The Napa Valley has always had a special place in my heart. One of my first dates with my now husband was wine tasting in the valley including a behind-the-scenes tour at Mondavi winery. We love the area so much that we got married in Yountville so it was only natural that we decided to revisit the Napa Valley for our five-year anniversary this summer.
The Napa Valley is made up of several towns along hwy 29 and the Silverado trail and there are dozens of choices when deciding where to lay your head in the Napa Valley from small inns, hotels, resorts and private homes. For our two-day food & wine themed getaway we opted to stay at the newly renovated Hotel Yountville in Yountville. This turned out to be a great choice for us as we love the restaurants in Yountville and it is convenient for visiting the wineries nearby. Since we have been to the Napa area several times before we really wanted to do something different. Beyond the more popular wineries Napa is known for.
We started our day with coffee and pastries at Bouchon Bakery (www.bouchonbakery.com), Thomas Keller’s famous boulangerie which has ridiculously delicious French pastries. It’s a tiny bakery and very popular with tourists and locals alike so expect to see lines out the door. Trust me, it’s completely worth it (try the fresh bread and macarons!). Once we were loaded up and back in the car we enjoyed a leisurely drive up the valley on hwy 29 towards St Helena.
Our next stop – the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St Helena (www.ciachef.edu). Beyond being a famous culinary school, the CIA offers a great visitors experience that is not to be missed with a variety of cooking classes and a wonderful on site restaurant with meals prepared by the students. Our visit this time included a course on chocolate at the Flavor Bar. We spent 20min learning all about different types of chocolate (and of course sampling) – tasty and educational! We then enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour by a culinary student who not only shared with us the interesting history behind the buildings that now house the school but she shared her enthusiasm and passion for food that made us want to definitely make time for a real cooking class on our next visit.
At this point it was well after noon and time to hit the wineries! We decided to focus on visiting a few of the more boutique wineries that the valley is becoming more well known for. One of the main benefits in my opinion of visiting with the smaller wineries is that their tasting staff are usually so much more friendly and knowledgeable. They take the time to tell you their story and teach you about the wines you’re enjoying.
Almost directly across from the CIA we stopped in at Markham Vineyards (www.markhamvineyards.com). One of the oldest continuous wineries in the valley this hidden gem is run by just 24 employees and produces some rather fabulous wines. Known for their estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon they continuously win awards year after year. After a thorough tour we had the opportunity to meet with winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls who was kind enough to share a bit of the science behind making wines. Having married into a farm family (my husbands family runs a dairy farm in NH), I had the general concept of planting and harvesting. However I never stopped to think about all the elements involved in making wine from considering the many climate changes in the valley within such a small area, soil conditions, vine growing patterns and even how you prune the vines can help shape what your fruit will taste like. Very educational! While Markham Vineyards does not typically offer winemaker classes, several other boutique wineries are expanding their tours to include special themed weekends and/or classes that are definitely worth looking into if you are a budding wine connoisseur.
After Markham, we cut over to the Silverado trail and on to Hall Rutherford (www.hallwines.com). One of three locations in the valley, this location is by appointment only and typically reserved for special events and groups. Located majestically in the hills we were treated to breathtaking views of the vineyards and valley on arrival. One of more unique features is their 14,000 square feet of caves made from handmade, imported Austrian brick which displays the owners magnificent personal art collection. For private parties and groups this is the ideal location for a private wine tasting experience. We also found out that they will arrange for private vineyard picnic at one of their other locations. What a romantic idea and another note for our next trip!
After an exhausting but wonderful afternoon we decided to head back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. The Hotel Yountville (http://www.hotelyountville.com) is an 80 room boutique hotel that draws inspiration from Tuscany, Provence and the Napa Valley. I definitely felt the contemporary European vibe. The lobby has a lot of historic elements but done with dark contemporary colors and fixtures. The rooms are definitely more Californian with an airy spa feel. This is not your traditional hotel. The rooms are spread out among several buildings and on site amenities include a spa, pool, restaurant and lobby bar. We only experienced the continental breakfast at the Hopper Creek Kitchen which was just OK. The hotel was very comfortable and well priced for the area. Another nice feature are the complimentary bike rentals. We would definitely go back. Rates start at $265 per night.
We had dinner reservations at Michael Chiarello’s restaurant – Bottega (www.botteganapavalley.com). Being the foodies we are we couldn’t wait to sample the southern Italian cuisine Chef Chiarello is known for. The restaurant treated us to a tasting menu not usually available for individual guests (you can however reserve the chefs table for 12 on Friday or Saturday nights and have this arranged). Words can not adequately describe dish after dish of deliciousness. Hands down our favorites for the night included the braised short ribs and creamy polenta (I’m getting hungry all over again thinking about it) and the chocolate volcano cake which is not on the menu, you just have to know to ask for it. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and definitely a must-do during your stay in the Napa Valley. Another of our favorites is another Thomas Keller restaurant – Ad Hoc (www.adhocrestaurant.com), also in Yountville. Open for dinner and offering a different set menu each night, reservations are recommended. You can check out their website to see what is being served that evening before calling for reservations.
As you can probably tell we had a jam-packed two days in the Napa Valley. If you’ve not yet been you may not realize how much there is to do in the valley besides wine tasting. There are plenty of outdoor activities from bike riding, hot air ballooning to horseback riding. You can easily eat your way through the valley at some of the best restaurants in the world. Or enjoy a few relaxing days at the spa. Whatever your desire, the Napa Valley is a perfect retreat for all types of travelers. Feel free to contact me for ideas!
Hiding away in the valley
North Block Hotel (formerly Hotel Luca)
New 20 room hotel in Yountville. Rooms are housed in two main buildings and offer either a patio or balcony overlooking the central courtyard. Rooms are spacious and many offer fireplaces. On site amenities include a restaurant and bar, small 4 treatment room spa and pool. Located at the end of Washington Street within walking distance to shops and restaurants.
California’s first LEED Platinum Hotel, this 62 room hotel is a true hideaway in the heart of the Napa Valley offering spacious spa themed rooms. With rich dark earth tones, many suites feature outdoor showers and soaking tubs. Wonderful spa resort for a romantic getaway. Relaxing roof top pool and on site restaurant that serves farm fresh, locally sourced organic ingredients (very Californian!). Complimentary bikes for exploring the area.
For those looking for the ultimate spa retreat, look no further. Located at the base of the hills in the Napa Valley, the Calistoga Ranch is tucked away with minimal signage to protect their hidden oasis. Offering 48 free standing guest lodges, each room is comprised of two cabins – a bedroom and indoor/outdoor living space. Protection of the environment was key in planning the layout of the ranch and not one tree was removed in the building of the accommodations which are plush and luxurious. Calistoga Ranch is known for their wellness programs, spa treatments and Californian spa cuisine.
This is only one of many trips I’ve taken to the Napa Valley. Contact me today to tailor your dream vacation to one of the top wine & spa regions in the world!