Best wine destination in 2013: Napa Valley/Sonoma, California.
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In the gentle Mayacamas Mountains, two roads (to the east, Napa’s Route 29, and, to the west, Sonoma’s Route 12) form arteries through twin fertile, geological trenches that yield the bulk of what is known as California Wine Country. Only one hour north of San Francisco, the easternmost valley, Napa, is home to the Grgich Hill Estate, Caymus Vineyards, Sterling Vineyards, and Robert Mondavi Winery. In Napa, you’ll find the relatively urban, two-square-block St. Helena near sleepy Calistoga, a Wild West holdover with sidewalks nestled under wooden shades. Calistoga is a spa town with mineral springs, a geyser, and—for the daring—mud baths. Don’t miss the picturesque, 29-mile-long Silverado Trail that runs between Napa and Calistoga. It was built in the 1850s due to flooding of the main road, and eventually used to conduct mercury-rich cinnabar from mines in Mount St. Helena to river docks in the town of Napa. The Silverado Trail’s two lanes are elevated above the valley floor to offer panoramic views of vineyards, mountains, and hidden valleys. Plus, it’s gently pitched and bike-able (if you’d like to work off some vacation calories).
Just to the west (and, for the most part, within an hour’s drive of St. Helena), Sonoma County reaches all the way to the Pacific; in fact, that’s Sonoma’s sleepy Bodega Bay in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Near the coast, you’ll find the gorgeous Flowers Vineyard & Winery and, in Sonoma’s famed Russian River Valley, the Hartford Family Winery. The other Sonoma bigwigs are Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Dehlinger Winery, Benziger Family Winery, and Kosta Browne Winery. Like Napa, Sonoma is packed with tourist-friendly amenities—spas, restaurants, shopping, and bike trails.
Stay: The Kenwood Inn and Spa is an ideal base of operations for a wine country visit. What’s unusual is that this hotel is completely geared toward adults—it offers no children’s amenities whatsoever and, daringly, no televisions in its guestrooms. Look for three tranquil, landscaped courtyards (each with its own saline pool and spa) that offer private access to plush suites and rooms outfitted with in-room fireplaces, large whirlpools, and fine imported Italian linens. As if that’s not enough, the Kenwood Inn also houses a renowned spa that specializes in “vinotherapy”—or spa services that “embrace the power of the grape” with massages and topical treatments using red wine and oils extracted from Chardonnay and Riesling seeds. Rooms start at $400 per night. (10400 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA 707-833-1293; kenwoodinn.com)