By Rachel

Where I go: Napa Valley

With its air of laidback romance, lush, dreamy landscapes and natural beauty, Napa Valley pools together everything that I love about California. Just a short drive away from San Francisco, it’s a perfect getaway if you’re in search of lazy afternoons or some peace and quiet in a postcard pretty setting. For my birthday this year, the boy whisked me off to Wine Country for four days of some wining, lots of dining and a bit of vineyard visiting. While part of our visit was somewhat marred by an unusual spell of rain (thus foiling our plans for hot air ballooning), it hardly put a dampener on our moods. At the end of it, Napa left us feeling restored and recharged, ready to head back to the madness that is LA (albeit with some reluctance on my part). 

Wearing: Inspired by Napa’s relaxed, romantic aesthetic, I packed an assortment of blouses, full/A-line skirts (am into eyelet, scalloped edges and bright pops of color), JCrew cardigans for day, and threw in some printed/embellished scarves. For nights out, I wore lace dresses (love the dreamy ones over at Free People) and a sleek satin LBD.

Reading: NYT Travel, in addition to Sunset and Where: San Francisco magazines for vineyard/restaurant recommendations. Yelp (which is big in California) also came in handy when it came to booking our accommodations and deciding which vineyards or restaurants we would visit during our stay.

Watching: The sweeping views of the Napa countryside – with rolling hills that dips into valleys against the expanse of clear blue skies, with manicured vineyards perched next to sprawling fields where the mustard flowers bloom in wild abundance each spring. It’s a pretty mesmerizing sight that could keep me gazing on for hours, lost in blissful daydreams.

Eating (and/or drinking): Expect to feast like kings and never go hungry here. For breakfast, go for Bouchon Bakery’s buttery and crisp pain au chocolats, or indulge in lemon and carrot cake cupcakes from Kara’s Cupcakes (which hails from nearby San Francisco) at the Oxbow Public Market.

The highlight of our trip was brunch at the one Michelin-starred Redd in Yountville. My dishes, in the words of Mary Poppins, were “practically perfect” – caramelized diver scallops, cauliflower puree, almonds and balsamic reduction, steamed hoisin pork buns, and bread pudding with homemade strawberry ice-cream. If you’re craving homey fare, check out Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc for their legendary buttermilk fried chicken and cashew panna cotta with caramel sauce and buttery light shortbread cookies.

For (a romantic candlelit) dinner, steaks at Press in quaint St Helena with a side of their amazing, can’t get enough of truffle mac and cheese, followed by their absolutely dreamy banana cream pie (made fresh after you order by their talented dessert chef. Equally fabulous are the black miso cod and kabocha squash sticky toffee pudding with buttermilk ice-cream at Morimoto (where we caught the Iron Chef himself in action!) in downtown Napa.

P.S. Always make reservations weeks before a trip to Napa as these places fill up real fast! Now if only I could score that elusive table at The French Laundry

Toting: My 3-year-old Witchery beige leather tote I picked up in Sydney that goes almost everywhere with me. It’s the right mix of soft and sturdy and fits all my essentials into three separate stash-worthy compartments with room for more.  At night, I switch to my turquoise Banana Republic clutch for a dose of color.

Trotting: Comfort is key, especially for walking around vineyards – I fall back on my black BCBG leather flats that have held up incredibly well after almost two years of near constant wear.  In the PM, I slip on my go-anywhere bandage suede heels from H&M’s spring collection.

Loving: The beautiful and elegant 280-acre vineyard of Quintessa, tucked away on the Silverado Trail in quiet Rutherford. Expect private winery tours/wine tastings (no jostling with hordes of tourists!), and knowledgeable, patient staff. The crescent-shaped design of the property blends gracefully into the landscape, reflecting the owners’ philosophy of environmental sensitivity, with oak trees, native plants and indigenous stone adding to its rustic charm. The interiors, likewise, have an earthy elegance with lots of woodsy touches throughout. Quintessa’s wine is organic and biodynamic (which I shan’t get too technical about) and they only produce one type (Cabernet Sauvignon) but they do it incredibly well. (I recommend the 2005 and 2007). Don’t be turned off by the $45 tour charge, it is worth every dollar and you can use it to offset your purchases.

Nearby is the historic Rubicon Estate, owned by Francis Ford Coppola (of “The Godfather” fame) and his wife Eleanor. This is one of the oldest chateaus in wine country, and the well-preserved Bordeaux-styled property is hauntingly stunning. With ivy carpeting the chateau, exquisite stained glass, a grand hand-carved staircase, classic stone cellars, lemon and orange trees flourishing in the courtyard, pergolas and fountains, it’s evocative of a bygone era somewhere in Europe. The estate showcases the chateau’s winemaking history (dating back to the late 1800s when it was owned by a sea captain named Gustave Niebaum) and is also in part a film museum of sorts, featuring Coppola’s achievements and film memorabilia.

Finally, make a pit stop at gourmet wonderland Dean and Deluca in St Helena (about a 20-minute drive from downtown Napa that is shorter than it seems because of all that gorgeous scenery). This outpost may not be as comprehensive as the one in Manhattan’s Soho but this is the only one in all of the West Coast (sense my lament?). I went for their local products – check out their selection of jams/preserves, honey, wine and cheeses in particular. I love the jams from the girl and the fig/Robert Lambert and picked up some raspberry honey from Katz and Co. P.S. You can always check with the staff if you want to sample anything so you can try before you buy!

Where I sleep: River Terrace Inn. It’s an affordable quality accommodation given that hotels in the area can get really pricey. They really do spoil you there for what you pay – think spacious rooms with comfy cozy king-sized beds, luxurious sheets, a lovely vanity area and roomy bathrooms with oversized tubs. I think this was one of my most well-rested vacations ever.

An added bonus – it’s located near downtown Napa (which in actuality is rather small), and about a ten minute drive away from Yountville.

What I bring: My Blackberry, camera, sunscreen, New Wayfarers, a mini brolly to fend off unexpected showers (a rarity, really), Swarovski crystal drop earrings and necklace for some elegant nighttime bling, and lots of hydrating skincare (the air, though cool, tends to be dry) – serum, moisturizer and mask (I like Chanel Hydramax + Active and Clarins HydraQuench). I also can’t do without my favorite Lavender Lime Shea Butter body moisturizer from LA natural skincare label Lather.

More on my Napa escapade can be found here.

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