Napa Valley, United States

The vineyards may not be as extensive nor the wineries as grand as their European counterparts, but what Napa lacks in Old World tradition it makes up for in warmth and informality. Forget about snooty sommeliers and their pompous pretensions: here, wine tasting is always a pleasure rather than a trial. Napa has impeccable French-inspired cuisine, a benign climate and some beautiful scenery, so it's hardly surprising that San Franciscans flock here year-round for some refined R’n’R.

When to go

The exciting autumn harvest is known locally as ‘the Crush’. You might want to time your visit and go just after or just before, when the weather is perfect and the crowds less madding.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    Direct flights from the UK land at San Francisco’s International Airport (www.flysfo.com) | which is a little more than an hour’s drive from the southern end of the valley.
  • Trains

    You can dine as you admire the splendid scenery if you travel on the somewhat touristy Napa Valley Wine Train that runs the length of the valley (www.winetrain.com); you’ll still have to drive from San Francisco, though.
  • Automobiles

    A car is ideal for getting around the valley, and handy for getting here in the first place; treat yourself to a convertible and let the wind rush through your hair. Note that during the autumn harvest the main roads can crawl with tourist traffic.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley

While it can't quite match the French wine industry's cachet, Napa Valley's largely organic, Tricolore-waving gastro offerings will raise a 'Que c'est délicieux!' from the most patriotic Gaul. The region's sun-kissed rows of vines spread for miles over gently rolling Californian hills; with more than 300 estates to explore, even dedicated oenophiles may be overwhelmed.

Known for wine, wine and more wine… Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot are especially sippable. Food-wise, pick up chicken and pork from Hudson Ranch, olive oil from the Cliff Family Winery and peaches and meyer lemons from Frog's Leap Winery.  

Food isn't second fiddle to drink in Napa: tasting menus with soulmate wine pairings wow Michelin inspectors and St Helena Farmers' Market has succulent organic fruit and veg. 'Freedom fries' may be a faux pas, but luxe fried-chicken joint Addendum, and chilli and 'franks' at Gott's Roadside are skewed to heartland tastes.

Don't miss

• Yountville is Napa Valley's hedonistic heart: home to Moët-Hennessey-Louis Vuitton's Domaine Chandon estate and Michelin-star-amassing eateries, including The French Laundry and Bouchon. Wine pairings are, of course, discerning.
• No mere mortal can sample all of Napa Valley's quaffable delights. However, it's possible to get an informed overview in a day or two. We suggest a select few: pinot noir at Taittinger's Domaine Carneros, sauvignon blanc at The Lane Vineyard, a rich Cab Sauvignon at Joseph Phelps Vineyard, moscato at Kuleto Estate and a sophisticated slap-up meal at Auberge du Soleil.
Culinary Institute of America’s California campus, in St Helena, offers expert cookery demonstrations from the next generation of superstar chefs. The Institute's suite of eateries – Bocuse Restaurant, Greystone Restaurant – show off their alumni's wizardry with dishes such as Oaxacan hot-stone soup.

Stay at Carneros Resort and Spa, a mod farmstead in between Napa and Sonoma, where guests can tuck into mouthwatering organic cuisine and arrange an on-site wine-tasting – or take a tour, if you prefer.

 

FOLLOW YOUR TASTEBUDS

FOLLOW YOUR TASTEBUDS

For many of us, travel is what we eat: new flavours, local delicacies and relaxing al fresco feasts. Grade-A gourmands tend to love things Gallic and, when it comes to getaways, Provence’s Alain Ducasse-owned Hostellerie de l’Abbaye is the cerise on France’s rich gâteau. Nearby Baumanière is a Michelin-star-spangled stay hugged by abundant vineyards. Cross the Med to Castiglion del Bosco and you can learn the secrets of the Tuscan cucina at its renowned cookery school. Thirsty? California’s cinematic wine country – valleys Napa and Sonoma – will sate you in style. 

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