Napa Valley, a delightful landscape of wildflowers and grapevines spread across miles of rolling hills, has been immortalized in film, literature and European wine competitions. As the first and only Agricultural Preserve in the United States, and the first officially designated viticultural area, this small section of Northern California harbors some of the most hallowed wineries and restaurants in the country. But don’t call Napa starchy. Along with a cluster of century-old palazzos and chateaus, the area features a growing array of contemporary tasting rooms, hotels, spas and food establishments, many of them opened or refurbished within the last two years.
This wave of renewal was delayed in October, when deadly wildfires burned across the North Coast. The majority of Napa’s wineries and vineyards (which served as firebreaks) were spared. Some travelers stayed away in the aftermath of the fires, but the valley was soon back on its feet, flaunting a more dynamic and fashionable face than ever.
In Napa County, permits are required to serve food during tastings, which explains why most wineries dispense little more than crackers during their wine flights. But a handful of estates are offering more substantial pairings. At B Cellars, an Oakville winery that unveiled state-of-the-art facilities in 2014, the glass-walled tasting room surrounds a big open kitchen doling out small plates like rabbit rillettes and roasted squash with pickled beets and ricotta. Each dish complements a specific wine; the lineup includes single varietals and blends made from top vineyards within the valley (tour and pairings from $80; by appointment). In nearby Rutherford, Round Pond Estate has several food-and-wine options, from a boozy multicourse Sunday brunch to a lighter pairing showcasing vegetables plucked from the winery’s gardens (pairings from $65; by appointment).
Yountville may be the most picturesque small town in the valley, with its pruned trees and brick buildings housing boutiques, bakeries and Michelin-starred restaurants. You may not have a reservation at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry (spots are almost impossible to come by) but you can admire the restaurant’s famous vegetable gardens across the street. Then walk over to another Yountville classic, V Marketplace, an enclosed market with cobblestone walkways and shops selling local goods and art. If you’re still hungry (or just perennially hungry), grab a quick burger at Platform 8, opened in December by the chef and TV personality Michael Chiarello. And if you want more wine, one of California’s most attractive tasting rooms is right in town. At Stewart Cellars’ recently opened guest hall, the designer Ken Fulk created a residential atmosphere that displays a mix of vintage finds and custom furnishings (tastings from $30).
Napa is no hotbed of discothèques, but the area’s night life is getting livelier. Blue Note Napa, a spinoff of New York City’s well-known jazz club, opened in late 2016 inside a venerable opera house in downtown Napa. The venue books acts like the Japanese pianist Keiko Matsui and the Hawaiian guitar virtuoso Willie K, and offers stage time to emerging local musicians. An eclectic menu that spotlights California’s agricultural bounty is on the playbill too. For a slightly quieter night out, head to nearby Gran Eléctrica, another East Coast transplant. This new restaurant and bar serves traditional Mexican bites and creative margaritas in a festive space featuring art inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday. A few blocks away, Miminashi offers wines, sakes and Japanese whiskeys, along with a Rolodex of 125 cocktails.
Right off St. Helena’s Main Street, Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch looks like the set of a movie about farmers turned interior decorators. This idyllic destination is anchored by a restored Gothic Revival residence that houses an old-time general store stocked with olive oils, jams, scented candles and canvas bags, and a bar offering wine and whiskey flights. Steps away, inside a former plant nursery, is a stylish restaurant serving seasonal dishes sourced from Long Meadow Ranch’s working farm in Rutherford. A patio nearby is the site of an outdoor cafe that opens at 7 a.m. Grab a spot at one of the weathered wooden tables, beneath the shade of a massive tree, and enjoy a cup of Stumptown coffee and freshly baked pastries.
Napa has a longstanding spa scene. Calistoga, at the northern end of the region, has been drawing mud-bath enthusiasts for decades to its geothermal springs. If you want to relax the old-fashioned way (submerged in a pool of warm mud), your best option is Indian Springs, a Mission Revival lodge and spa whose mud pools contain volcanic ash (baths from $80). For a more modern experience, book a treatment at the Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa. This midcentury hotel, rejuvenated by the Manhattan design firm AvroKO, has a chic, pastel-hued spa with claw foot tubs for salt baths and a mud bar where you can mix your own concoction before slathering it on and reposing on a gardenside chaise (treatments from $70). Farther south in St. Helena, The Meadowood Spa is one of the most elegant wellness facilities in California (treatments from $225).
