The Napa Valley is one of the world’s ultimate romantic destinations – stunning scenery, luxurious hotels and spectacular food and wine. One of the best times to visit the Napa Valley is in early fall just before the beginning of the harvest when the weather is perfect and the vines are laden with ripe grapes. Autumn in Napa Valley is stunning – cobalt blue skies, cool mornings giving way to warm afternoons, golden-hued hills and the sweet fragrance of the grapes.
The luxurious Meadowood Resort in St. Helena makes for a perfect home for this ultimate weekend getaway. Meadowood Resort was founded by Bill Harlan, the renowned winemaker, and is located in a very private wooded valley. As you pull into the resort, a gate attendant waves you through the tree-lined drive that takes you past the swimming pools and tennis courts to the simultaneously luxurious and relaxed reception, where a battery of attendants will take your car and offer you a welcoming glass of wine. The accommodations consist of small cottages, suites and lodges spread throughout the sprawling property.
All of the rooms are fabulous but, if you want to splurge on this weekend getaway, we absolutely love the Hill House, a completely secluded suite located next to the Spa. The Hill House offers over 1,700 square feet of living space, a California king-sized bed, an enormous living room with a wood-burning fireplace, a deep soaking tubs for two, a front terrace with a fire pit and woodland views and a private terrace furnished with chaise lounge chairs, an additional fire pit, deep soaking tub and outdoor shower.
Before leaving reception, request them to send a bottle of champagne on ice to your room. Within minutes of dropping off your bags, you should hear a faint knock, which signals that the champagne has arrived. After the drive from San Francisco, it is nice to simply relax on your private terrace with a cold glass of champagne and let nature wash over you – the golden hue of the late afternoon sun filtering through the trees, the gentle breeze rustling through the leaves, the absolute quiet only interrupted by the sound of the Blue Jays and Woodpeckers and smell of the fresh mountain air. Everything about the resort encourages relaxation and exudes a sense of tranquility.
Meadowood Resort // 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena // Website
As the last rays of sun fall below the valley ridge, it is time to start thinking about dinner. A perfect introduction to Napa Valley dining is The Charter Oak, a wine-country influenced restaurant in St. Helena. The town of St. Helena is small and charming so you should plan to arrive in town a little before your reservation to give you a chance to stroll and explore the nearby shops and galleries.
The Charter Oak is a 72-seat casual restaurant helmed by Christopher Kostow, the extremely talented chef of the 3-Michelin starred Restaurant at Meadowood. The beautiful space features exposed brick walls, soaring ceilings, wood floors and thick wooden tables, as well as an open kitchen with giant wood-burning hearth, where all of the main courses are prepared, gracing everything with wood and smoke flavors. Kostow designed the meals to be eaten family style with platters of food meant to be shared. There is also a multi-course “family meal” of off-menu specials. Most of the ingredients are locally sourced with much of the produce coming from Meadowood’s stellar garden. Some of the standout dishes from a recent visit included Hearth Roasted Figs with Local Honey; Charred Avocado with Rhubarb and Ember Oil; Beef Rib grilled over Cabernet Wine Barrels; and Slow Cooked Eggplant with Pea Shoots. There is also a dessert cart filled with tempting desserts…particularly delicious is the Buffalo Milk Ice Cream with Local Honey and Olive Oil. The wine list prominently features wines of the Napa Valley and, to support Napa Valley viticulture, guests are permitted to bring up to two Napa wines without a corkage fee.
The Charter Oak // 1050 Charter Oak Avenue, St. Helena // Website
After dinner, perhaps you head down the street for a glass of wine at Cook, just a short walk from The Charter Oak, or you may want to return to Meadowood for a quiet evening next to a crackling fire.
A weekend getaway shouldn’t feel rushed. After you wake-up (the beds are so comfortable that you may be surprised by how late it is), consider ordering breakfast from room service and enjoy a leisurely morning on your terrace without having to get out of your plush bathrobe. If you are feeling more energetic, you can get a little exercise before breakfast by going on a hike on one of the many scenic trails crossing the resort (which are thoughtfully stocked with water bottle stations along the way) to the top of the ridge for amazing views of the surrounding area.
Meadowood’s breakfast, whether taken in your room or at The Grill, has many healthy options, including a number of elixers of exotic fruits and vegetables and an amazing avocado toast. With a full day of wine touring ahead, it is wise to have a filling breakfast to start the day.
Being in the Napa Valley, the weekend will revolve around wine. While there are many wineries that offer tours to the public, the best way to experience and enjoy the Napa Valley wineries is avoid the crowds by making arrangements in advance for private tours. Guest services at Meadowood can open doors to wineries that are not generally open to the public (including some of Napa Valley’s “cult” wineries) and arrange for you to meet the wine makers. Some of the exclusive and private wineries they may recommend include ADAMVS, Tusk Estate, Vineyard 29 and Vice Versa.
