Review Topic: Sights & Attractions
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December seemed an unlikely month to plan a trip to Napa Valley, and we did so with some hesitation. Our ultimate destination was Hawaii, but coming from the East Coast, we decided to break the trip up and spend a few days in California's wine country.
Other than going to Hawaii, it was the best idea we had. Napa Valley is virtually deserted in December. The wineries are open, the wine train runs, but there are no tourists!
Imagine arriving at Beringer's, one of the most visited wineries just north of St. Helena, and you are the only car in the parking lot. At first we thought they were closed, but no, we found the whole establishment fully staffed with eager employees. No lines to wait for a tour, we got a private one. Beringer is the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley and dates back to 1876. Hand dug tunnels, carved into the mountain side, were and are still used to store wine. However, today their huge facility extends way beyond that.
The 'Rhine House' was the most interesting to me, built by the Beringer brothers as a replica of their home in Germany. Originally a residence, it now houses a wonderful gift shop and several wine tasting rooms. Beringer, mostly known for their inexpensive Zinfandel, also makes an excellent Chardonnay and offers an array of superb Reserve wines which, by the way, we got to taste for free on that particular day. It must have been the Holiday mood!
We encountered the same at the other vineyards, everywhere we went it was mostly just us! If you are interested in wine making, the history of the Valley or of the individual facility, what better opportunity to get all of your questions answered. We went to Stag's Leap, Sterling, Silver Oak, just to mention a few.
Although the weather was chilly in the mornings and evenings, the days were sunny and warm, we really couldn't have asked for anything better.
A few words about Yountville which lies about half way between Napa and St. Helena, perfectly located to start your excursions from. It's a small town, population 3500, and an absolute marvel at Christmas time. Almost every house, tree, and shrub along the main street is decorated in little, all white lights, so simple yet stunningly beautiful. We loved taking an evening stroll downtown, it couldn't have been more festive.
But the best thing about Yountville is the Napa Valley Lodge, our choice of acommodations for the duration of our stay. It is located just off the main highway (Calif. 29), but you really wouldn't know it. The rooms are exceptional, we stayed on the second floor (there are only 2 levels), overlooking the pool and small vineyard, separating the building from the highway. The furnishings make you feel as if you were in your own comfortable living room with a plush sofa, chair, coffee table and, yes, a fireplace. The king size bed is piled high with a thick comforter and big fluffy pillows. We travel a lot, and I still say, that this was the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in, anywhere! Guaranteed! Or maybe it was the soft flickering of flames in the fireplace lulling me to sleep every night??
Then there was the champagne breakfast, included in the price. Served buffet style in a pretty room off the lobby, I couldn't think of a better way to start the day. Scrumptious fruit and freshly baked goods, cereals, yoghurt and, of course, plenty of champagne.
Even though off season, our room rate was still $225 per night, but we would go back again in a minute. It was so cozy that one night we just brought wine and cheese to the room and feasted in front of the fireplace.
There is nothing special about the town of Napa, a sprawling town without much character, and other than taking the wine train from there (a fabulous adventure), we tried to avoid it.
Finding your way around can be a bit challenging. Street signs come as a premium, in fact, most of the time we couldn't even find them! Hard to believe in a place visited by so many. So, a good map is essential and even then you might have to stop and ask for directions.
So don't skip the wine country in December, you might miss the harvesting, and the valley might not be quite as pretty as during other times of the year, but you pretty much have the whole place to yourself.
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