the water.
Tom and Mitzi converted the original home's kitchen into a parlor where in the late afternoon they serve local wines and a few custom microbrews. The room's long redwood table came from a tree formerly on the property.
About ¾ mile southeast of Healdsburg Plaza and a mile from U.S. 101, the River Belle is convenient by foot to dozens of in-town shops, tasting rooms, and restaurants, and it's a short drive away from several dozen wineries. Except on Sunday, Sonoma County Transit's Bus 67 shuttle loops past the inn on its way to Healdsburg Plaza and other downtown stops. Wine Country Bikes, diagonally across the street, rents bicycles and conducts tours.
Among the restaurants guests favor include Barndiva (12-minute walk) for small and large farm-to-table dishes, Dry Creek Kitchen (15-minute walk) for intricate Modern American, Valette (15-minute walk) for cuisine based on local farm products, Baci Café and Wine Bar (16-minute walk) for stick-to-your-ribs Italian standards, and Chalkboard for ambitious small-plate cuisine. The drive to all these restaurants takes about 3 minutes.
Duke's Spirited Cocktails (15-minute walk) serves up "farm-to-bar" libations in a hip storefront setting. Spoonbar (14-minute walk), inside the h2hotel, is another hot spot for a chic cocktail. For dive-bar action (lively local crowd), head to John and Zeke's (17-minute walk).
WHY WE LIKE IT
After just an hour at the River Belle Inn, it's evident how carefully the innkeepers conceived the experience they want to provide. The attention to detail reveals itself most clearly in the way breakfast unfolds—when, where, and how patrons want it to (kudos for ditching the corner-cutting buffet)—but also in the refinement of the guest rooms and the backyard-like feel of the riverfront lawn.