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Room Number: Where to Stay During the Napa Valley Film Festival

In her column for The Hollywood Reporter, travel expert Melissa Schwartz of Destination Happiness picks the best room just far enough away from the crowd.

In her column Room Number, travel expert Melissa Schwartz of Destination Happiness -- whose client roster ranges from WME agent superstars to Wall Street titans -- reveals her favorite rooms in a different location on the entertainment industry travel circuit.

Yes, we're sad, too, that Halloween is over for another year. But that doesn't mean we have to wait until Thanksgiving for another major party. The third annual Napa Valley Film Festival (this one could be the most spectacular so far) is about to light up another celebration of film, food, (of course) wine, and celebrities. From Nov. 13-17, you can catch more than 100 new independent films, major studio sneak previews, culinary and oenophile-centric panel discussions and tastings, 12 beautiful screening venues, gala awards ceremonies, receptions, lounges -- and did we say parties? -- all happening in walkable, neighboring Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga, Calif.

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There are countless reasons for accelerating (or crawling, depending on the time of day) your vehicle across the Golden Gate Bridge: Some are just heading home after a day in the concrete peaks and canyons of San Francisco; others are charging towards chowder and shopping in Sausalito; still others are seeking serenity in the Muir Woods redwoods.

But then, there are others who cross the gate of gold to simply transport themselves to the emerald and amethyst hills and valleys of Napa, the home of this week’s Room Number, the 1,470-square-foot Deluxe Private Garden Suite Room No. 1 in the eight-room Maison St. Tropez at the landmark Auberge du Soleil (180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford, Calif.), about 65 miles from San Francisco.

Floating on the slope of Rutherford Hill overlooking the magnificent Napa Valley you will discover Auberge du Soleil (daily rates from $775 to $5,125), the highly acclaimed Napa “Inn of the Sun,” known, since 1981, for its Michelin starred Restaurant and Bistro & Bar (led by Chef Robert Curry), and, since 1985, its 52-room luxury collection of sun-drenched hillside rooms, suites, and cottages; 7,000 square foot Auberge Spa; La Plage, the Inn’s luxe pool and outdoor living room; the Ma(i)sonry Sculpture Gallery; and lusciously landscaped gardens and trails; all artfully scattered across a 33-acre hillside olive grove.

You approach the Inn along the sensuously winding Silverado Trail, finally entering an intimate, pine-laced drive peering down on Rutherford’s exquisite vineyards, beautiful enough to elicit a gasp of pleasure and anticipation. The wait is well rewarded: your first encounter with the gracious, quietly attentive, professional and welcoming staff is everything you hoped for. You finally enter our Room Number choice: Room No. 1 in the Maison St. Tropez (daily rates range from $2,550 to $3,975, depending on the season).

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The Maison was glamorously yet timelessly redesigned by Suzanne Tucker (Tucker & Marks, Inc., San Francisco), former protege of original Auberge designer Michael Taylor, and unveiled in May 2013. Inspired by the beauty, sweeping views and the marvelous play of brilliant light that personifies the south of France, and more precisely, the French Riviera, the new Maison St. Tropez is like an island of je ne sais quoi tempered with relaxed California style and confidence. Room No. 1’s interior is suffused with rich tone-on-tone palettes of ivory, pale cocoa and hints of apricot. Its furnishings are so inviting with its natural elements; a hand-carved oak and leather headboard that flies to the ceiling, sumptuous fabrics, luxurious Italian Rivolta Carmignani linens, furniture designed for relaxation with Tucker’s adaptation of her own textile designs exclusively for Auberge. A sleek see-through floating fireplace fills both the living room and bedroom with crackling warmth and beckons you to retreat to your comforting, intimate getaway. The master bath soothes with heated limestone floors, glassed walk-in rain shower, and very generous skylit soaking tub, lit by flickering candles and softened by Spa signature bath oils for indolent moments; a second bath offers another calming rain shower. But what sets Room 1 apart and makes it our special choice is its oversized private patio, showcasing its sculptural freestanding outdoor soaking tub and outdoor rain shower, all surrounded by a private, secluded garden with its very own lounge chairs, ottomans and dining table, and shaded by a custom ipe wood trellis. This is the ultimate in privacy and relaxation.