On a recent visit, one of Meadowood’s talented guest services representative arranged for a visit to The Napa Valley Reserve, a members-only private club for wine aficionados. Created by Bill Harlan, The Napa Valley Reserve is located just below the Meadowood Resort and provides members with access to a beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces and the opportunity to collaborate with the wine making team from Harlan Estate (one of the top California wineries) to make your own wine, from blending to designing your own label.
In addition, Meadowood arranged for private tastings of wines from wineries not generally open to the public, including Tusk Estate, one of the new “cult” wines, at an estate overlooking the entire Napa Valley and a private lunch and tasting of wines from Vice Versa Wines, a micro-production of blockbuster cabernet sauvignons, at the home of the owner, Patrice Breton and his charming wife, Samantha. The production of these wines is extremely small, but it is really worth the effort to seek out these exceptional wines.
After a morning of wine tasting, you will be ready for relaxed lunch. One of the best lunch options is Redd, which is located in Yountville. Redd offers delicious Wine Country cuisine which is directed by Richard Reddington (formerly of Masa’s and Jardiniere in San Francisco and Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley). The tables in the courtyard shaded by olive trees provide the perfect setting. Signature dishes include sashimi of Hamachi on sticky rice and edamame with lime ginger sauce and roast chicken with summer beans, crushed potatoes and poultry jus.
Redd // 6480 Washington St., Yountville // Website
After a full morning of wine tasting and California cuisine, you may want to take a break from wine tasting and explore the quaint towns of the Napa Valley – Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Late in afternoon, you can return to Meadowood for a little relaxation before dinner. If you feel like being more active, Meadowood has a fabulous swimming pool area, spa, 9-hole golf course, hiking trails and two championship croquet lawns.
If you haven’t played croquet since childhood, consider booking a lesson from one of their resident pros, followed by a friendly (or not-so-friendly) game of croquet with wine in hand. Note that they respect the traditions of the game so bring your whites if you plan to play.
For a truly memorable dining experience, we highly recommend The Restaurant at Meadowood, which is at one of only two Michelin 3-star restaurants in the Napa Valley,. Christopher Kostow, the executive chef, is wildly inventive and creates each meal based on what is at its peak that day.
While the dining room at the Restaurant is stunning, the best seat in the house is at the Chef's Counter in the kitchen (reserve these precious seats early). You are seated in plush chairs at a high counter that overlooks the entire kitchen and is directly next to the "pass" where the chefs give the finished dishes to the executive chef to inspect before they are taken by a fleet of polished servers to the dining room.
The Chef's Counter menu involves a tasting menu of 20 small dishes selected by Chef Kostow and served by the various chefs in the kitchen, who will offer an explanation of each dish. The wine list is extensive and the sommelier can curate a series of wines to complement the dishes.
On a recent visit, some of the stand-out dishes included Eel smoked over Cabernet staves with beef tongue and Saba, Day lily with spot prawn and caviar, Duck tea (bullion) with chrysanthemum and dill and, for dessert, Strawberries with fromage blanc and wild rose. During a break in the service, you will be given a tour of each station of the kitchen and an opportunity to interact with the chefs. The Chef's Counter is a not-to-be-missed experience.
The Restaurant at Meadowood // 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena // Website
Before heading back to your room, you may want to have a cognac or after-dinner drink by the fireplace in the restaurant’s welcoming lounge, with its dark wood, soft seating and a stunning fireplace that reaches to the ceiling.
Sunday is a morning to sleep in and be gently woken up by the sunlight peeking through the blinds and the birds chirping outside. After yesterday’s full day, you may want a slower pace today. Request a pot of coffee and some orange juice to be sent to your room while you are preparing for the day.
If you are ambitious this morning, you can take in another one or two winery tours or wine tastings before lunch.
There are number of fabulous picnic sites around the Napa Valley and the Meadowood staff can suggest their favorites, which may include Rutherford Hill Winery or Robert Louis Stevenson State Park just outside of Calistoga (from which you can see the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day). You can have the resort pack you a picnic basket or you can chose your own favorites at the Oakville Grocery in Oakville, which was founded in 1881 and has an amazing selection of gourmet foods and wines perfect for picnicking. Also, if you get to Oakville Grocery early and are hungry, they serve outstanding Breakfast Burritos.
Oakville Grocery // 7856 St. Helena Hwy, Oakville// Website
In the afternoon, if you are feeling energetic, borrow one of the bikes from the resort and ride along the scenic Silverado Trail or take a short ride into the town of St. Helena to do some window shopping. If you are feeling less ambitious, grab a book and relax by the pool or arrange for a massage at the Meadowood Spa for a truly decadent afternoon.
