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Already anticipating your holiday vacation? Get away to the luxurious 4.5-star Milliken Creek Inn & Spa in Napa Valley this winter. This elegant hotel in California’s renowned wine country is tucked away overlooking the Napa River, and you can take advantage of its Scents of the Season package for bookings this holiday season. With rooms starting at $199 per night for stays from November through January, you’ll save 40 percent on current rates.
Stay in a luxurious guestroom that features a king bed, a spa bathtub, a plasma television with DIRECTV, complimentary Wi-Fi, and evening turndown service. Select rooms also feature one-touch gas fireplaces and private balconies. Read more
Napa Valley isn’t just known for its wine. While most people are diving into a bottle of merlot, guests at Calistoga Ranch are invited to dive into the blue-green water of California’s Bodega Bay and search for Abalone mollusks while snorkeling alongside seals and seabirds. Abalone, a species of marine gastropod mollusk, populate the quiet bays and coves of Northern California and have a beautiful, mother-of-pearl interior.
The diving trip begins at 9am with a beachside lecture about the equipment, how to identify the shellfish, techniques used to reach them, and proper methods to remove them from the rocks. After diving for a couple of hours – in a group of no more than 10 people, led by an experienced diver – there is an instructional session about how to clean and cook the Abalone. Following the dive, guests can either take home the Abalone or cook them during the Abalone feast, where you can cook up your bounty by the beach following the dive. It should be noted that there are legal restrictions on harvesting Abalone based on their size, so you may not be able to cook up everything that is gathered.
Why not combine a stay in California’s beautiful Napa Valley with a visit to this year’s Festival del Sole, which showcases world-class music, dance, food, and wine from July 13 to 22. With this exclusive ShermansTravel offer, you will receive 25 percent off your stay at the historic Napa River Inn. Rates during the festival start at $187 a night, including free breakfast, Wi-Fi, evening wine tastings, complimentary shuttle to downtown, and more. This special rate is available in conjunction with purchasing a festival ticket through the Napa River Inn. Prices start at $35 for individual concerts (reflecting up to 70 percent off for bookings until April 15) and $140 for day passes (50% off regular rates). Individual tickets booked after April 15 can be purchased at 15 percent off. Read more
Since moving to San Francisco in July, I’ve traveled to wine country roughly once a month. This exquisite part of the world is a perfect combination of two of my absolute favorite things: outdoor activities and drinking good wine.
I’m more familiar with Sonoma Valley, but from the likes of the following recently announced happenings in Napa Valley, it’s time to pack up the bike and hiking shoes for some outdoor exploring there, too. Here, some great ways to ring in the spring in Northern California, from two-wheeled excursions to hikes in stunning wilderness that most people will never get to see. Whatever your pick, make sure to toast your effort with a big, fat glass of Napa Valley Cabernet.
The Napa Valley Film Festival, running November 9-13, brings a little bit of Sundance to wine country. The festival will host dozens of screenings, with everything from big names like Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, to short films and documentaries. Scheduled events also include Q&A sessions with the filmmakers, and, naturally, wine tastings. Purchase individual tickets at the door for $20, or spring for a $75 day pass or $245 festival pass; some events are free.
Now this is a public transit initiative we can get behind: on Saturday March 12, wine country‘s burgeoning gay events and tour organization Out in the Vineyard (OutInTheVineyard.com) is teaming with the Napa Valley Wine Train for a night of classed-up cuisine, fine pours, and fraternity.
A dinner party on rails, up to 182 guests choo-choo (and chew chew) throughout the 3-hour, 36-mile Big Gay Train Trip, in an old-world style atmosphere. Think Americana mixed with a dash of Orient Express (minus the murder) with twin antique locomotives pulling a collection of restored turn-of-the-20th-century rail cars through picturesque hills and valleys. Each of the four gourmet courses is paired with select vintages from local gay-owned vineyards – Sebastiania, Bjornstad, Poem, Hesperian – with some even incorporated into the dishes like lamb lollipops drizzled with a wine reduction sauce. Rest assured, this being the heart of bucolic Cali, it’s all seasonal, sustainable, and locavore-leaning. Read more
We’re already a month into 2011 (and close to Valentine’s Day), so I’m sure you’ve begun thinking about when you can get away with your sweetheart – for an anniversary or birthday – and where to go. Here’s a roster of my favorite ideas:
January: New Zealand You missed out this year, but that gives you time to save for next year and see one of the world’s most beautiful places. It offers a superb mix of outdoor adventure (from hiking to bungee jumping) and excellent food and wine (amazing lamb and world-class pinot noir). It will be summer, so plan ahead and allot two weeks as the North and South Islands combined are about the size of California.
February: Costa Rica This jungle-meets-beach playground – home to loquacious howler monkeys, luminous blue morpho butterflies, and next Monday’s episode of The Bachelor” – is close enough to enjoy on a five- or six-night getaway. Most flights are into the capital, San Jose, but if you plan to explore the Pacific Coast, you can fly into Liberia. Another option, a seven-night cruise on Windstar (www.windstarcruises.com), which also visits neighboring Nicaragua.
Most Sonoma visitors are likely to spend a day exploring Napa, which I do recommend. Certainly it is also possible to stay over in Napa. If you expect to tour both Napa and Sonoma, Yountville in Napa County is a nice little town for bedding down. (Note that another option is to visit Napa wineries in day one on the way up from San Francisco and then continue straight on to Sonoma).
In Yountville and St. Helena, some solid hotels include the modern, design boutique Bardessono (www.bardessono.com), and the classic Wine Country Inn (www.winecountryinn.com). In the town of Napa, the Westin Verasa (www.westinnapa.com) is a very good smart luxury option, or try the cozy Carneros Inn (www.thecarnerosinn.com). I’d also recommend the ultra luxe Auberge du Soleil in nearby Rutherford.
Whether staying south in Sonoma town, which has a really lovely square, or north in Healdsburg, you will want to traverse Route 128 and enjoy the rolling hills of Alexander Valley, where so many fine Sonoma wineries are found. One huge difference from years ago is that many wineries only allow visits with appointments. Large wineries still permit drop-ins, but for trying many fine smaller ones, you must call ahead.
Some of my favorite Sonoma wineries include Vérité (meet Pierre, the winemaker; www.veritewines.com), Lancaster Estate (www.lancaster-estate.com), and Garden Creek Vineyard (a very small quality winery run by a Swedish couple, Karin and Justin; www.gardencreekvineyards.com). For just dropping in without an appointment, stop at Chalk Hill (www.chalkhill.com) or Robert Young (www.ryew.com). Note that many wine tastings have a fee and if you’re making an appointment at a winery, there will be some pressure to purchase bottles at the end. I ended up buying 12 or so bottles from the three appointments. It does become hard to resist.
I recently came back from a trip exploring the most famous wine counties of America, Napa and Sonoma. I lived in California about 20 years ago and it’s been that long since I checked out the wine region. It’s changed a lot.
First, Napa has become so developed and commercial that it’s lost much of its charm. That’s not to say it’s not worth visiting the fantastic wineries, but the real charm of the region lies in Sonoma. It’s more rustic, less planned, but no less impressive. If you want a nice touch of Tuscany, you will find it here.
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