The Culinary Institute of America at Copia, planned by the Napa pioneers Robert and Margrit Mondavi, and Julia Child, reopened in late 2016 after an eight-year closure. Visitors to the 80,000-square-foot foodie wonderland can take cooking and wine-tasting classes, get a sneak peek at the personal cookware collection of Williams-Sonoma’s founder, Chuck Williams (the full exhibition, consisting of 4,000 pieces, will open next month), or kick back at the restaurant, where a team of chefs behind a sleek open kitchen prepare American classics like steak Diane, pan-seared sirloins served with a deglazed sauce made of shallots, mushrooms, cognac, veal stock and cream ($28).
Drive up to Mount Veeder, about 20 minutes from the town of Napa, to see impressive contemporary art at The Hess Collection winery. The founder, Donald Hess, a Swiss businessman and wine producer who began collecting art in the 1960s, was an early patron of several blue-chip artists. His museum, on the second and third floors of the boulder-walled winery (free admission), displays works by the likes of Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer and Robert Motherwell.
Craft beers are cropping up in wine country. At least four taprooms have opened in Downtown Napa, including Trade Brewing, a laid-back bar with 14 brews on tap. Try the Bricklayer ($6), a hop-forward American pale ale, or the sturdier Pile Driver ($7), a double I.P.A. with hints of papaya and pineapple. Tannery Bend Beerworks, a nanobrewery and tasting room inside a refurbished tannery, makes tiny batches of classic ales and pilsners as well as experimental varieties. Recently on the menu: a bourbon barrel-aged stout with aromas of figs, plums and vanilla undertones. The San Diego brewery Stone Brewing has unveiled an offshoot in Napa; its new home is the 19th-Century Borreo Building, a stonewalled landmark that had been empty for 15 years.
Northern California was at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement that flourished in the early 2000s, and is still a haven for sustainably produced, locally sourced food. The Charter Oak in St. Helena is part of a new generation of restaurants that are honoring this now traditional formula. Christopher Kostow, best known as the executive chef at the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood, is responsible for the approachable menu at this casual yet polished restaurant (interiors display a calibrated hodgepodge of warm wood, exposed brick and tan leather). Much of the food, served family-style, comes from a huge open-flame grill, including beef ribs grilled over cabernet barrel wood, and served with beets ($28).
Downtown Napa once played second fiddle to more scenic locales such as Yountville and St. Helena, but this small city bordering the Napa River has come into its own in the last decade. The Oxbow Public Market is a must-see destination. Few food markets can compete with the variety and quality of the offerings inside this light-filled, 40,000-square-foot structure, where you can see bakers, chocolatiers, butchers and fishmongers at work. Start your tour at Ritual Coffee Roasters, where baristas lavish care on every cup they pour. Then grab a seriously good cinnamon bun at Model Bakery. For a breakfast with views, head to the rooftop restaurant at the Archer Hotel, a much talked-about newcomer. Helmed by the celebrity chef Charlie Palmer, The Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar offers contemporary American fare along with sweeping vistas.
Say farewell to Napa with a glass of cabernet or chardonnay at one of the valley’s newer wineries. Ashes & Diamonds, owned by the former music producer Kashy Khaledi, has a retro-modern vibe. Already beloved by Instagrammers, the year-old venture off Highway 29 isn’t just about looks: Khaledi works with top local grape growers to make wines the old-school way (tastings from $40). In the Stags Leap District, Odette Estate occupies a futuristic recycled steel building that appears to be tucked inside a hill. This environmentally responsible winery specializes in the kind of full-bodied reds that can only come from Napa (tastings from $40).
Rancho Caymus Inn (1140 Rutherford Road, Rutherford; from $195), a boutique hotel in Rutherford, unveiled major renovations last summer. The hacienda-style property, built in 1914 by a scion of the Morton Salt family, still features original design elements, including 19th-century white oak beams in its updated rooms and common areas. A pool and a small spa are among the hotel’s recent additions.
Right outside the town of Napa, Senza Hotel (4066 Howard Lane, Napa; from $300) occupies a newly restored Victorian mansion from the 1870s. The pet-friendly property has 41 guest rooms decorated in a soothing neutral palette, most of them with vineyard views. Senza’s heated pool is surrounded by gardens dotted with contemporary sculptures from the personal collection of the owners Craig and Kathryn Hall, the family behind Hall Wines.
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