Its name is synonymous with the legendary wines produced in the U.S. and recognized all over the world but a visit to California’s Valley offers much more than reds and whites alone. Here are five reasons to visit:
1) Of course, sip the wines
Plan an itinerary before you go. Hundreds of wineries and tasting rooms are located along and beside Route 29, the north-south highway that traverses the stretch of towns in the Valley from American Canyon in the south to Calistoga in the North. More than 95 percent of these wineries are family-owned and operated. Book a tour or tasting, or plan a picnic in one of the picturesque vineyards. You can even tour them by bicycle (http://napavalleybiketours.com) or hop on board one of the antique Pullman train cars of the Napa Valley Wine Train (http://winetrain.com) to enjoy a gourmet meal and learn about the history of the wineries while you watch the passing views.
2) Experience the art
Museums, galleries, public art walks (in both Napa and Yountville) and sculpture gardens are scattered throughout the region, offering a visual feast for art lovers. One of my favorites is the quirky di Rosa (www.dirosaart.org) museum located on 216 sprawling acres within the city of Napa. It houses a curated collection of some 20,000 pieces of Bay Area Art created by more than 800 contemporary artists. Whimsical sculptures are displayed outdoors but the majority of pieces are found inside one of three gracious buildings on the landscaped grounds.
3) Make a pilgrimage to the CIA
The spectacular culinary scene in Napa parallels its outstanding wines. Visit Chef Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry (https://www.thomaskeller.com/tfl) the first restaurant in the Valley to obtain three Michelin stars. (Restaurants in the Valley now boast 11 Michelin stars in total.) Or you can chow down on burgers and fries at Gott’s Roadside (http://gotts.com) in Napa or St. Helena, or savor Hog Island Oysters at the Oxbow Public Market (http://oxbowpublicmarket.com) in Napa. The beautiful Greystone campus of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) (https://www.ciachef.edu/cia-california) in St. Helena offers olive oil and chocolate tastings, courses for food enthusiasts, public restaurants featuring farm-to-table menus, and an irresistible retail store with kitchen tools, gadgets and cookbooks.
4) Visit a Tuscan castle
You may think that you’ve taken a detour to Tuscany when you visit the Castello di Amorosa (www.castellodiamorosa.com) winery and castle in Calistoga. Fascinated by medieval architecture, the owner re-created a 13th century castle complete with ramparts, towers, a drawbridge and dungeon. Visitors can tour the eight levels of the castle and enjoy a tasting of five different wines paired with cheeses and chocolates.
5) Rest and relax
Although the drive from one end of the valley to the other is less than one hour (traffic permitting), you’ll want to spend at least several days leisurely exploring this four-season destination. Whether you choose to stay at a bed and breakfast or luxury resort, Napa offers a range of accommodations to fit every budget and lifestyle. In the town of Yountville alone, choices include the Napa Valley Railway Inn (http://www.dirosaart.org), where you can sleep in an old converted railway car; the eco-friendly, Platinum LEED-certified Bardessono Hotel and Spa (http://bardessono.com) that features garden-inspired cuisine; and the Villagio Inn and Spa, named best hotel in Northern California by Conde Nast Traveler in 2016.
IF YOU GO
Napa Valley is about 60 miles away from three international airports: San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK) and Sacramento (SMF).
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