Tonight's dinner will be at the most celebrated restaurant in Napa Valley, The French Laundry. Thomas Keller has been running The French Laundry since 1994 and it is regarded as the “must-visit” restaurant in Northern California. The restaurant is housed in a rustic two-story stone cottage (which was originally a saloon built in 1900 but, during the 1920s, was operated as a French steam laundry). They offer two 9-course tasting menus each night -- a chef’s tasting menu and a vegetarian tasting menu. The dishes are seasonal and have a French influence and no single ingredient is repeated in any courses. One of Keller’s signature dishes, which, for good reason, is never taken off the menu at The French Laundry (as is also always on the menu at his New York sister restaurant, Per Se), is “Oysters and Pearls”, a warm “sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar. Absolutely delicious! Dining at The French Laundry is a truly memorable experience and is a wonderful way to cap the ultimate romantic weekend in the Napa Valley.
The French Laundry // 6640 Washington St., Yountville // Website
As you enjoy a final after-dinner glass of wine on the patio of The French Laundry, you can reflect back on the beauty of the Napa Valley, the magnificent accommodations, the fabulous food and wine you enjoyed and the wonderful people you met over the course of the last couple of days, all of which made for the Ultimate Napa Valley Weekend Getaway.
Additional Restaurants to Consider
Acacia House. Located in the newly opened Las Alcobas Hotel in St. Helena, this 50-seat restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, together with a mid-afternoon and late-night menu. Chef Chris Cosentino’s concept is to design dishes that are influenced by bold rustic cooking. The cocktails are inventive (we especially loved the Las Alcobas margarita with a salt foam on top) and the wine list highlights local producers. Acacia House // 1915 Main Street, St. Helena // Website
Archetype. Located in St. Helena, Archetype has a distinctive Wine Country feel to it – an airy dining room with large family-style tables, vaulted-ceilings, and an open kitchen featuring wood-burning grills and ovens. Ryder Zetts’ Americana menu highlights local seasonal ingredients and you will see the influence of the open fire in almost every dish. In addition, the wine list has a well curated selection of reasonably priced regional wines. Archetype // 1429 Main St., St. Helena // Website
Cook. Located in St. Helena, Cook is a fabulous casual option for lunch or dinner. Cook specializes in simple but refined Northern Italian cuisine and is somewhat of an "insider’s" secret spot. The restaurant serves delicious food and is often filled with local winemakers enjoying a beer or small bites after a day at the wineries. Cook // 1310 Main St., St. Helena // Website
Ad Hoc. If you are looking for something more casual than The French Laundry but want to experience Thomas Keller's cooking, head to Ad Hoc, which is just down the block. Ad Hoc serves “comfort food” family style as a single 4-course meal that is created by the chefs each day based upon the best ingredients that are available. Ad Hoc // 6476 Washington St., Yountville // Website
The Grill at Meadowood. A more casual option to the Restaurant at Meadowood is The Grill, which offers an a la carte menu of elegant dishes that highlight regional ingredients. It also offers an award-winning wine list. The Grill // 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena // Website
Redd Wood. A more casual option to Redd is their sister restaurant, Redd Wood, which features wood-fired pizzas, house-made pastas and in-house charcuterie. Redd Wood // 6755 Washington St., Yountville // Website
Worthy of a Side Trip to Sonoma
Single Thread. Located in the town of Healdsburg in the Sonoma Valley, Single Thread is an extraordinary farm-to-table restaurant. This 52-seat fine dining restaurant offers three 11- course menus – vegetarian, seafood and meat – which are inspired, in part, by the chef’s experience in Kyoto and the traditional multicourse Japanese dinner known as kaiseki. Since its opening, Single Thread has frequently been cited as one of the best new restaurants in America and for good reason. Every single aspect of the dining experience has been carefully studied, dissected and reimagined by Kyle to create a dining experience that approaches perfection. For a full discussion, see our Spotlight – Best New Restaurants in Northern California’s Wine Country. Single Thread // 131 North St., Healdsburg // website
The town of Napa is the southernmost town that comprises the Napa Valley. Heading north are the towns of Yountville, Rutherford, Oakville, St. Helena and Calistoga, all worth visiting. There are two main roads that run up the Valley – Highway 29 (which runs along the west side of the Valley through each of these small towns but is often snarled with tourist traffic) and the majestic Silverado Trail that gently winds along the east side of the Valley. The Silverado Trail is always the better choice – generally free of traffic and it is one of the most beautiful roads in California.
For this ultimate weekend getaway, it is hard to beat the open air of a convertible for the scenic drive from San Francisco to the Napa Valley (80 miles, about 2 hours) and Napa Valley’s gently winding roads. If you are arriving at San Francisco Airport, you can rent a sporty convertible from Hertz’s Dream Car Collection.