Saturday, May 3, 2008

Napa & Sonoma Valley - Wine Tours, Food and Scenic Countryside

Napa ValleyNapa Valley, famous around the world as the Wine Country, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in California. More than five million visitors come each year, often overcrowding the roadways on summer weekends. Peak times are the summer months and the harvest "crush" during September and October. Napa Valley is home to more than two hundred wineries. With wine as a focus, great dining naturally emerged to compliment it, making it a food-and-drink lover's paradise!
Spring and fall are the best times to visit. Summers tend to be hot and dusty, as well as decidedly crowded. Fall (September-November) combines fine weather with the grape harvest, and the wine-making season is on in full swing! The gloroious vineyards of the beautiful Sonoma county are a visual and gratifying treat,irrespective of weather you are a tourist, foodie or a vintner! If you happen to be in California, you would definitely not want to miss a tour to Napa!

If this is your first time in the scenic napa Valley, and you are not sure what you'd like to do, take a moment to browse through this Napa Valley online Guide, which is like a complete directory of the wine country. You can't do the entire Wine Country in just one day! I'd concentrate on the Sonoma and Russian River valleys, which I think offer the best combination of food, wine, and outdoor activities. Calistoga, Hot Springs offers many excellent restaurants and shops, ballooning, cycling, jogging, tennis, golf and much more.

Sightseeing and Recreation
Napa Valley situated in the Bay Area in California, is the main wine growing region of the United States of America and one of the major wine regions of the world. On a day trip or a long weekend in the Napa Valley, you can revel in hedonistic pleasures some folks fly to France for: world-class wines at chateaulike wineries, innovative meals in elegant settings, memorable lodges surrounded by vineyards. It is also known for its gourmet restaurants, cafes, and spa-treatment centers. Named for the Roman goddess of abundance, Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts is a $50 million cultural centre, bringing together all things Wine Country in one smart package. Interactive exhibits include a wine-tasting station that demystifies the experience, preparing you to visit wineries unafraid. Every ticket includes free tastings and a cooking demonstration. Napa Valley Museum can be another worthy attraction for those of you interested in the history of the city. The famous Balloon Rides offered in Sonoma are an experience in themselves. As you soar through the scenic county at an altitude of 100 feet, you can witness some amazing natural beauty, not to mention the thrill of the ride itself. But reservations are recommended, and make sure to check that you pick a good day, as winds determin the schedules for these baloon rides. If you are in the mood to splurge, check out the Napa Valley Wine Train, which is by far the best way to cover a range of hand-picked vineyards, free wine-tasting and lunch included! Biking along the vineyards is also a great way to check out the beautiful countryside.

Food and Restaurants
Everyone knows that a trip to Napa is incomplete without the famous wine tours. But even if you don't drink, there's a lot of food, history, resorts and natural beauty to keep you occupied. This place is like a heaven for food-lovers; with food that ranges from mediocre to exclusive, Napa Valley is a celebration of fine dining. There are many upscale restaurants that offer pairing of wine and food, combined with a decadent chocolate experience. Chowhound offers some great suggestions for dining; there's also an Artisan Food and Wine Festival hosted every year, and is something you'd not want to miss!

Vineyards and Wine Tasting Tours
Most wineries offer tastings and/or tours of their products. The largest, most well known wineries such as Mondavi and Beringer are open daily with large hosting facilities and guided or reserved tours of the operation. The many smaller wineries may offer tastings only by appointment, but your tour or tasting may be conducted by the owner. Most vineyards charge a small fee for the tastings, especially at the more popular vineyards, perhaps $5-$10. Winery tours are generally very interesting and informative. Reserve room tastings provide an opportunity to sample expensive wines without having to spend a larger amount for a bottle. For novices like us, I'd recommend a guided tour; the California Wine Tours has several affordable options all year round to suit your budget and time of visit. Unless you are a wine connoiseur and know the area well, tours are simply the best way to take in the beauty and essence of the country!

I'd suggest having at least 3 days to really soak yourself in the Napa Valley. It acts like a wonderful retreat, and with the plethora or resorts and spas available, its the ideal destination for a romantic getaway! Sonoma County is the preferred destination, and is a great place to visit in summer or early fall. There's a lot you can do in the California Wine Country, but most of all, its the feeling of peace and relaxation that leaves an impression. The large open space, the beautiful and colorful countryside, the exotic villas and resorts, and of course, the food and wine, all these make Napa Valley a cherished tourist destination.

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