Napa Valley Travel Guide
The Napa Valley is practically synonymous with wine, particularly California wine. It is one of the premier wine-growing regions of the world, rivaling the likes of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhine and Moselle valleys, if not in size, certainly in notoriety. There are more than 300 wineries here, from boutique wineries to grand old estates, most with tasting rooms packed with weekend visitors and wine buffs, and many with the added allure of an art collection or two or a slate of culinary events or live music concerts during the summer months. There are scores of microclimates here, seemingly around every bend of the Napa River and on every other undulation in the valley – from the cool climes of Los Carneros in the south where Rieslings and Pinots happily come of age, to the warmer terroir near Calistoga in the north where Cabernets and Zinfandels reign supreme – and, too, in the flanking Mayacamas Mountains and Vaca Hills where the hardy strains produce wines of character. There are bed and breakfast inns here that can pamper and spoil, and fine restaurants where wine pairings with California cuisine are the order of the day. There's even a wine train that journeys up the valley, making stops at all the wine towns along the way, and hot-air balloon companies that offer an entirely different perspective on the wine experience.
The Napa Valley lies just to the north of San Pablo Bay (to the southwest of which lies San Francisco. To its west and northwest are the Mayacamas Mountains and along its east the Vaca Hills. The valley itself is approximately 30 miles long and a little over 4 miles wide at its widest point, running southeast-northwest between the towns of Napa and Calistoga which form its south and north termini respectively, with the climate progressing from cool to warm along with the lattitudes..
For visitors arriving from outside Northern California, the best way to reach the Napa Valley is to fly into San Francisco, then either take a bus tour from the city to the valley, or rent a car and drive up to the Napa Valley on I-80 east and Highway 16 northeast.
Apart from the wineries and their offerings of wine and art, the principal attraction here is the Di Rosa Preserve just outside Napa, which has a monumental collection of contemporary art, displayed in myriad buildings, and outdoor sculptures randomly scattered throughout the estate. In St Helena, you can visit the Silverado Museum, devoted entirely to the works and memorabilia of 19th-century Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as the largest wine library on the West Coast, with 3,000-plus volumes on wine. In Calistoga, there's the Old Faithful geyser, and the Old Calistoga Depot shopping arcade which is housed partly in restored, old railcars. Yountville's Vintage 1870 shopping arcade is also worth traipsing through. And then there's the Wine Train, journeying up the Napa Valley, and the area's hot-air-balloon companies offering one-of-a-kind experiences, with champagne brunches.
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