The legendary Napa Valley
In an area just over 150 square miles lie 400 wineries with a reputation for quality that has increased at a huge rate over the last forty years. Welcome to the Napa valley of California. So linked is this area with wine that a local radio station is even called Wine Country Radio.
To anyone who buys wine, the shelf space given to Californian wines rivals more established areas. Now they face competition from other countries and areas so how do they respond? Apart from, that is, producing finer and finer wines. For a start it is one of only nine designated “Great Wine Capitals” in the world
The answer is by welcoming visitors with an ever-growing list of things that they can see when they arrive. Parents might like to sample the different wines but what of their children? What of those who don’t even drink?
Napa Valley is only about 60 miles north of San Francisco so it takes just over the hour to drive there. There are bus tours from San Francisco ranging from one day trips to a couple of days but many hire a car and base themselves in one of the towns. Napa Valley is really a collection of towns and villages like you would find in any rural areas. You’ll still find the larger hotel chain names dotted around but there will also be far more owner run hotels, guesthouses and B&B’s so there is accommodation to suit all budgets. On average, hotels have less than twenty rooms, so they are much more homely (in our sense the word) than some hotels can often be.
Apart from the 400 wineries most of which are run by family groups rather than large combines, children might enjoy the three hour, 36 mile train ride in restored carriages whilst their parents can sample wine on the train. The Napa Valley Wine Train also has stops at vineyards for yet another sample! Even getting to the train from San Francisco will amuse them. On weekdays you can catch the Vallejo Ferry from the Bay and a shuttle will connect you to the train. They even do murder mystery tours on the train. Do they dare poison the wine to kill anyone in their production?
The Napa River runs through the valley and there are opportunities to canoe, kayak or take a tour on the river to see the wetlands. It’s also a different way to see the vineyards and the many golf courses. Like virtually anywhere in the US, golf courses abound (there are ten in the valley) including some that are used on the PGA circuit.
One thing you might not associate with the area is spas yet, perhaps surprisingly, there are natural geothermal springs and volcanic mud baths here. After a day strenuously wine tasting what better relaxation?
So, there’s much more to the Napa Valley than wine, certainly enough to be considered a safe family destination as well. And if you prefer sleeping outside, there are lots of parks with campsites in them or nearby. One park is called the Robert Louis Stevenson Park. Here, in 1880, he spent some six weeks living in a tent with his newly wed wife. If it’s good enough for him…
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image ©2009, Brent A. Miller and www.legendarynapavalley.com