In the heart of Northern California lies one of the most beautiful sceneries hidden between valleys and vistas, just outside of San Francisco. This land has become famous for its viticulture and is true a wine lovers heaven. This past week I had the pleasure of taking a short vacation to wine country and I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was more to do then just visit wineries! Napa offers some relaxing day spas as well as hot air balloon rides for the more adventurous at heart – both of which I did during my time there. Here are some of the things my friend and I did on our visit, including wineries visited, and the places I would (and would not) recommend!
First off, our accommodations during our visit was absolutely incredible! We stayed at a lovely Bed and Breakfast just off of Main Street in Downtown Napa. The Main Street Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast was simply beautiful! Our hosts Tom and Judy were absolutely incredible and were super friendly throughout our entire stay. We had some couple early mornings throughout the week and not only did they make sure we had food for breakfast before we left, but they made sure we had a pot full of coffee as well! The rooms are super cozy and the Victorian style of the place made us feel at home. They also had a patio in the backyard perfect for resting and enjoying a glass of wine from a bottle purchased earlier in the day. And did I mention, they have house cats you can play with too? I cannot recommend this place enough for anyone traveling to Napa and wanting a unique and hospitable stay.
Day One: Napa Valley Wine Trolley
During our first full day in Napa, my friend and I decided to do the Napa Valley Wine Trolley. We chose this over the infamous Napa Valley Wine Train, which has gained some major popularity recently through sites like Thrillist, because we liked the intimacy of private tours at specifically chosen wineries and because recent reviews of the wine train were not up to the par we wanted, especially when trying to see Napa on a budget! Ultimately, I’m happy to say the wine trolley did not disappoint!
Around 10 in the morning we hopped aboard this cute repurposed train trolley and drove through the valley for our first stop of the day: Castello di Amoroso. This winery was on the top of my list to see and is essentially the reason why I chose to do the wine trolley as well since a two hour tour of this place was included. Castello di Amoroso is an amazing castle-like structure, modeled after medieval castles in the early 18th century Italy. The castle is a complete fortress with a drawbridge, moat, dining hall, central marketplace, and even their very own torture chamber (strictly for decorative purposes). The best thing about this place though is that it is not just a beautiful castle overlooking Napa’s Calistoga vineyards – the wines here are incredible as well! Some of my favorite wines during my visit were tasted at Castello, including their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2016 Pinot Bianco.
Our next two stops on the wine trolley were Clos de Pegase and Flora Springs. Both of these wineries are more under wraps around Napa Valley which made for a nice personal experience; however, if you are on a time crunch and have particular wineries in mind for visiting, these two would not be on my list for you to try. I was very underwhelmed by both the scenery and wines at Clos de Pegase, and while Flora Springs had delicious wines (I would recommend their Sauvignon Blanc!), I wish the trolley had taken us to other more popular wineries. With that said, the trolley was a very fun experience and it was relaxing to know that we didn’t have to drive ourselves around all day or worry about getting Ubers between tastings – and plus, trolleys are a fun form of transportation! However, if you are trying to see some of the best places and are willing to drive yourself or even have a personal driver for the day then I would recommend doing tastings on your own.
Day Two: Hot Air Balloon and Spa Terra
Let me just start out by saying that hot air ballooning is one of the most terrifying forms of transportation ever created, but on the other hand, there is nothing else like it. We signed up with Napa Valley Balloons for a morning ride followed by a champagne breakfast at Domaine Chandon, a Napa winery known for their sparkling wine. Before embarking on this journey, you should be aware that the departure time is 5:30, in the morning. Yes, it is quite early and depending on where your accommodations are you will likely have a little bit of a drive before getting there, but luckily there was plenty of breakfast pastries and coffee available upon arrival. From the winery we took a quick drive out to the valley where we met our balloons that were already getting fired up and within minutes we were off the ground and up in the air! I was pretty freaked out at first and I never did get used to the alarming sound every time out pilot had to add more heat to the balloon, but it was a lovely experience. Plus, you can’t beat the views from directly above the Valley.
After our balloon adventure and champagne breakfast we decided to visit a few more wineries in the area. Many places require reservations if you want to do a tasting or have a tour of the winery/vineyard, so be sure to call ahead before you go anywhere! We first went to Alpha Omega which has a beautiful seating area around a fountain looking out to the vistas of Napa Valley and surrounded by vineyards. Although the tastings here are pretty pricey, the wines and the scenery are more than worth it!
From Alpha Omega we left for Cakebread Cellars where we had a reservation for a private wine tasting in the courtyard. Cakebread is a well-known winery, as it should be, and is a smaller, cozier vineyard in Napa, but they are also offer one of the cheapest tastings in the Valley considering the high quality of their wines. It only cost $15 for six tastings and the best part? You get to keep your wine glass afterwards too! The knowledge of the tasting associates and the extent that this place will go to ensure customer satisfaction makes it one of my favorite wineries in Napa.
After a long morning of adventure of wine tasting, my friend and I decided we needed a relaxing and restful afternoon. We freshened up at our B&B before getting an Uber to the Meritage Resort and Spa where the underground Spa Terra is located. Not only are there endless spa packages you can choose from, but there is a private wine tasting room inside as well! The spa was decked out with refreshments, hot pools, and steam rooms created for ultimate relaxation, but my favorite part was the pool that looked directly up to a set of vineyards. You could also check out the vineyards with their ‘wine path’ that overlooked the resort and had a beautiful terrace and gazebo within as well!
Napa Valley is one of the most beautiful regions in the world if you ask me and I couldn’t be more grateful for the time I was able to spend there this past week! With over 400 wineries now, there is just too much to do that you could never be bored! There are so many places to shop as well such as the Oxbow Public Market in Downtown Napa and the V Marketplace in Yountville. After this trip my friend and I decided to make Napa a yearly destination so we can try as many wines and wineries as possible. I’m already looking forward to next year!