Great Escapes

Checking In...The Francis House in Calistoga, California

The stunning exterior of The Francis House in Calistoga, California. Photo courtesy of The Francis House.

In our new series, we step inside some of the country’s most beautiful hotels and inns that pamper guests with Matouk linens. 

Owners of The Francis House, Richard and Dina Dwyer. Photo by Patricia Chang.

 

Owner Dina Dwyer shows us around this historic property in the heart of Napa, with wine country charm and luxe details, and shares ideas on how to soak up all the area has to offer.

When Dina and Richard Dwyer stumbled across what was once the family home of a prominent local merchant, James H. Francis in Calistoga, California, the pair was living in San Francisco. Though they spent many weekends winding through wine country, they only got serious about a permanent move and new business when they saw the unique property online in 2015.

Built in 1886, the home is a bit of a departure from the structures nearby. Heavily influenced by French architecture, Dina, an interior designer and Richard, a real-estate developer, knew they had to buy it and restore it. Lucky for the rest of us, they wanted to share. Opened in October of this year, The Francis House is an old-world-meets-contemporary inn with five beautiful guest rooms that sits on a property brimming with citrus trees and a lovingly cared-for herb garden.

In between vineyard visits, hiking and shopping, guests often relax by the pool, renew in the infrared sauna and salt room, book a massage or join in a game of bar billiards after exploring the house’s library. Most evenings end around the fire pit with a glass of wine.

After learning about this unique hotel, we were ready to check in. We asked Dina to give us a private tour and reveal some of her favorite places in and around Napa.

Many of the guest rooms were restored to showcase the home’s original stone walls. Photo courtesy of The Francis House.

What was your inspiration for the design of The Francis House?

 

"My inspiration was the countryside of France. It’s the only stone building in all of Napa with authentic French Second Empire architecture. When we bought it in 2015, it had been abandoned for 52 years. There was not much to save other than the four stone walls. The key was to connect the outdoor landscaping with the old world feel of the interiors.”

The home has such history. What does that bring to space as a guest staying there?

 

"Many people say that they feel like they’re in French wine country. There’s really no property like it in Napa. We’re historic and we’re so small — we only have five guest rooms. Compared to other larger properties in the area, we are small and very personalized. I prepare breakfast every morning. It’s truly like being a guest in someone’s home. My husband basically tells the story of this house 20 times a day to friends, guests and visitors.”

What’s the most popular room? Is there one?

 

"All of our rooms are special because all of them are different. The two second floor rooms are special because they have stone walls and 12 foot-high ceilings. It makes you feel like you’re at an old home in Europe.”

"It's the only stone building in all of Napa with authentic French Second Empire architecture...the key was to connect the outdoor landscaping with the old-world feel of the interiors."

Though the building dates by to 19th century, the accommodations are decidedly modern and luxurious. Photo courtesy of The Francis House.
Matouk robes are the perfect way to curl up after a productive day. Photo courtesy of The Francis House.

To you, what are the key elements in creating a chic, comfortable, inviting bedroom?

 

"First and foremost, the bed and bath linens. We tested so many. And everyone loves the bedding, bath towels, and pool towels. We chose Matouk bed linens, bathrobes, and towels. I was shopping in one of my favorite stores in St. Helena and saw a robe and thought…'This robe is exactly what I want.’ The sheets are easy to care for as well.”

The dining area where many a Napa wine tour is mapped out over coffee. Photo courtesy of The Francis House.

What are some insider tips or places not to miss when you visit the area?

di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art "A modern museum in Sonoma about 45 minutes away by car. I liken it to being at a place like MOMA but looking out over beautiful vineyards. They also have a nice café there so you can sit with a book all day if you like. Or just take a break in between tastings. It’s less well known, and each time I send visitors there, they are amazed.”


Horseback Riding "What's a better way to see the landscape close up than riding a horse through rows of vines. When you’re done, you can stop for a tasting in the vineyard.”

 

Napa Valley Wine Train “You see the valley in an old-world setting with charming cars and elegant service...like a tamer version of the classic Orient Express.”


Hot Air Balloon Ride “It’s a great way to see the terrain from up above.”

Guests often gather at the end of the day at The Francis House's fire pit. Photo courtesy of The Francis House.

 

 

 

How would you spend the day and night if you were a guest here?

 

"Wake up late then head to the farmer’s market. It’s a great way to see and taste the amazing local produce. It’s a bit smaller than most and such a pretty setting. You really meet the farmers and pick the fruit that you’re buying. After that, head to brunch and stroll the stores and galleries nearby. A wine tasting is the perfect afternoon activity followed by a late lunch. After, head to a hot spring and enjoy a massage or soak in a mud bath. (We have an infrared spa and salt room at the house. It’s called Halo Therapy. It’s like a neti pot for the entire body.)  Dinner would follow and after sit around the fire pit on our property with a cup of tea or glass of wine. There is no better way to end the day than with a story about what you or others discovered or learned that day.”

"There is no better way to end the day than with a story about what you or others discovered or learned that day.”

Vines nearby The Francis House. Photo courtesy of The Francis House.

We can’t let you go without asking about wine. Have any current favorite vineyards?

 

"There is such a great variety of wines here with varying price points and settings. We really have favorites in all categories. I would encourage visitors to try some places in town that are small tasting rooms and also go further out and spend an entire afternoon at a winery. Some give talks and have expanded tastings, exploring the process and the terroir.”

Promontory (Oakville) “On the higher end of the market. Set on a cliff, the setting and views are stellar. Everything is so modern and the wines are stellar.”

The Vineyardist (Calistoga) “This is a bit closer to the hotel. Another favorite of mine.”

Larkmead  (Calistoga) “A bit more affordable but very good.”

Chateau Montelena (Calistoga) “They’re known for winning the Judgment of Paris.”

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