California’s Napa Valley has long been the ultimate destination for hedonistic oenotourists, with some accommodation options reaching US$6,000 a night. While there are still mind-blowing, luxurious stays that cost more than a month’s salary, there are also many more places to choose from, each offering something a little different – and not all of them will blow the budget.
Busy times tend to be around harvest, from August to November, so be sure to book in advance if you want to travel then (and be prepared for the inevitable eye-watering price hikes). Quieter times are between March and May. You may not see grapes on the vines, but crowds are smaller, it’s sunny, and the vine flowers will be out in all their glory.
Food is a huge focus in the region, with gorgeously fresh and simple farm-to-fork restaurants on almost every corner, as well as a plethora of Michelin-starred dining rooms, many in the hotels themselves.
For those seeking to pamper, the spa scene has exploded in a similar way to the food scene, with even budget-priced guest houses and hotels offering vinotherapy as well as upmarket spa experiences.
The issue of wine tasting and getting around has been well addressed in recent years, with many locations offering complimentary drivers and shuttles to nearby activities. The most convenient way to see Napa is still with your own car, but if no one on your team wants to be the designated driver (it’s a wine destination after all!), there are several chauffeur companies that will transport you from tasting room to tasting room. Many hotels have solved this problem for some of their customers by hosting their own regular tastings at sundown, often with winemakers present.
Family-friendly wine tourism has improved too, with children more welcome in some guest houses and hotels than perhaps they used to be. And dogs are well received in a great many places. Welcome to Napa!
Best for vineyard views
A relative newcomer to the luxury resort scene in Napa, Las Alcobas in St Helena is the new go-to, blow-out location for those seeking vineyard views. Situated in an old Georgian house, it feels more like a private estate than a hotel – an estate with a rather famous neighbour. The historic Beringer Vineyards sit adjacent to Las Alcobas, and a good number of the 68 rooms and suites look out onto those very special vines. You can dine sitting on your own private terrace overlooking the vines, and the hotel’s outdoor pool and fire pit are just moments away. If it’s a splurge-worthy occasion, ask for a corner suite with one of the huge wraparound terraces looking straight onto the vineyards.
While you’re there, make sure you take the time to try the modern Californian cuisine at the hotel’s Acacia House, headed up by top chef Chris Cosentino. If it’s warm enough, book a table outside on the veranda, where wine lovers will want time to peruse the extensive wine list. The cocktails are worth trying too.
St Helena is also a great location to explore many famous vineyards and wineries, such as Freemark Abbey and the wonderfully bonkers Raymond Vineyards just down the road. The hotel’s concierge can help organise your winery visits, including transport, which may or may not include a hot air balloon ride over the vines.
- Address: 1915 Main St, St Helena, CA 94574
- Tel: +1 (707) 963 7000
- Rates: from $625 (£485) a night
With panoramic views from many of the 81 rooms and suites of vineyards as well as botanical gardens and tall redwood trees, the Harvest Inn is surrounded by nature. Seek out one of its enormous Vineyard View Collection Suites, with private terraces looking onto the vines, or splurge on a Vineyard View Collection Spa room, with unobstructed vineyard views from your private, outdoor hot tub.
- Address: 1 Main St, St Helena, CA 94574
- Tel: +1 (707) 963 9463
- Rates: from $299 (£232) in low season
Best for romance
Located on the famous hills of Stags Leap District, just five minutes’ walk into the gourmet capital of Yountville, this light and airy, adult-only guest house has just five rooms. Each is named after a famous poet and furnished to the highest standards, with spa-style bathrooms, sumptuous wardrobes and impressive personal service. It’s hard to imagine feeling more spoiled here, where every suite boasts expansive views of the valley, showers both indoor and outdoor, private terraces, wood burners and a well-stocked – free – minibar. You might be tempted to indulge, until the executive chef prepares your epic complimentary breakfast in the morning, every morning, using local ingredients of the highest quality.
Rooms start at about 88m² and go up to a whopping 135m² of living space. You can hire out the large Farmhouse as a vacation home by the month if you’re so inclined, but you could take over the whole venue for a wedding or other big celebration. The Robert Louis Stevenson Suite is the iconic room to go for, but the Robert Frost room, with its two outdoor spaces and incredible light, is a very close second.
- Address: 6380 Silverado Trail, Stags Leap District, Napa, CA 94558
- Tel: +1 (707) 944 0646
- Rates: prices range from $1,550 to $2,350 a night (£1,200-£1,800)
This romantic, bijou, five-star spa hotel lies off the beaten track, surrounded by leafy gardens. It offers tranquility at its finest, with spa bathtubs and one-touch gas fires. The hotel can arrange transport around the valley for you and offers complimentary cheese and wine tastings in the early evenings.