When you finally climb out of your ultimate tub vacation (indoor and outdoor soaking tubs, plus three rain showers to choose from, all in the same seductive retreat; you’ll have prune skin for days, but a very deep sense of contentment, too!), here are some other treats you cannot miss:

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1. Meadowood Napa Valley (900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena, CA)
Think it’s too early to start making Xmas plans? Time’s a-wasting, and here’s a wonderful way to tap into the spirit of the holidays, and help those less fortunate at the same time. This Napa luxury resort is offering its “12 Days of Christmas” holiday dining extravaganza from December 6-21, 2013, featuring 12 acclaimed chefs (collaborating with the resort’s own chef Christopher Kostow) together with 12 legendary vintners. Each dinner will be specially prepared by the master chef of the evening, including chef Rodolfo Guzman of Borago in Santiago, Chile; chef David Chang from the impossible-to-get-a table Momofuko, New York City; chef Rasmus Kofoed from Geranium, Copenhagen, Denmark; and others of their star-quality ilk, all wrapping up on Night 12 with chef Kostow himself. (FYI for your next Trivial Pursuit challenge, chef Kostow and chef Thomas Keller, founder and creative genius behind French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., helm the only two 3 Michelin star restaurants in the entire western US.) Since this is Napa, couple all that incredible food with marvelous wine choices from 12 renowned vintners. Be happy, too, that Meadowood will donate serious funds from the entire “12 Days” program to several important charitable organizations. Check with Meadowood for details.

2. Palmaz Vineyards (4029 Hagen Road, Napa, CA)
Talk about juxtapositions! The Palmaz winery is the ultimate combination of history and modernity, tradition with high tech. Originally founded in 1881 as the Cedar Knoll Vineyard and Winery, the biz was killed by Prohibition. But leave it to a world-renowned native Argentinean cardiovascular surgeon and ultimate tinkerer, Dr. Julio Palmaz, the inventor of the cardiac stent, to bring it back to life (how cool that the father of the stent, who was welcomed into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame, lives in the heart of wine-and-cholesterol country!). Not only has he mastered the high art of keeping our arteries open, his winery (family-operated) is a spectacular edifice in the high-tech art of wine making: his winery is literally 14 stories high, but all underground in a mammoth underground wine cave (at a reputed cost exceeding $25 million) housing the state-of-the-art full gravity-feed, sterile-as-an-operating room winery, offices, tasting room, its own water treatment plant, and even the good doctor’s antique car collection (including over 40 rare racing Porsches), and two 12-story elevators (and his wine is highly regarded, too!). Forget Obama-care; we want Palmaz-care! Private tours and tastings (called impressive, informative, professional, passionate, a true Napa experience not to be missed!) are available by appointment only, and as demand is high are tough to get; after all, this is a “doctor’s office”!

3. Far Niente (1350 Acacia Drive, Oakville, CA)
What is it about the 1880’s, Prohibition, gravity flow, caves, and antique cars that go so well with Napa wineries? Here in Oakville, the Far Niente (Italian for “without a care”) winery was founded in 1885 by John Benson, a ’49 gold rusher, which prospered until Prohibition when it was abandoned (apparently, Mr. Benson did have some serious cares after all…). However, in 1979, Oklahoman Gil Nickel overcame those trepidations, broke the bad luck chain, purchased the property, and Far Niente was re-born. But even more: in 1980, Gil had a small 60-foot cave dug in the hill behind the winery, little knowing that it would be the first wine cave constructed in North America since Mr. Benson’s days. Today, the Nickel family progeny and several close friends operate what is one of the highly acclaimed vintners in the Valley. Back to the cars: Nickel, an avid collector and race driver, assembled a collection of significant and just plain treasured vehicles (how about a 1966 Ferrari Superfast, a ’61 Corvette, numerous and sundry BMW vintage bikes, and other Italian, British, German and American gems), housed in the Carriage House. But they are not just eye candy: they are regularly taken out and driven along the winding hillsides and straightaways in wine country. For the more contemplative, however, the winery is surrounded by 13 acres of beautifully manicured gardens, described by many as among the most stunning landscapes in Napa. Featured are thousands of southern azaleas that, in the spring, cry out in a riot of reds and deep pinks. Tours/tastings are offered daily, including walks through the now-40,000 square foot wine cave and, of course, the Carriage House (but, sorry, they keep the keys to the ‘Vette safely hidden away…).

