Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn

There are some places you sleep for a night, and other places that make you feel as if you’re living an exceptionally pleasant dream. The Fairmont’s Sonoma Mission Inn is one of those places.

The location is a perfect base for exploring Sonoma County. (And, if you feel like visiting that other county that shall remain nameless, it’s not far from there either.) 

The best part of the Sonoma Mission Inn is that it’s built over historic hot springs. There’s a warmish pool that kids and adults can both enjoy, but more important, there’s an adult retreat in the form of a top-notch spa. The spa is replete with 2 warm outdoor pools, an outdoor hot tub, and an amazing bath house with a bathing ritual that’s great for preparing for spa treatments or just winding down after a day of strenuous wine tasting.

Should you so desire, you can spend your days at the Sonoma Mission Inn on a variety of guided walks and bike rides, in exercise classes, or teeing off on a nearby course. Or, you can go farther afield, hiking and tasting your way around Sonoma County. The helpful concierge can help you make the most out of your time in Sonoma, whatever your interest.

When evening comes, there’s usually a tasting from local wineries in the lovely, historic lobby near the fireplace. Dinner at the hotel’s fabulous restaurant, Sante, is always exceptional, full of seasonal ingredients prepared in delightfully surprising ways.

After dinner, you can enjoy the company of your companions or other guests at the beautiful firepit over a drink. In Sonoma, the weather’s generally clear, so it’s a great place to bring a telescope or binoculars to stargaze near the fire.

When you’re celebrating something special, or just need to get away for a bit, book your room to start living your dream, even if it’s just for one night: http://www.fairmont.com/ In addition to booking online, be sure to call before you stay and request the seasonal activity schedule so that you can get the most out of your stay. This is particular useful when you visit during holidays as the hotel puts on special dinners and events that you won’t want to miss.

A Day at the Mosquee – (Couscous & Hammams Too!)

Minaret from the Grand Mosque of Paris
A Magical World...in Paris

With all the dreary headlines in the news about the West, Islam, Muslims in France, and related topics, it’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of inter-cultural interaction. However, when you visit the Great Mosque of Paris (La Grande Mosquee de Paris), you’ll come away understanding how positive (and relaxing) it can be when great cultures interact, and appreciate the true genius of Islamic art, architecture, and hospitality.

The mosque, located in the 5th arrondissement, is surprising for its immensity and authenticity. An Islamic culture center in Paris’ intellectual heart, the mosque was built after World War I, to thank Islamic members of the French empire who fought to help France be among the winners during the “War to End All Wars.” For more about the mosque’s history and the beautiful art and architecture you find there, this Web site, in French, has lots of info. The great photos speak for themselves even if you don’t speak French: http://mosquee-de-paris.net/

When you visit the mosque, you’ll feel like you left Paris for an enchanted world. The mosque has a really cool minaret to gaze at, a mini-souk where you can buy North African wares, a restaurant where you can eat some of the best couscous and tagines in Paris, along with a tearoom where you can drink mint tea and munch pastries in amazing ambiance. (Just remember, there’s no alcohol served here, so you’ll have to have your cocktails after dinner if you decide to dine here. And it’s worth eating here even sans alcohol. I am somewhat embarrassed to confess that I once tried to order a gin and tonic here. They were very nice about it, but it showed me why I needed to spend more time at the Great Mosque of Paris.) 

The mosque also houses one of the best hammams in Paris. For a fairly small fee, you can enjoy the lovely steam rooms and baths. For additional money, you can get that access, plus a body scrub, a massage, and mint tea or dinner afterwards.  The massages are worth it.

Bring flip-flops and swimsuit bottoms. It’s not “au naturel,” but perhaps a little less covered up than American or British spas might be, even in gender-separated areas. Use but beware of the strong soap you are given. It stings pretty bad if it gets in your eyes. Like a lot of places with communal bathing in more traditional communities worldwide, it’s girls only on certain days, guys on the other days. I’ve never been on a Saturday, but I’ve been told it’s a miss, as it gets way too crowded. (Like most fun, relaxing things on Saturdays.)

For days of the week for males and females, price lists for treatments at the hammam, menus for the restaurant/tearoom, and contact info for the more commercial side of the mosque, visit them online at:  http://www.la-mosquee.com/index.htm 

On the ground, the mosque is located at 39 rue St.-Hilaire in the 5th. Metro stops Monge, Jussieu, or Censier are all decent stops, unless you walk over as a part of a nice stroll around the Latin Quarter, part of which is in the 5th.