For most people, their idea of a dream holiday involves lounging in the sun with good food and good wine – which describes Napa Valley in a nutshell.
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Nestled in leafy northern California, Napa Valley has such a unique terrain and climate that it can grow grapes for a wide variety of wines – and they’re all bloomin’ delicious.
It also has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any other wine region in the world, so you can soak up all that booze in style.
Here are some of the reasons wine connoisseurs – or wine amateurs, like I was prior to my Napa education/bender – should book themselves a trip to Napa right away.
Let’s start with the obvious, shall we?
The Napa Valley wine region focuses on quality over quantity and produces only around 4% of California’s wine, but that 4% is the cream of the crop.
Red wine fans will be in for a particular treat as the region is especially renowned for its excellent Cabernet Sauvignon.
I went on the Savor Pine Ridge tour and tasting at Pine Ridge Vineyards ($125 per person) that focused exclusively on their range of Cabernet Sauvignons, with seriously gourmet food pairings that brought out the different flavours that the various regions of the Valley give to their Cab Savs.
But if you want to get a sense of the wide variety available, a visit to Long Meadow Ranch’s Mayacamas Estate ($75 per person) allows you to enjoy everything from sparkling whites to late harvest dessert wine (if they happen to have some lying around) while enjoying one of the best views in the region. Not too shabby.
Drinking in the morning is totally fine
You can start your day with a Rise and Wine at Clif Family Winery in St Helena ($30 per person).
Not only do they know their way around a good pun, but they also know food and wine. (They made their name initially with Clif energy bars.)
Our friendly host explained that the Rise and Wine is a great chance for serious wine buffs to enjoy the flavour of the wine without getting drunk.
And I can confirm that, try as you like, it’s next to impossible to neck a glass of wine at 10.30am.
There’s a wine train
A TRAIN. For WINE.
But not just wine. If you do one of the Napa Wine Train’s Quattro Vino Tours, like I did (starting from $329 per person), you get served a five-course meal while being taken, in a restored Pullman train, on a tour of three vineyards, over the course of six hours.
And each vineyard, of course, provides you with a full wine tasting.
It’s a great way to see the variety of vineyards Napa Valley has to offer, while also getting to experience some serious luxury a la the golden age of train travel.
Just don’t expect a rapid train journey. We were frequently overtaken by cyclists.
Bikes are a great way to see the region
Obviously you can’t drive between wine tastings, so cycling becomes a much safer option.
Napa Valley Bike Tours offer either bicycle rental (starting at $45 per person, per day) or organised bike tours of the region.
The Napa Valley Vine Trail, a bicycle lane away from traffic, runs from Yountville to Napa, meaning even amateur cyclists can get around.
The food is incredible
Yountville (which has apparently earned the nickname ‘Yountvegas’ because it attracts a younger clientele than the rest of the region) boasts legendary restaurant The French Laundry, which needs to be booked months in advance if you want to eat there (which I totally failed to do).
But just as good (or even better, according to its Google star review) is Farmstead in St Helena, a farm-to-table restaurant that serves whatever is in season and grows most of its own produce.
I had some of the most flavoursome vegetables that have ever passed my lips in Farmstead, and the price is very reasonable, considering the quality. You do need to book in advance, though.