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4. Goose and Gander (1245 Spring Street, St. Helena, CA)
“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” is the inspiration for the moniker of this self-described “wine country public house-a gathering place for locals and visitors to celebrate Napa Valley’s abundant bounty (or embarrassment of riches).” Chef Kelly McCown cooks “rustic American classics and delectable bar bites. Drinking food!” And that is our hook. In a world of vintners and wine before, during, and after every meal, cocktail master Scott Beattie and teammate Michael Padzon are unexpected standouts when it’s time for a change of pace (and beverage). As resident mixologist at the lower level bar in the Goose and Gander, which opened in April 2012 in the former digs of the iconic Martini House (which sat empty since October 2010), Beattie delivers his seasonally-adjusted mix magic, which boasts a gardener’s cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, and even flowers and herbs, to his bar. In this hard-to-find, dark and hidden spot which has become the industry den for the area winemakers after a hard day in the wine cave, Beattie and Padzon shine brightly with their elegant and artfully beautiful concoctions and new takes on old themes. For example, try their new Old Fashioned, fashioned from St. George Breaking & Entering Bourbon, Clove, Cinnamon, Star Anise, Orange and bitters and called the Bali Spice Old Fashioned. Or how about their signature Scarlet Gander, created from Hanger One Buddha’s Hand Citron Vodka, Ginger, Shiso, Galangal, Lemon and Rhubarb (sounds like all that’s missing is a bit of hamachi and sticky rice…). These are the superstars of the cocktail-slinging world; in fact, Mr. Beattie has had his epic tome, Artisanal Cocktails: Drinks Inspired by the Seasons published to rave reviews; Mr. Padzon has won so many mixing competitions he has been banned from competing in Napa and Sonoma (but watch out San Fran, as he is, as of this writing, still eligible in the City by the Bay). Local and not-so-local celebs, too, have discovered the magic here; Stacy Keibler was there last Saturday; Tia & Tamera sidled in recently, and, rumor has it that Five for Fighting will pop in next Sunday. But careful on who they pick a fight with: Beattie and Padzon are also known to use chain saws (and bread knives) to hand-carve their ice cubes…

5. Aonair Wines (Coombsville region east of city of Napa; no address, only www.aonairwine.com)
Yes, you’ve noticed that there is no address here, as there is none to report, and you’ll see why below. Longtime Napa winemaker (he made his first wine at age 16 in his parents’ garage) Grant Long Jr. does not produce a lot of wine, but what he makes is very desirable (called the best in the world by many connoisseurs); total annual production is about 1,200 barrels; he even lists the number of barrels produced of each blend on each bottle’s label. His grapes come from premium rocky volcanic Napa vineyards, and his Blue Oak estate wines come from a vineyard of just under three planted acres. “Aonair” in Gaelic means “one man,” which is an apt description: he is the winemaker, host, customer service manager; he has no retail outlets or distributors, but sells exclusively through his mailing list. But he is not a hermit. As he says, “I meet with every one of my customers.” To taste his exquisite wines, you need an appointment. But don’t toss the bottle (if you can get one) when it’s empty: he is unique in how he keeps touch with his customers; his cell phone number is on every cork and on the back of every bottle (each bottle of his reds is hand-dipped in wax, so you’ll have to scrape it off to get to his number). So keep that cork, clean off the wax and call (a secret: his number is on his website, too…).

Email: melissa@yourdestinationhappiness.com

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