Ink House Inn – A Napa Valley Bed and Breakfast Retreat

The Ink House, an historical home
The Ink House, an historical home

By Mary Webb

Photography by Brian Camp

Nestled in the vineyards of Saint Helena in Napa Valley, California, along the tasting trail of State Route 29, is the historical Ink House Inn.

Built in 1884, this Italianate Victorian inn accommodates guests from around the globe. Anniversaries, weddings, or just a break from the hustle and bustle of life, brings folks to the Ink House Inn. In 2011 alone, the Ink House served more than 3,000 guests from 49 states and 27 countries!

Napa Valley is known for its exceptional wineries and breathtaking vineyard views, but not many people know about the amazing hikes that surround the swirling of glasses and fruits of the vine. Napa Valley offers stupendous hikes in Westwood Hills Park, Skyline Wilderness, and the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, for starters.

We chose the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, north of the Ink House Inn, to explore the Table Rock trail. It was a rainy day for hiking. With all the creature comforts awaiting us back at the Ink House, we set out to discover the views and geological formations that embrace the Table Rock trail.

Table Rock trail extends a little more than two miles from the trailhead to the peak. The hike was a series of switchbacks and vistas of Mount Saint Helena. Steep grades were challenging in the rain, but we trudged the mud in pursuit of splendid views and scenery. Moss covered trees and fungi met us above and below the trail as we approached the last leg of our ascent. It was here were able to form our opinion on the rocks, and we decided it was a pleasure to experience Napa from this perspective.

Fresh orange juice is refreshing at the inn
Fresh orange juice is refreshing at the inn

Back at the Ink House we received a warm welcome via antique furnishings, stained glass and crystal chandeliers. One need only survey the parlor to experience the richness of the inn. From the wallpaper up to the ceilings and down to the floors, the parlor sets the stage of more to come.

Looking to the beautiful Syrah vineyard and olive orchards immediately surrounding the Ink House it is difficult to imagine the time in 1884, when Theron H. Ink built the inn, this land was once a duck farm. As a matter of fact, for Ink to construct the building, he had to channel the pond water out with thousands of French drain tiles. Not a small feat by any means.

Currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Ink, along with his wife and children, occupied the inn until his passing at age 62. Near the antique pump organ, a photograph of Ink serves as a honored memento and one of only a few photographs known to exist. The Ink House also has a scrapbook of pictures and newspaper clippings of the inn’s history. We enjoyed finding a soft spot on the parlor sofa with a glass of wine and appetizers, offered at the inn in the early evening, and revisited some amazing events that have occurred in this historical home.

One such memorable experience was the filming of Wild in the Country near the Ink House, where Elvis Presley was the star of this 1961 feature film. Wild in the Country was shot in the Napa Valley territory, in and around the town of Saint Helena, but principally shot near the Ink House. Presley decided to reside in the French room at the Ink House during the workings of the film. The French room, along with other time-styled rooms at the inn, offers the perfect mix of modern amenities and time period motifs. All rooms provide heating, air conditioning and wireless internet access, as well as a private full bathroom.

A birds-eye view of the parlor
A birds-eye view of the parlor

The French room at the inn has been voted one of top 100 places to kiss in the nation. Guests are encouraged to book this room well in advance, as honeymooners, as well as love interests, fill the room quickly. There is a copy of the Wild in the Country movie, available upon request, for guests to gain a glimpse of “The King” and the Napa Valley surroundings as they existed more than 50 years ago.

We stayed in the Harvest room at the inn. The room was restful and pleasant with dappled sun cheering our spirits against the paned window. With a sitting area off the side, it was here we sipped a glass of dessert wine purchased on an earlier jaunt to a local winery. Along the hallways of the second floor, where most of the rooms are situated, beautiful tapestries adorn the walls, working with the wood floors to provide a sense of warmth throughout. We opted not to have a television, but some rooms offer one, as well as a mini-bar if you so choose.

The Ink House is ideally located along State Route 29 for a day of tasting on the town. Whitehall Lane Winery, Rutherford Grove, and the Alpha Omega Winery are just a few samplings of the numerous tasting options available to guests. The Ink House graciously distributes VIP tasting passes to some of the immediate surrounding tasting room locations, made up of the regional varietals in the Napa Valley region.

St. Helena wine grape varietals establish their roots in a gravely-clay soil with low fertility and moderate water retention. St. Helena is known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, but there are also some very good Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Viognier and Zinfandel varietals being grown.

Another popular attraction to Ink House visitors is the Napa Valley Wine Train. The train is operated by the Napa Valley Railroad, a privately operated train that runs between Napa and St. Helena, California. This train passes the towns of Yountville, Rutherford and Oakville.

The blue room is popular with guests
The blue room is popular with guests

You will want to make sure you start the day of tasting and excursions well fed, and you will get just that at the Ink House, gourmet style! Fresh-baked aromas of pumpkin and spice filled the parlor on our weekend visit. Steaming egg dishes and fresh orange juice pair up the bread and it was delightful to visit with guests from various regions of the nation while enjoying fresh blueberries, raspberries and cream. If you happen, on occasion the Chef-innkeeper prepares a signature Bella Torta that will entice your taste buds. The breakfast was scrumptious, and as coffee is filled, guests pour over the striking views of Napa Valley.

A fantastic way to view St. Helena vineyards and the surrounding hillside landscapes is in the Observatory room at the Ink House. The Observatory, reconstructed in 1984, is perched a good 50 feet off of the parlor level. Surrounded by 360-degree vantages, through glass windows, you need only clutch a pair of binoculars and discover your newly gained perspective of the region. I enjoyed relaxing on the settee and watching the sun descend behind the mountains before taking off to Yountville for dinner.

If you are game for it, you can also head to the basement at the opposite end of the observatory. Here you will find a pool table, poker table, darts and piano. If the weather permits, the Ink House has bicycles you are free to use also. You can pack a snack and hop on a couple bikes along the roadside for some exercise near vineyard floors.

A pair of binoculars help focus on the flowers
A pair of binoculars help focus on the flowers

Napa Valley experiences many days of gorgeous sunshine throughout the year. This is one of the reasons the Ink House and its manicured lawns are a popular place for weddings. The barn and carriage house, also built in 1884, are a charming back drop for photo shoots of the bride and groom. Guests take pleasure in the horseshoe pitch and croquet course when fine weather obliges.

The Ink House is also a popular choice among engaged couples to house their wedding parties. There is a room built downstairs, once a second parlor, stylishly renovated to accommodate guests who may not be able to access the second floor rooms.

Holidays are a nice time to visit the quaint town of St. Helena. With restaurants, shops and spas, the tree-lined streets through town make this a quaint destination point of travel. The Ink House offers holidays specials during the Christmas season for you and yours.

Retreat, treat and re-treat yourself to the luxuries of the Ink House inn. With seasonal distinctions in the region, you will enjoy the treasures to be had from the golden vineyards of the fall to the yellow setting sun of summer.

The Ink House


St Helena, CA 94574

Phone: (707) 963-3890

For rates, rooms, availability and accolades:

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