Mansion on the Hill — (2024)

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A Victorian mansion in the California wine country is now the Madrona, an uncompromising hotel that owes its brash design to the rebellious Aesthetic Movement of the late 19th century. Oscar Wilde would be proud.

During the 1800s, when the mansion now known as the Madrona was built, Victorian culture dictated that art should be accompanied by a moral. As the century came to a close, the fin de siècle, a group of artists and writers countered that art should exist purely for its own sake, not as a vehicle for ethics and allegory. This was the Aesthetic Movement, best known via its most famous practitioner, Oscar Wilde — and it helped inspire what that same Victorian mansion looks like today.

“The Aesthetic Movement was all about art and beauty — having things in your home that bring you joy.” That’s Jay Jeffers, owner and designer of the Madrona, speaking of the muse that inspired his drastic refurbishment of the stately residence in California’s Sonoma County. He’s squarely in the Wilde camp. When he helped buy the Madrona in 2021, he found interiors that were heavy, dark, and moody. There’s plenty of mood remaining, but Jeffers’ first instinct was to brighten, refreshing the mansion’s color palette and filling it with artwork.

The result is an intensely creative hotel that expertly blends old with new, showing off a contemporary dazzle while harking back to the sleepy, agrarian past of the California wine country.

Located in Healdsburg, just 90 minutes north of San Francisco, the Madrona stands on eight acres of a farm founded in 1862. Cattle ranches dominated the town for the next hundred years or so. Then someone tried growing grapes. The terroir was successful, to say the least, and a few highly acclaimed restaurants opened soon after. Healdsburg was no longer an overlooked country outpost. Now, this jewel of Sonoma County is among the most desirable escapes within spitting distance of the Golden Gate.

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The hotel comprises the mansion, a carriage house, and a group of standalone bungalows. The rooms and suites in each are all different, and are all filled with throwback romance and modern comforts.

Cozy furniture and fireplaces greet travelers. And a good thing, because they must be weary from all the wine tastings and MICHELIN-starred restaurants. Fabrics and paintings lighten the mood, with playful themes drawn from the days of the Aesthetes — peaco*cks, foxes, and rabbits were their domain; here, find bunny-ear chairs, an elephant lamp, and whimsical plates bearing farm-to-table fare in the restaurant.

Jeffers didn’t have to create everything from scratch. He and the rest of the new ownership found the estate swarming with antiques built up over the property’s generations of life. Check your bed — if it’s a carved piece, painted black, it’s an original antique from the late 1800s. In the Carriage House (itself a former horse stable), they placed the home’s original dining table after a fresh white finish. Beside the restaurant, vintage spirits stand in a stunning étagère, heavily carved in the style of the era. Note: we’ve heard no rumors of haunting.

Even with a design worthy of the new Healdsburg, the Madrona is in many ways a reaction to it. The location is a mile from the town center, and the restaurant, supplied by the estate’s own garden, eschews exclusive wine-country fare — often incorporating more accessible cravings like fried chicken or tempura. They’ve also spent an inordinate amount of creativity on their co*cktail menu, another unexpected delight in wine-obsessed Sonoma County.

Not that the point is to run from what makes the town popular. Everything here supplements it. Which is all just to say: Wilde would love the wine list, too.

Book The Madrona on Tablet Hotels.

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Nuts & Bolts

A bite-sized breakdown of your most frequently asked questions about The Madrona.

Who comes here?
Those looking for a bucolic, green escape in wine country. It’s a gorgeous ninety-minute drive north from San Francisco — and just a mile from the center of Healdsburg. The hotel can snag you a reservation at any number of hip restaurants (including their own).

When’s the best time to visit?
Common knowledge says that Sonoma gets most of its visitors between June and October, when temperatures range between the 70s and 80s. But the wineries rarely close — and neither do the restaurants.

What else is there to do in the area?
You’ll want to explore Healdsburg’s main plaza, with its redwoods, coffee shops, boutiques, and art galleries. The wineries should already be on your list — and Healdsburg boasts two MICHELIN-starred restaurants within its quaint city limits, and more just beyond. It’s worth noting that SingleThread, established in 2016, has three stars (and is known for sparking Healdsburg’s latest renaissance).

Best room for a solo traveler? A couple? A family?
First decide if you’re a Mansion & Carriage House person, or more in the mood for a standalone bungalow, perhaps with a private entrance, near the half-acre garden. In the Mansion & Carriage House, a studio or salon suits a solo traveler or couple. Larger parties will want to connect certain bungalows to create two-bedroom suites.

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What’s a design feature I would miss if you didn’t tell me about it?
When you’re enjoying the expansive wraparound porch that encompasses the mansion, thank the owner and designer Jay Jeffers. He restored this original feature, which had been removed, sacrilegiously, by a previous owner.

What’s there to eat?
The restaurant and bar on site sources the freshest ingredients for hearty, seasonal fare that sometimes eschews fancy wine-country cuisine for dishes like tempura or fried chicken (the latter only on Wednesdays). Weekend brunch is decadent; the bar prides itself on its inventive co*cktails.

Anything to say about sustainability?
The half-acre gardens implement regenerative farming techniques with an eye to enrich the soil and promote biodiversity in this Eden-like corner of Sonoma County. The bar program benefits, too, using ingredients foraged from the property.

What’s the final word?
For those who want the glitz of Healdsburg with the serenity of a farm — this is a wine-country jewel we’d recommend to our closest friends.

Book The Madrona on Tablet Hotels.

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Mitchell Friedman is an editor and social media manager for Tablet and Michelin Guide hotels. He’s been with Tablet since 2018, and wants you to subscribe to our newsletter.

Mansion on the Hill — (2024)
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