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Decanter’s Dream Destination: Auberge du Soleil, Napa Valley, US

Every month Decanter selects a must-visit destination for wine travellers. Perched on a hill in Rutherford, this luxurious foodie resort is a Napa Valley classic. Alicia Miller pays a visit to Auberge du Soleil and recommends local highlights.

When it comes to wine region holidays, Napa Valley sets the standard. Not only with its glossy tasting rooms, lauded restaurants and artisan farmers’ markets. The hotel scene, too, is unrivalled.

From upmarket B&Bs to elaborate resorts, there seems to be an eye-catching new opening with every passing season. Take the Four Seasons Napa Valley, which just launched within a Calistoga vineyard last year. And yet, for all the flashy competition, 40 years after first welcoming visitors, Auberge du Soleil still remains one of the region’s stars.

Back in 1981, when the Napa tourism industry was comparatively still in its nappies, Frenchman Claude Rouas and his business partner Bob Harmon opened Auberge in Rutherford as a Gallic-inspired restaurant. But the 13ha property – perched up a winding wooded drive, overlooking the Mayacamas Mountains and a blanket of vineyards – was too good to keep just for mealtimes.

Five years later it was transformed into a small, exclusive resort, among the first of its kind in Napa Valley. Later, as the company grew into the Auberge Resorts Collection, the hotel inspired unique properties in other coveted US destinations. These included Aspen, Hawaii and the Blue Mountains. The latest sister property, Stanly Ranch, opened half an hour south of Auberge du Soleil just this May.

Luxury lifestyle

It’s little wonder that Auberge du Soleil continues to have such a loyal following. This place combines all the hedonistic pleasures that Napa is famed for – wine, food, spa – with a tranquillity that lets you leave the region’s crowds behind. As soon as you pass through its soaring gates, you feel part of an exclusive club; miles from the tourist rush, yet tucked right at the Valley’s heart.

Perched on a sun-drenched hillside amid olive and oak trees, 50 rooms and suites are split across stand-alone mansions, lending privacy. Taking in the verdant view while enjoying an evening glass of wine on your terrace, it’s easy to feel like all of Napa is yours.

Auberge du Soleil doesn’t pander to passing trends. The property was founded with Provence in mind, and it still subscribes to the same timelessly chic aesthetic, with honey hues and beamed ceilings.

Food and drink

Meanwhile, Michelin-starred dinners on The Restaurant’s terrace show the deftness of French-style cooking with a raft of exciting local ingredients. You might have hamachi crudo with yuzu custard to start, spiced lamb with medjool dates and harissa to follow, and passionfruit pie with coconut sorbet and mango to finish.

The wine list? No less than a greatest hits reel of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, of course, including Joseph Phelps Insignia, Spottswoode Estate and the resort’s very own bottling.

The hotel dedicates itself to indulgence in other ways, too. There is a vast collection of outdoor sculpture and a sublime spa. You could easily lose an afternoon poaching away in the alfresco hot tub overlooking distant blue-green hills and a patch of knobbly olive trees.

Winery visits

But with more than 400 wineries on your doorstep offering tastings, be sure to set aside a significant amount of time to explore Napa Valley. The nearest stop, Rutherford Hill Winery, is a three-minute walk away from the hotel along the lush, squiggling road that leads up from the Silverado Trail.

But hop in a car and you can be at Stag’s Leap in 15 minutes, Opus One in 10 minutes and a dozen other wineries in 5 minutes. No need to drive; Auberge can take care of all the transfers, not to mention the booking of tastings – which is highly recommended at many popular Napa Valley wineries.

Auberge du Soleil can sort many things that normal visitors can’t too, whether that’s a sneak peak of new vintage wines before they’re bottled or a one-to-one meeting with a winemaker. For an oenophile traveller, there’s perhaps no better reason to book.

For more information visit Auberge du Soleil.

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