Mark Harmon, the founder of Auberge Resorts, which has beautiful properties around the world, including three in Napa Valley, talks to us about the region’s status after the fires of 2017, his can’t-miss wineries and the next hotel he’s opening.
How long have you lived in Napa and what brought you there?
I began traveling to the Napa Valley around 1980, shortly after graduating from college. My father, Bob Harmon, and his partner, Claude Rouas, were building a Provence-style restaurant and inn in the Valley, which became the Auberge du Soleil. The restaurant opened in 1981 and it was quite a departure for sleepy Napa Valley at that time (this was well before The French Laundry opened and put Napa on the map as a culinary mecca!) And as a kid out of college, I was blown away by the creativity and style of the restaurant at the Auberge du Soleil, and this is what got me thinking about hospitality as a career.
What is your role at Auberge now?
As founder of the Auberge Resorts Collection, I am constantly dreaming of and looking for beautiful places that have a soul. Everything we do harkens back to our Napa roots and the good life there: the importance of connections with family and friends, caring for the environment, treating all with respect and focusing on developments of enduring quality.
Today, I’m particularly proud of the legacy we have created at Auberge, and the superb team of people we’ve assembled to grow our dreams internationally. We have one-of-a-kind, intimate resorts and hotels in the works around the world!
Related: Top Tables Napa Valley
What is your favorite aspect of spending time in Napa?
Enjoying the simple pleasures wine country brings: laughing with friends and family over a delicious meal, feeling like I don’t have a care in the world and not wanting to be anywhere else but right there.
What news about Napa should people know?
The wildfires from last year are very much in the distant past. Napa has fully recovered for tourism. The Valley looks beautiful, green and ready for the annual harvest.
Do you have a favorite activity, winery or other that you suggest to visitors and if so, why?
There are so many wonderful wineries, but here are some of my favorites:
- Quintessa: The tasting pavilions on the hill above the winery are amazing, totally private and afford beautiful views.
- Davis Family Vineyards: This is a beautifully designed winery with rustic character.
- Ovid: Ovid has stunning views from the very top of Napa Valley and elegantly crafted wines.
- Barnett Vineyards: This gracious and delightful family winery produces silky, balanced wines that go with everything.
When you’re done wine tasting, or if you want to go for an early morning hike, I love the Oat Hill Mine Trail in Calistoga. The reward is a stunning view of the north Valley (as well as a big appetite for your next meal!). Biking around the Valley is also worthwhile. I’d suggest a full-day or multi-day trip. Or, just grab a bike from your hotel and pedal through the vines.
Related: First-Time Musts: Napa Valley
Do you have a favorite restaurant, shop or hotel and if so, why?
I’m a little biased, of course, yet I would recommend coming for a glass of wine, lunch or dinner to the deck of the Auberge du Soleil, which has the best views in the Valley! Our three hotels in the winelands—the Auberge du Soleil, Calistoga Ranch and Solage—all offer distinctive Napa experiences! For an indulgence, get the Mud Slide spa treatment at Solage, which begins with a full-body mud mask and is followed by a soak in a geothermal tub and relaxation in a sound chair (designed to promote deep rest). Detox, then you’re ready to retox!
What three things do you think every first-time visitor to Napa should do?
- A sunrise hot air balloon ride, which is the best way to see the majesty of the Valley while enjoying champagne and breakfast.
- A long, languorous lunch at one of the famous eateries in the Valley.
- Obviously—a winery tour!
Related: The Shopping Guide: Napa Valley
What region of California should more people know about and why?
I’m excited about Santa Barbara’s wine country. The beautiful region has a superb climate, rustic character, great wines and gracious style. It is easy to access and offers lots of fun activities, including wonderful cycling.
What upcoming project are you working on that you are most excited about and why?
I’m most excited about the Lodge at Blue Sky, a modern guest ranch we’re building on 3,000 acres just outside of Park City, Utah. Our motto is “Luxury with Wild Abandon.” For those who love the outdoors and adventure, the Lodge offers every activity, from fly fishing, hiking and horseback riding in the summer and fall to cross country skiing, heli-skiing and yurt glamping in the winter months. The intimate 46-room Lodge is set in a canyon with expansive views, a creek-side spa and gorgeous rooms. It will open in 2019!