When you cross over the quaint covered bridge off Petrified Forest Road near Calistoga into the world of the Meadowlark Country House, you are in for an experience that’s special to the Napa Valley.
Because Meadowlark is not a bed and breakfast, it’s not a hotel or spa, yet it has breakfast service daily and a varied offering of rooms, suites and guesthouses.
Here you’ll find something that has guests, including celebrities and professional athletes, coming here from all over the world, many of whom are repeat customers who wouldn’t stay anywhere else.
And that something is a clothing-optional pool area. Yes, you can enjoy the pool, the hot tub or sauna in the buff. Or not. It’s your choice and no pressure either way. But more about that later.
Kurt Stevens and Richard Flynn are partners in the business, and your hosts when you are there. Many regulars say Kurt and Richard make all the difference.
Because the Calistoga resort caters to many wealthy and famous people who value their privacy above all else, guests we interviewed asked that we use only their first names for this article.
One repeat guest, Ray, said he and his wife have been coming to Meadowlark four or five times a year for 10 years.
“We keep coming back here because it’s really relaxing for us,” he explained, “and of course we love our hosts, Kurt and Richard. We don’t normally come back to the same places over and over, but this is close to San Francisco where we live and we can get here in an hour or so. And it’s in the heart of the wine country; how can you go wrong? We both have a pretty stressful jobs,” he added, “so we come up here to relax and catch up on our reading.
“We get a great breakfast here; Eggs Benedict and omelets, but they do special orders too if you ask. They have their own chickens so the eggs are fresh, and they grow a lot of the other ingredients right here.”
Ray said the group at Meadowlark is eclectic but also egalitarian.
“We’ve met everyone from bank presidents, to lawyers, to doctors, a whole gamut of people. There’s something about a place like this where you can unwind and leave behind the B.S. that people carry around with them. You don’t really see that here and it’s very, very nice.”
“We were drawn to the naturist pool in the beginning, but there is so much more to Meadowlark than that. And of course,” he laughed, “we dress outside of the pool area.”
Ray said they have they’re favorite rooms at the resort. “We have an upstairs room this trip with its own private balcony. All the rooms are very well maintained and very nice.”
Another couple, Jim and Janet from Sacramento, were visiting Meadowlark for their fourth time.
“We were coming to Napa for a wedding over Fourth of July weekend and we were looking for a nice place to stay,” Jim said. “We looked at Trip Advisor and Yelp and what-have-you, then we came across this place and it looked very comfortable and relaxing. We come 2-3 times every summer now.”
Janet said the environment at Meadowlark was part of a lifestyle change for her. Originally from New York, she thought coming to a resort with a clothing-optional pool area was part of embracing California.
“I’m being very serious,” she said, “I feel like I would have been less likely to come to a clothing-optional place in New York. We love Meadowlark and we also love Calistoga. We’ve stayed some other places in the wine country but Calistoga is very much our speed.”
“Richard and Kurt have been great. It’s nice to be treated like a regular, to be known, recognized and embraced. That’s a feeling I really appreciate,” she said.
Mike and Jackie from Scottsdale, Arizona came to Meadowlark to beat the heat and celebrate their 8th anniversary. Relaxing by the pool, Mike said it was the couple’s first visit to the Calistoga area after having previously visited Sonoma and Healdsburg.
“This is the first time I’ve ever taken my shirt off in public,” joked Jackie. “I feel very comfortable so I don’t know why I was always afraid to do that. It’s great. I’m already planning a girls getaway here in August.”
“The way Kurt and Richard described the environment here was very non-threatening to Jackie,” Mike said. “In a word, the reason we love this place is the hospitality. I don’t want to say too many good things because I kind of want to keep Meadowlark my secret,” he laughed, a thought that was echoed by several other guests.
“This trip was 50-50 coming to the Napa Valley and coming here to Meadowlark. My wife organizes all the winter vacations, so this was my turn,” Mike said.
Alberto and Natalie — he from Los Angeles and she from Benicia — were visiting Meadowlark for their third time.
“One thing that peaked our interest was that Meadowlark has a 24-hour swimming pool and a 24-hour hot tub,” said Alberto.
“I have a serious hot tub obsession,” added Natalie. “This is a place where a woman can feel comfortable. It’s a very classy place.”
Stevens, who bought the resort in 1984, said he doesn’t promote the nudist aspect too much.
“We call it a sophisticated and cosmopolitan atmosphere where everyone is welcome,” he explained. “People don’t walk around nude here; we have a clothing-optional pool area not a clothing-optional resort.”
But at the same time, he agrees that he has a niche in the market that has been good to him.
“How did the clothing optional start,” said Stevens rhetorically. “For me, as a European, it’s no big deal. But nude has nothing to do with lewd.”
“When people ask me to tell them about our pool, I say it has water in it,” he said.
And no one has to take his or her clothes off in the pool area.
“You don’t have to do anything,” Stevens said. “But if you want to take your clothes off it’s a safe environment where nobody cares. We don’t want anyone coming for the wrong reason, and without being nasty, I simply ask those people to leave. It doesn’t happen very often.”
Stevens and Flynn keep several horses on the property.
“In the beginning, the barn was the most important part. I bought it basically sight unseen, I brought all my horses here and was not real happy initially. Calistoga was sleepy and boring back in the day and I was not used to that,” he said.
At the advice of some friends, Stevens said he added lodging to the mix after he fixed up the buildings on the property.
“I went and bought a lot of furniture and bedding and furnished everything. I had to learn how to be a good host because I was a perfectionist, but that doesn’t really work,” he said.
“When the weather is good, I need all the chaise lounges at the pool,” Stevens said. “We allow day-pass people to come here as well as overnight guests of course.”
“Many times, people call on short notice and we have to say you should have booked two weeks ago. Even our repeat customers have that problem. So we invite them to stay somewhere else in the area and come here on a day- pass. Regulars who have been coming here for 20 or 25 years don’t pay anything for a day pass.”
“We invite visitors and everyone in the area to come and see Meadowlark,” Stevens said. “What you see is what we get, but you should leave your hang-ups behind when you come here. It’s very private and no one cares whom you are, that’s why we have celebrities and professional athletes who come here to get away.”
“I could have sold this place many times,” Stevens said, “but I’m in love with my property and I love the Napa Valley. I will be here until they carry me out.”