23 May 2013

Travel Reviews - Napa Valley - Food, Wine, Lodging

My view of the vineyards from Castello di Amorosa wall

We recently had to make an unexpected trip to a little town in northern California, so I looked on the map to see how far we would be from other interesting destinations. Turned out, Napa Valley was quite close! Sacramento International Airport made the most sense for our itinerary, but San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento international airports are equidistant (about an hour) from Napa; so take your pick.

We checked in at our hotel, Westin Verasa Napa, on the riverbank in downtown Napa. We selected the Westin because of its proximity to the Napa Valley Wine Train and the Oxbow Public Market* as well as for its own features. I never really relax and enjoy a vacation unless I'm staying in a really nice hotel with really good food nearby! Our deluxe king room at the Westin more than met my requirements for a hotel room: spacious, clean, quiet, well appointed, pleasant view.

Photo courtesy of The Westin

This room had things I didn't even get around to using! It had an in-room kitchenette with granite countertops, refrigerator, microwave, cooktop (yes, I said cooktop!), sink and dishwasher (that's right, dishwasher!), as well as cupboards full of dishes, flatware, cookware and utensils. But with so many good things on the menu downstairs at the Bank Cafe and Bar and just down the street at Oxbow Public Market, I was not going to be doing any cooking.

Bank Café and Bar had seriously good food, and one of my favorites just happened to also be vegetarian and gluten-free. It is called Panisse Cake and is topped, as you can see below, with lots of seasonal mushrooms.


The large pool, perfect for even serious lap swimmers (I'm a dry-hair bobber myself), and the hot tub are in a beautiful setting which includes cabanas for shade-lovers like me. Just outside the pool area is the lovely riverwalk along the Napa River. 

* Oxbow Public Market (photo below) is rather like a rustic, upscale, non-chain, slow food, newfangled food court where you can dine--seafood, crepes, Mexican, Italian, Venezuelan, et cetera--inside or on the riverfront patio or buy fresh meat, charcuterie, cheese, tea, coffee, spices, olive oil, wine, chocolates, tableware, all sorts of fabulous things.

  
The next morning, we walked across the street to the Napa Valley Wine Train. Checking in was a breeze and the charming station is a comfortable place to wait for the antique train. You can even taste wine before departure. We perused the gift shop so we could make our purchases quickly when we got back to the station. The staff, both in the station and on board, clearly love what they do. 

Photo courtesy of The Wine Train

There are several options. Ours was the Castle Tour, for which lunch service is completed on the trip up valley since the return is by motorcoach. We were seated at a table with a lovely couple from Cincinnati who were kind enough to rearrange their seating so that I, being prone to motion sickness, could face forward. Turns out, I did not have even a tiny problem! I don't think anyone on the whole train had a problem. Everyone looked healthy and happy! 

There is a wine tasting bar on board with dozens of wines to choose from, but I was so comfy and lazy I just had wine at the table. I enjoyed looking at the kitchen cars. Can you imagine cooking and serving on a moving train--I'm sure I'd be fired on my very first day!


My husband started with a salad that he declared delicious, and my roasted cauliflower soup with smoked salmon garnish was exceptional. I liked it so much I would have been happy to have another bowl with their excellent bread and call it lunch. We both chose the chicken main course (Coriander Mustard Encrusted Breast of Chicken topped with Endive-Radicchio‐Feta Salad in a Citrus Beurre Blanc), the couple from Cincinnati had the pork and the couple across the aisle from us had the beef. We were all very pleased with our choices!


The restrooms on board were a pleasant surprise, small but not cramped (nothing like those on airplanes) and had a basket of cloth towels rather than paper towels. I was impressed--one of the many ways the Wine Train exceeded my expectations!

Those of us who would be leaving the train up valley for winery tours moved to plush swivel chairs in a lounge car for dessert. We had the crème brulee topped with fresh berries (wonderful!) and our new friends from Cincinnati enjoyed (she said "inhaled"!) the chocolate dessert.