- Address: 1815 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
- Tel: +1 (707) 255 1197
- Rates: from $299 (£232) in low season
Best for families
With its two-cottage suites, residences and multi-bedroom private homes, Carneros Resort & Spa is an ideal place to stay with a family of all ages. You’ll love the 11ha of bucolic, sprawling farmland, with its kiddie-dedicated pool, bicycle hire and vegetable garden with chicken coop. Rooms are self-catering for family ease but there’s also a choice of three excellent restaurants, ranging from the lively Boon Fly Café to the grander Farm restaurant and Hilltop Dining Room, with plenty of child-friendly dishes on offer. You can request packed lunches for your afternoon activities, or put your own together from the swanky, on-site general store.
For those wanting a fantastic wine-and-dine experience without having to leave the children at night, you can order a wine tasting and dinner in the comfort of your own residence while the little ones are in bed. The winemaker from the resort’s partner winery, Cuvaison Estate Wines, will even join you for a private tasting if you wish.
For those itching to get out, however, the resort can help organise a babysitter for you – especially good to know once you check out all the events at its Pavilion venue.
- Address: 4048 Sonoma Hwy, Napa, CA 94559
- Tel: +1 (707) 299 4900
- Rates: cottage rates from $500 (£384)
Ideally situated in Yountville, with a plethora of eateries on the doorstep, the rooms here are spacious, with a cosy farmhouse vibe. Try the make-your-own waffles at breakfast and freshly baked cookies available in the lobby every day before enjoying the pool, bocce ball court, lawn games and free bike hire. There’s also a playground and green space just across the street.
- Address: 2230 Madison St, Yountville, CA 94599
- Tel: +1 (707) 944 2468
- Rates: from $260 (£202) a night in low season
Best for foodies
A perennial favourite for foodies and luxury travellers, Meadowood still leads the way for gourmands with its seamless blend of life’s pleasures, especially food and wine. Service is exemplary throughout its activity offerings – from the sporty side (golf, tennis, croquet, hiking) to the more leisurely spa treatments and hedonistic wine and food experiences.
Chef Chrisopher Kostow has earned Meadowood’s main restaurant three Michelin stars, but it manages to keep a warm, jovial ambience that’s cosy and clever rather than stuffy and standoffish. The cuisine is modern American and the wine list is incredible. Make sure you try the tasting menu with matching wines – it will be a highlight of your Napa trip.
For the days around your Michelin-starred experience, however, there are many other foodie experiences to enjoy. The Grill has a daily menu made with the freshest ingredients, many of which are grown and produced on site. The new club pool and family poolside area offers a light lunch and snacks menu, with The Creekside Dining Area just nearby.
Another treat not to be missed is the Meadowood picnic. The resort is situated among forests and countryside, with its own hiking trail. Reserve a picnic table along the trail then head into the wilderness to find your own private outdoor spot with catered feast and view over the trees. If this all gets too much, then you can hunker down in your private lodge with just about the best in-house dining you’ll find.
- Address: 900 Meadowood Lane, St Helena, CA 94574
- Tel: +1 (877) 963 3646
- Rates: from $799 (£620)
Yountville itself is arguably the foodiest part of Napa Valley, with Michelin-starred restaurants and an array of other delicious eateries on the doorstep. Hotel Yountville is the perfect base for exploring the area, but you’ll also want to make the most of its luxury spa facilities and numerous fine dining options with its cosy, wooden-beam-with- copper-accents vibe.
- Address: 6462 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599
- Tel: +1 (707) 967 7900
- Rates: from $400 (£310)
Best for budgets
Both family friendly and dog friendly, what the Calistoga Motor Lodge lacks in Napa hedonism, it makes up for in charm and quirkiness. This renovated roadside motel channels a modern, mid-century America, camper-van-chic vibe with fun touches such as skipping ropes and hula hoops for little kids and big kids alike.
Budget it may be (for Napa, anyway), but that does not mean there are no treats. The Moonacre spa and baths on-site are more of a social, fun affair than in other places. Make sure you take time to soak in the mineral pools fed by natural springs and have a go at applying your own masque at the mud bar. Even the treatments have quirky twists, such as massages and soaks using CBD (an active ingredient in cannabis) as well as the Garden Vichy treatment, which includes a full-body, outdoor grape-seed exfoliation. The spa has plenty of offers for off-peak times as well as a spa ‘happy hour’ too, which makes it even more accessible and a particularly good location for groups of friends.
There are currently 50 rooms at the lodge, with an extra 12 coming later in 2020 as well as an all-new Fleetwood restaurant opening in the spring. With a newly refurbished outdoor area, and with downtown’s shops and tasting rooms just 15 minutes’ walk away, it’s a fun place to stay that works for the whole family.
- Address: 1880 Lincoln Ave, Calistoga, CA 94515
- Tel: +1 (707) 942 0991
- Rates: from $200 (£155).
The turn of the century-style rooms at the Railway Inn in Yountville are each located inside century-old railcars. While basic, the long, narrow rooms are well kept and charming. Save your money here for a blow-out meal at one of the many top restaurants nearby. Tip: ask for one of the quieter bedrooms away from the road.
- Address: 6523 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599
- Tel: +1 (707) 944 2000
- Rates: from $200 (£155)