Napa Valley

Let the rhythms of Napa Valley vacations sway you


Napa Valley vineyards as far as the eye can see

Your Napa Valley vacations transformation begins with your first drink, this one through the eyes. Spread before you in painterly splendor is the lush valley studded with ruler-straight rows of grapevines that fade toward the mountains as far as the eye can see.

Keep on drinking in the scene, and you notice the Napa Valley landscape dotted with architectural statements (and more than a few exclamation points) that double as wineries.

Simple stone farmhouses, California missions, futuristic bunkers, Persian temples, and Italian fortresses as bombastic as anything you’d see in Vegas — these are just a few examples of Napa Valley wineries’ penchant for mood-setting and time travel. (We could say the Napa Valley suffers from multiple personality disorder, but there’s no suffering involved.)

As your Napa Valley vacations lull you into the rhythm of la dolce vita, you find yourself interacting with congenial Napa Valley locals. You wander into (and wonder at) high-test Napa Valley emporiums that sell everything from $50 dog collars to $895 Christian Louboutin slingbacks to chocolates that masquerade as Tiffany jewels.

With Napa Valley vacations, you fork over more than you ordinarily would at Napa Valley markets and country stores peddling a mind-boggling array of runny European cheeses and uber-condiments.

And yes, you encounter tourists — hordes of tourists. With nearly 5 million visitors a year, Napa Valley vacations are the second most popular in California behind Disneyland.

All of this drives home the fact that the Napa Valley is the premiere wine-producing region in the country, if not the world — and has been ever since Napa Valley wines beat French Bordeaux and Burgundies in a 1976 blind taste test.

Breathing such rarefied air, it’s hard to believe Napa Valley vacations are only an hour’s drive from San Francisco or that this 35-mile long, 5-mile wide slice of paradise contains only five small towns and is served by just two thoroughfares, Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail.

Harder still to believe in the Napa Valley vacations paradox: that goats and farm equipment equal glamour and sophistication.

It wouldn’t fly in Iowa.

Wondering how to cultivate a more civilized you – skilled in the art of living well – in seven days or less? Read on for the Top 8 Things You Must Do during your Napa Valley vacations.

Rev up your palate for Napa Valley vacations wine tasting 

Your metamorphosis into a man or woman of stature is cemented by Napa wine tasting, that curious ritual in which you pay between $10 and $30 to swirl your Chardonnay or Cabernet (that’s after you elbow your way to the front of the tasting counter), thrust your snout deep into your glass as though you’re about to suck it up like a vacuum cleaner, tip the glass back onto your tongue, and declare the wine to taste like leather, tar, butter, licorice, apricots, cherries, grass — anything but the grapes it came from.

Should you decide not to finish, you can toss or spit (!) the remains into some type of decorative urn, an act most neophytes are hard-pressed to commit due to early indoctrination by finger-wagging mothers.

With 400 Napa Valley wineries in close proximity — 300 or so with tasting rooms — it’s impossible to visit them all, especially since many are open only by appointment. Nor should you try; three or four wineries per day is all you can reasonably conquer.

Unless you know exactly where you want to go, it’s best to hire a Napa Valley “concierge” who can customize your tour to include wineries of varying sizes, philosophies, and varietals, or whatever you think you might fancy. (Stick with us; we can help you find the perfect Napa Valley wine educator/tour guide, as well as point you in the direction of several worthy stops.)

Hop aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train 

Napa Wine Train Logo 4Starting from the historic city of Napa, this one-of-a-kind restaurant makes an 18-mile journey to the quaint town of St. Helena (pronounced St. Hel-EE-na) and back, with optional tours along the way. Meanwhile, you get to enjoy lunch or dinner (with a selection of hard-to-find wines) while watching the countryside amble by.

If you want to pump it up a notch, the Napa Valley Wine Train offers special events throughout the year. Wine pairings, Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre, and Moonlit Escapes are just a few excursions to keep in mind.

See for yourself why the Napa Wine Train is the ultimate Napa Valley vacations experience.

Spread a little mustard on your Napa Valley vacations fun 

Although summer is the height of the Napa Valley vacations tourist season, the winter rocks and rolls with the Napa Valley Mustard Festival, which takes place from January through March when the vineyards are carpeted with wild yellow mustard plants. Food, wine, art, entertainment, contests, and cultural activities cram the calendar, but tourists don’t cram the roads.

