Slap bang in the middle of wine country, Rancho Caymus Inn sits a little under 20 minutes from Napa’s gently rolling hills in the south of the valley and Calistoga at the mountainous northern tip.
The 75-mile drive from San Francisco International Airport takes around an 90 minutes, or longer if you pause en route to ogle Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.
There are dozens of car-rental agencies at the airport and almost no public transport in Napa Valley. So, in short, getting your own set of wheels is a no-brainer. The drive across the Oakland Bay Bridge and into California’s wine heartlands is worth the entry price alone even if, once you get to Rancho Caymus Inn, you’ll find there are several wineries within easy walking distance. Parking at the hotel is free.
Worth getting out of bed for
At the risk of stating the obvious, we heard through the grapevine that there may be a few decent wineries in the vicinity if you look hard enough. In fact with Rancho Caymus Inn smack dab in the centre of Napa Valley, there are hundreds within stumbling distance. The phrase ‘spoiled for choice’ has never felt so apt. Fortunately, the hotel makes it a little easier by playing favourite with a smattering of ultra-local producers…
They’ve been making award-winning wine at Beaulieu Vineyard for more than a century, so you can be sure the cabernets you’ll taste here have quite the pedigree. You’ll also discover the magical wine-making properties of ‘Rutherford dust’, a phrase clearly coined long before marketing departments came along. Best of all, this one’s just round the corner across (we kid you not) Grape Lane, so you can safely leave the spittoon back at the ranch.
The Round Pond Estate is slightly further afield – an epic three-minute drive, to be precise – but very much worth it for what awaits the intrepid wine lover there. We’re talking panoramic views of verdant vineyards and the undulating hills beyond, coupled with Bordeaux-style wines and velvety olive oils made right here on the estate. But not, as far as we can tell, a round pond.
Of course, even the most seasoned wine aficionado needs a day off the sauce now and again and, handily, the valley offers up alternative day-trip options galore. Take a hot-air-balloon ride over the patchwork of vineyards to the mountains (glass of wine optional) or stay closer to terra firma on a horseback ride through wine country (glass of wine optional).
It’s less than 20 minutes’ drive from the hotel to downtown Napa. A day trip here might include a stroll around the Napa Art Trail, admiring avant-garde sculptures and art installations by local artists. Or a lazy riverside bike ride along the Napa Valley Vine Trail to Yountville. Or, you know, you might feel more at home just exploring the trendy urban wine bars here, of which there are, of course, barrel-loads.
Flanked by two rather enormous palms, the Rutherford Grill is something of a local legend in this tiny Napa Valley village. Down-home vibes and a devoted crowd of wine-loving locals make for a lively joint with – do we even need to say it? – a list of local tipples as long as your arm. Pair a classic cab sauv or zinfandel with prime fillet beef tenderloin or wash down barbecued pork ribs from the oak-fired grill with a buttery chardonnay. Best of all, this one’s just two minutes’ walk from the hotel.
Just down the road from the picturesque Rutherford Hill Winery, Auberge du Soleil is an altogether more refined affair. Three-course dinner menus start in the region of $140, but this is a menu that includes Osetra caviar, chilled Maine lobster and top-grade A5 Japanese wagyu beef, so perhaps the lofty price-tag is merited. The veranda views from this hillside villa are equally decadent, taking in lush oak forests, vineyard valleys and mountains silhouetted against the horizon. An epic wine list that includes Napa Valley’s finest as well as selections from New Zealand, France and elsewhere comes as standard.
We know, we know. You came here for the wine not the coffee, right? But we’d argue that too much of the former necessitates a little of the latte(r), and Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company is more than worth the seven-minute drive. Big windows and woody interiors make this a pleasant setting for a recovery espresso or, if you're in the mood for something infinitely, indescribably sweeter, a cinnamon-y snickerdoodle latte.
There aren’t a great many standalone bars in this neck of the woods, but if you’re in the market for some palate-cleansing cocktails ahead of your next wine-tasting appointment, you could do worse than the Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. A short drive north in St Helena, its artisanal cocktails are made using homegrown produce and include such originals as Puttin’ on the Spritz, made with late-harvest chardonnay from the ranch blended with poppy flower amaro, grapefruit and a dash of fizz.
Just round the corner, the Goose & Gander serves up a daunting selection of gin, vodka, whiskey, rum and bourbon cocktails as well as some excellent pilsners, saison ales and Belgian brews from Napa Valley producers.