Fourteen of us disembarked at St Helena and boarded a very comfortable shuttle to Castello di Amorosa, a must-see winery in Calistoga. Even if you're not a wine drinker, this is a place that puts the "sight" into "sightseeing." The owner's fascination with Italian medieval architecture led him to begin drawing the plans 19 years ago. The original plans kept expanding until the castle, built over more than a dozen years using old, handmade materials and ancient techniques, reached its current 121,000 square feet. 

The photo at the top of the post is a vineyard view from the castle wall. The last, French oak barrels. We tasted about twenty wines and learned a lot from our enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide. You can read my Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese 2009 Napa Valley review here, and I'll be writing about others over the coming months. We want to go back to Napa and do it all again!   

Disclosure: Though parts of this trip were comped or discounted, I assure you that does not alter my opinions.

18 comments:

Sippity Sup said...

I can see how you must have enjoyed this trip. I certainly did. GREG

Madison said...

Hi Jean! This post came at just the right time. I'm looking for a relaxing, beautiful, not too far place for a quick get away in July and all your tips will surely come in handy. That train tour seems like something I might want to try. Thanks!

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Greg, thanks so much! Yes, it was wonderful. I didn't order wine with my last dinner in Napa--actually heard the words "I'm all wined out" coming out of my mouth! But I got right over it.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Madison, that's super! Glad the post was helpful. Have a great time!

Cranberry Morning said...

Oh Jean! This sounds absolutely amazing. Not only the train trip, but the delightful repast as well! What a gorgeous place, and how I'd love to visit it! Maybe I should start thinking about traveling west, instead of flying east. Hmmm.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Judy, thanks! I know you and I are both always focused on getting to England again, but there really are some pretty wonderful places to see in the US - maybe we can do both!

Thomas "Sully" Sullivan said...

Late to the table(s), and I hope I didn’t miss the train, and may there please be some food left, and…hey, the Oxbow Public Market sounds like a month’s worth of sampling for moi. I’m all on-board for the Lionel blue plate specials, as well. I’ll pass up the liquefied cauliflower, but the coriander mustard chicken has me imitating one of Pavlov’s canines. I do like mustards making statements in new ways. Hafta say, I could go back for some of that Panisse Cake I missed at the Bank Café, also. Man, I’m stuffed just writing about it. Sounds/looks like you made some memories, Jeani. Grazi for putting Napa Valley on my future itinerary…

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Thanks, Sully! Yep, it's all about (well, mostly about) the food wherever I go!

Bernideen said...

What a wonderful reviewing of your trip. It's fun to learn new things and sounds like you did just that.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Thanks, Bernideen! But I didn't find a place for afternoon tea!

Richard Sheppard said...

Sounds like a great time Jean! You picked a good time too since summer is alway super busy with tourists. Even though I live in the area, I haven't been to any of those places (there are so many places to go!). I'll have to try Castello di Amorosa's wines sometime!

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Yes, Richard, it was soooo fun! And Castello wines are only sold online and at the winery - not in stores or restaurants.

Pauline Wiles said...

Oh, you had me at the mushroom dish, and made me laugh at your swimming description because I'm a dry-hair bobber too!
I was lucky enough to go on the wine train a few years ago with my parents; my expectations were fairly low but we were super-impressed. It was all done so efficiently and as you mention, everything was great quality. We were fortunate to be in the last carriage of the train, so we could step out onto the back platform thingy and watch the world go by at gentle speed! My Dad loves trains so he was in heaven.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Pauline, I'm always thrilled to find another dry-hair bobber! My Dad would have loved the wine train too. Since I'm prone to motion sickness, I didn't wander back to the platform--I do better just staying in my seat minding my own business! But I was fine, so maybe next time I'll venture out.

LANA said...

What a delightful trip, I almost felt like I was there with you!

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Thanks, Lana! What a lovely compliment!

Peter Bryenton said...

Those photos of yours that work well for me are of what you know most, which is food and how it is presented. The barrel photo is as good as you'd see in a travel magazine.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Thanks, Peter! Funny thing, I didn't even crop that photo, it's just the way I took it!

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