Golden/Brown: Neil Davey Leaves His Heart (and Some Other Things We Won’t Go into) Just Outside San Francisco
There are many things travel and food writers fear. There are the big ones that aren’t exclusive to us – plane crashes, political coups, lost passports, somebody really fat in the seat next to us. Then some small ones, too. These also aren’t exclusive to us but they can have a much greater impact. The worst of these? The dreaded Delhi Belly. The squits. Montezuma’s Revenge. Food poisoning.
Quite where it came from is still a mystery, but I finger a breakfast bagel from an otherwise recommended San Francisco diner as the culprit. To be fair, the bagel was delicious, but a few hours later, the stomach started rebelling. I soldiered on at first with a little Sonoma-based drinking. Not the wine but the excellent (and eccentric Brit-owned) Ace Cider, but, by the time it came to attempt a late lunch and dinner, I was broken. Even the usually irresistible allure of Hog Island oysters, that coast’s impressive seafood followed by a Smokehouse BBQ sandwich had no appeal. Proof I was unwell. Waitresses looked incredulous, friends looked shocked, California’s economy wobbled briefly at the prospect. Admittedly a couple of pigs probably celebrated their stays of execution and some prize cattle no doubt threw a party but, for the most part, and particularly for me, this was a bad, bad day.
However, if you’re going to be an invalid, there are worse places to do it than at Cavallo Point. There are certainly few more scenic places in the US: it’s located pretty much under the north side of The Golden Gate Bridge, with amazing views of that iconic landmark and San Francisco Bay. It’s a slightly unconventional spot – a sprawl of architecture that runs the gamut from impressive to modern, via functional and boxy and all the way back again. The initial thought that it’s somewhat reminiscent of an old military barracks turns out to be accurate: back in the day, this was Fort Baker, a U.S. Army post. The central lawn is the old parade ground, the former officers residences now guestrooms. And if that sounds off-putting, then: a) that’s just me being deliberately provocative; and b) perhaps Cavallo Point’s list of 40 plus awards, including nods from the likes of Condé Nast Traveler, an appearance in Travel+Leisure’s World’s 500 Best Hotels and a Michelin Star for its Murray Circle restaurant will convince you otherwise.
If there was ever a lesson in sympathetic conservation and renovation, then this is it. From the outside, it’s like a museum; from the inside it’s all mod cons, relaxed charm and extreme comfort. According to the ladies I spoke to, the spa is damned fine too. I had planned to research that, and the aforementioned spiffing restaurant, but my digestive system successfully argued that a spa-based pummelling/elaborate meal combo probably wouldn’t end well for me. The thing is, whilst frustrating (and deeply unpleasant for anyone downwind of me – sorry San Francisco. I’m assuming these aren’t your famed Santa Ana winds) being a little under the weather in a lovely hotel means that, for once, you get to experience the room. How often do you check in and then, after a quick shower, head out again? Or see your hotel room for 30 minutes after you wake up and for 30 minutes before you crash out, spending your day anywhere but there? Perhaps a minor ailment / a day of peekiness should be the fallback position for all travel writers, so that they actually spend a decent amount of time on the sofa, in the bed or, er, in the bathroom.
My modern room, while lacking the period charm of the converted officers quarters, scored highly in terms of comfort and, particularly, views. However hard you try, it’s virtually impossible to feel sorry for yourself if, while slumping on the balcony, you get THAT view of THAT bridge and, should you be in need of warmth as the infamous San Francisco damp and fog roll in, a glass-sided fire in the centre of the room ripples cheerily.
The bedside cabinet even contains ear plugs and lavender oil to aid sleep. What a nice touch, I thought, as I tucked myself in by the on-a-timer glow of the fake flames. ‘PAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARP’, came the reply. No, not me, but the not-so-distant foghorn of a passing ship. At that point, as you’re drifting off to sleep, coddled in a warm duvet, nestled by a seriously good mattress. It’s a delightfully romantic noise, prompting thoughts of dedicated sailors, those jolly jack tars headed to distant shores and foreign climes. At 2am, ‘delightfully’ and ‘romantic’ are not the words that spring to mind when you’re trying to get back to sleep and the sodding boats are still sodding parping away every 30 sodding seconds: those bedside accoutrements are suddenly less ‘nice touch’ and more ‘bleeding essential’.
The following morning, while not back to full fighting strength, the prospect of a long flight back to London seemed slightly less daunting (and far less perilous for my fellow passengers). On certain days of the week, Cavallo Point has a shuttle service to the airport but also has a fittingly unconventional way of reaching SFO. A short ride from Cavallo Point is the slightly whimsical town of Sausalito, where a boat will take you past Alcatraz and across to San Francisco’s excellently foodie Ferry Terminal, and a short subway ride to the Departure lounge. It also means you get a lingering look at the bridge and Cavallo Point. I’d say a final lingering look but that would suggest I’m never coming back and that, frankly, seems highly unlikely. I left unfinished business there. When I say business…well…er…you know what I mean.
Visit www.cavallopoint.com for more info and to make a booking.