This is the Napa Valley, considered by many to be among the world's foremost wine-growing regions, and a popular spot for those who like the pleasantly mellow intoxication of a good glass of well-oaked chardonnay or peppery merlot -- or those who simply enjoy getting sloshed in one of the prettiest stretches of land in the country. With numerous vineyards, small towns with tons of style, medicinal hot springs, and beautiful countryside, the Napa Valley might be just the honeymoon spot for which you and your new husband or wife have been searching!
A Wine Lover's Paradise
Whether you've got a sharp palette or just like wine that tastes "good," you've come to the right place in the Napa Valley. European vines were first brought to the area by a Hungarian count named √?goston Haraszthy, who is credited with establishing California's first commercial vineyard, in 1857. After a hundred years of ups, downs, blights, and Prohibition, the 1960s saw a renaissance in the region's wine-making, which continues to this day. With hundreds of vineyards to choose from, you can't go wrong in finding the nice, warm buzz so prized by wine lovers.
TRAVEL TIP: Seek out the smaller, family-owned wineries! Many are willing to set up individual tours and tasting by request, and these are often much more satisfyingly personal experiences than those of the larger commercial wineries.
The closest airports to Napa are in San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento. Cycling is a popular way to get around the Valley's thirty square miles, with numerous bike shops offering rentals, particularly in the town of Napa itself. The best times to visit are in the spring and autumn, as the summers tend to be hot, dusty, and crowded. Also, the springtime brings with it an incredible abundance of lovely wildflowers, sure to excite your romantic sensibilities.
If you're looking for a more luxurious way to travel about the valley, consider the Napa Valley Wine Train, made up of vintage Pullman dining cars, which runs breakfast, lunch, and dinner tours each day (including stops at favorite wine lands) from Napa to St. Helena and back. If you and your honey would like to take it all in, there are even late afternoon hot air balloon rides available, both breathtaking and lazy at the same time.
Beyond Napa, the economic hub of the valley, there are a number of small towns that stand as true testaments to rural elegance, and are great fun to visit. For starters, try the charming villages of St. Helena and Yountville for some wonderful shopping and gourmet dining. You might also check out Calistoga, famed for its mineral water and healing mud baths - there are a number of spas in the town, complete with herbal wraps, aromatherapy, and exotic massage.
North of the town, be sure to explore the petrified redwood forest left from an ancient eruption of a nearby volcano. If you're driving through the valley, don¬?t be afraid to take the side roads between Highway 29 and the scenic Silverado trail, as they are often the most picturesque and least trafficked. For a slower but similar experience to the Napa Valley, try the nearby Sonoma Valley, which is also home to a number of vineyards and outstanding vintages.
Napa Valley Festivals
No matter what time of year you choose to visit, there's always something special going on in Napa! In February and March, you can attend the Napa Valley Mustard Festival, tasting hundreds of varieties of mustards and mustard-inspired dishes. July sees the Napa Valley Shakespeare Festival roll into town, along with a wonderful film festival known as Movies in the Vineyards.
In the late summer and fall, farmer's markets are held each weekend, featuring fresh local produce and excellent deals on wine. Finally, November plays host to the Napa Valley Wine Festival, where the year's harvest and vintages are extensively celebrated.
For lovers of wine, beauty, and sunshine, there are few places in the world that can compare to the Napa Valley of northern California. With charming small towns, curative natural springs, and (of course!) some of the best wine on Earth, it might well be the perfect locale for a pleasantly romantic honeymoon.