Calif. Wine Country B&B also breeds ocelots

Maria A. Gaura, Special to The Chronicle
Sunday, July 15, 2007

About 20 years ago, during a weeklong Wine Country bike trip, my husband and I stumbled across a strange little inn with a private zoo, where we slept in a room dedicated to an Egyptian goddess, skinny-dipped in the pool and ate French toast in the skylit dining hall before getting back on our bikes and pedaling away.

Encountering this pagan idyll in Geyserville — in the middle of dusty nowhere — was like stepping into a mirage. I have wondered, over the years, whether the Isis Oasis Sanctuary had survived, or been turned into another boutique winery.

It wasn’t until this year that I stopped in Geyserville again. While grapevines have replaced the area’s fruit orchards, and the historic main street is getting a face lift, the Isis Oasis is going strong. Spirituality and winemaking still coexist in rural Sonoma County, as they have for more than 100 years.

Some of the fun in visiting Geyserville is being able to toggle back and forth between the old and the new. The Temple of Isis is a short stroll from Geyserville’s turn-of-the-20th century downtown, which houses an old-school general store as well as haute Italian cuisine, wine tasting and gourmet coffee (but no Starbucks).

The ancient geothermal fields that gave Geyserville its name are, unfortunately, currently closed to visitors. But we could see plumes of steam escaping from the hilltop power plant that has produced clean energy for the region for the past 50 years.

The Isis Oasis revels in the really, really old. Now a nonprofit organization dedicated to the Goddess Isis, the retreat center hosts theater, poetry readings and spiritual events aimed at bridging the gap between the modern world and ancient Egypt.

Visitors can meditate in the Isis Temple, arrange a tour of past lives, or walk the recommended seven times around an ankh-shaped meditation maze. There is a Tomb Room where the non-claustrophobic can recline in a reproduction sarcophagus, with or without the lid on, while “brain balancing” music is piped into the box.

Owner Loreon VignĂ© presides at the sanctuary’s Sunday ritual, which is followed by lemonade and cookies on the lawn. VignĂ©, who just turned 75, greets visitors in head-to-toe animal print clothing, with elaborately kohled eyes and an ocelot skin padding the grip of her walking stick.

She moved to Geyserville 30 years ago after San Francisco outlawed the breeding of wild cats within city limits. Today VignĂ©’s menagerie includes 16 ocelots, bobcats and serval cats, and scores of exotic birds. Tours of the zoo take place daily.

Despite her love of ancient things, Vigné is also a regular at Chamber of Commerce dinners and welcomes the redevelopment of historic Geyservillle.

“Geyserville is reinventing itself,” VignĂ© said. “This will bring more artists to town.”….

Where to stay…

Isis Oasis Sanctuary, 20889 Geyserville Ave. (707) 857-4747, (800) 679-7387, www.isisoasis.org. Lodge rooms with shared bath, $100, including breakfast. Dorm and retreat rooms available; for details, see Under Covers in 96 Hours this Thursday….

What to do

Isis Oasis Sanctuary, see above. Tour of exotic animals, 2 p.m. daily; temple services, 2 -4 p.m. Sunday. Egyptian New Year festivities, this Wednesday-July 22; check Web site for details….

Maria A. Gaura last wrote for Travel about Mariposa. To comment, e-mail travel@sfchronicle.com.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/07/15/TRGLEQUTQ41.DTL

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