The Mansion & Carriage House living space at the Madrona

The Madrona
Healdsburg, California, USA


Passing through the pea-green palace gates to climb the steep and shaded drive, it’s abundantly clear from the outset that this isn’t an average stay. At the top of the hill, an elegant mansion combines Victorian and Queen Anne elements with additional cottages quaintly spread about the carefully manicured grounds. But there’s nothing uptight about The Madrona, despite this prim and proper appearance. Enter any of these buildings and all delusion of stuffiness is immediately shattered.

This mansion was originally built in 1881, at the dawn of Aestheticism – the movement that prized art for art’s sake. While the interior has been gutted, remodelled and dazzlingly redecorated by Bay Area interior designer Jay Jeffers, it remains devoted to the visual splendour of its earliest incarnation. It’s not quite maximalism, but patterns, excess and whimsy abound, with statement pieces serving as the norm, not the exception.

The reception is hidden in a small room the rear of the of the entry foyer, so we had plenty of opportunity to gawk at the eye-popping parlour rooms on our way to the check-in desk. This unaccompanied journey through the mansion’s liveliest spaces, barring the restaurant, made us feel as though we were familiar guests of an old friend, not newcomers. This intimate feeling never left.

The attitude here is that The Madrona belongs to the guests, and we were encouraged to explore the grounds and find our own special spaces along the way. Tucked among the orange grove, kitchen garden, grape vines, and lawns, intimate respites can be found in the form of secluded benches, hammocks and other hideaways. “We want guests to find their own space and make it their own,” general manager Vittal Calamur told us.

In the grounds, our favourite space was the heated outdoor pool. True to the rest of the property, it felt more like the top-notch garden pool of a sophisticated acquaintance than a hotel pool shared by strangers. Despite its capacity, it remains intimate. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that it doesn’t really have an official closing time, so it’s essentially accessible 24 hours a day. Just as a private pool would be.

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While you’re Out There
The Cyrus dining journey is a 20-course, multi-room culinary experience with four nightly seatings for 12, Thursday through Sunday. The 1,600lb/725kg floating table of cantilevered steel, set in front of a glass wall overlooking the vineyard, offers a dramatic entrance into the Bubbles Lounge, but it’s the intimate chef’s table experience that dazzles. Set in the sexy black and steel kitchen – the calmest you’ll find in a Michelin-starred restaurant – guests are free to roam and interact with the chefs as they work, taking the exhibition kitchen concept to new heights.

Still, our true favourite outdoor space at The Madrona was the spacious balcony of our second-floor room. Overlooking the valley beyond, with east-facing views perfect for sunrise, this vantage point provided a perfectly peaceful morning and was accessible through pairs of French doors on either side of our cushy bed’s towering headboard. At the foot of the bed, we spent the evening lounging on a plush sofa under a heavy alpaca blanket just opposite a tiled fireplace decked in floral and butterfly motifs. It wasn’t quite cold outside, but the cooler nights of Sonoma County – so necessary for its grapes – certainly call for some cosy indulgence. This is also why we appreciated the heated bathroom flooring.

Throughout the mansion and The Madrona’s cottages and bungalows, modern art pieces meet antiques original to the property in an amusing conversational style. They seem to be as entertained by each other as we were of them. In the restaurant, painted mustard yellow from top to bottom, art prints of Isabella Rossellini’s chickens frame every wall but the one with a fireplace mantle still topped by the flamboyantly carved antique clock that can be found in sepia-tone photos of the mansion’s former life. And it all works, however inexplicably.

The vibrant restaurant, which extends to a larger, covered outdoor space as meticulously designed as the interiors and known only as The Restaurant, works in tandem with Hannah’s Bar to keep visitors flocking to the mansion throughout the day, especially to the deep, wraparound porch. From afternoon wine to evening cocktails and straight through to after-dinner drinks, Hannah’s Bar doesn’t have a firm closing time most nights, either. Among the many elements that made us feel at home here, it was this sincere lack of rigidity that truly delivered on ultimate hospitality in Northern California.

Photography by Matthew Millman, courtesy of The Madrona and Sonoma County Tourism

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