The Mustard Festival is just one of the many Napa Valley events that center around the land, its bounty, and the conviviality of passionate people. The local scene is always abuzz with farmers markets, summer concerts, art shows, even festive odes to chocolate.

Rub elbows with the foodies at Napa Valley restaurants

One thing about your Napa Valley vacations is non-negotiable: dining at one of the many world-renowned Napa Valley restaurants. Most famous of all — arguably the best or second-best restaurant in the world — is the French Laundry in Yountville, where reservations are made at least two months in advance, nine courses is the norm, and dinner with wine can easily set you back more than $500.

Even if you’ve never heard of Thomas Keller, it behooves you to at least try to channel your inner foodie; if not at the French Laundry, then at any of dozens of other first-rate Napa Valley eateries including Redd, Bouchon, LaToque, Ubuntu, or one of our personal favorites, the Bistro Jeanty.

Trust us, terms like “reduction” and “confit” will begin to roll off your tongue as effortlessly as “Big Mac” at Napa Valley restaurants that pride themselves on buying from local farmers, purveyors, and artisans, and have chefs who sign autographs.

Napa Valley lodging: Sleep like a Rockefeller 

Unparalleled views, luxurious accommodations, amenities that surely were meant for the gods – that’s Napa Valley lodging in a nutshell.

From exquisite Carneros Inn that takes its cue from surrounding ranchers’ cottages to the terraced Auberge du Soleil that offers sweeping views of the Napa Valley, you won’t find a more relaxed atmosphere in which to unwind and recharge.

Traveling with your significant other? Expect your relationship to blossom in an ultra-romantic Napa Valley bed-and-breakfast like Villagio Inn & Spa, an elegant French country-style B&B featuring beautiful gardens and a fireplace and whirlpool tub in every room.

If you really want to live like a local, you can always rent a villa. Think of it – your own private Napa Valley Mediterranean-style hideaway with French doors that open to courtyards, olive groves, pools, fountains, and spas. Not the best way to develop the virtues of thrift, modesty, and humility, but we’re guessing you can live with the guilt.

Get gooey at Napa Valley spas 

As you continue to cultivate your carefree new Napa Valley vacations persona, it’s imperative you spend time at a Napa Valley spa or indulge in one of Calistoga’s legendary volcanic ash-and-mud baths or healing hot springs.

Only in the Napa Valley can mud and stinky water be considered synonymous with class!

Many Napa Valley spa treatments borrow from the gifts of the surrounding land, incorporating into their treatments grapeseed oil, powdered mustard, olive oil, lavender, or other Napa Valley flora.

Whatever form of pampering you decide on, you can count on being totally pleased with the results; Napa Valley spas rank among the finest in the world.

Have a civilized night out at the Napa Valley Opera House

nvoh-web-logoWhen evening stains the Napa Valley the color of a full-bodied Cab, you can pretty much expect the sidewalks to roll up; wild carousing a la Las Vegas nightclubs just isn’t part of the Napa Valley vacations scene. (although you can always find live music somewhere).

With that in mind, a performance at the historic Napa Valley Opera House on Main Street in the city of Napa is just the ticket. The grande dame of the Napa Valley community recently turn 130 years old, continuing the tradition of hosting legends of the stage and screen. Comedian/actor Robin Williams, jazz star Wynton Marsalis, and turn-of-the-century chanteuse Luisa Tetrazzina are just a few performers who have enchanted Napa Valley Opera House audiences through the years.

Napa Valley balloons: Don’t buy a postcard, be the postcard! 


Napa Valley Ballooning above the vineyards

While Napa Valley vacations practically dictate that you sleep in, you will have to rise before dawn on at least one morning to partake in one of the most memorable experiences of a lifetime: floating in a basket beneath a multicolored balloon.

Not only will you witness a Napa Valley sunrise with dazzling views of the entire valley, the Vaca and Mayacamas ranges, 4,343-foot Mt. St. Helena, and the volcanic crags at Stag’s Leap, but you’ll be served a champagne breakfast when you reach terra firma.

Life doesn’t get any more colorful or lovely than this. Napa Valley Balloons, the most breathtaking of Napa Valley vacations pursuits.

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