Top Ten Must-Sees On a Maiden Napa Voyage

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by Courtney Cochran

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For most wine fans, a first trip to Napa kindles the kind of giddy excitement most kids feel on a first visit to Disneyland. And while the pursuits in this storied wine region are of a decidedly adult nature, they've been known to inspire the kind of sheer enjoyment that's nothing short of ageless. Read on for the lowdown on the top spots and activities we think any first timer should experience on a maiden voyage to Napa.

We've even included a fairy tale castle for good measure.

Ground Zero, Napa Style

f there's a single spot that can legitimately claim to be the seat of Napa's 20th Century rise to global wine fame, it's Robert Mondavi Winery (robertmondaviwinery.com ) in Oakville. Founded in 1966, the striking Mission-style structure recalls early California architecture and offers a full slate of tours, concerts and tastings throughout the year. Call ahead for guided tastings and tours, and also for large groups.

Latte Luxury

A trip to Napa wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Oakville Grocery (oakvillegrocery.com ), situated just south of Mondavi at the Oakville Crossroad on Highway 29. Drop into this exceedingly cute country store for a latte and a copy of the New York Times before tasting in the morning, or pick up a selection of artisan cheeses and a gourmet boxed lunch for an unforgettable midday picnic.

Mansion, Ho!

Beringer Vineyards' (beringer.com ) historic Rhine House - with its dramatic Victorian façade, elaborate gardens, breathtaking stained-glass windows and extensive interior wood paneling - is a must-see for both wine and architecture buffs. Guests are encouraged to explore portions of the 17-room mansion between pours in the winery's tasting room, located on the ground floor.

Perfect Perch

Grab a gourmet bite between winery visits at the luxe Auberge du Soleil, a wonderfully well-appointed Relais & Châteaux inn built on terraces in the hills east of Rutherford. Visitors in the know enjoy the spot's award-winning cuisine and international wine list from the patio, which overlooks the Valley floor below and the inn's lush grounds dotted with Mediterranean-style bungalows, a large pool and meandering olive trees.

Italian Renaissance

The 107-room, 121,000 square-foot Castello di Amorosa (castellodiamorosa.com ) in northerly Calistoga took 12 years and an estimated $30 million to build. Fashioned after a medieval Tuscan castle, the wow-worthy spot boasts four levels, including a dungeon with authentic torture equipment purchased in Italy. A tour and tasting takes approximately an hour and a half, and visitors are accepted by appointment only.

Napa, Circa Now

Completed in 2001, COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts (copia.org ) is a must-see for visitors looking to explore Napa's bounty in a sleek modern facility. Located in downtown Napa, the $70 million 80,000 square-foot facility offers interactive multi-media exhibits about food and wine, cooking demonstrations, wine tasting classes, a rotating roster of exhibitions and the much-hyped Julia's Kitchen at COPIA restaurant.

Bubbly Basics

Every Napa trip should include a stop at one of the Valley's several outstanding sparkling wine producers, whose unique wines demonstrate Napa's renowned vinous diversity. At Domaine Chandon (chandon.com) in Yountville, the dramatic foliage-draped archway outside is a fitting prelude to the spot's lauded Champagne-style sparkling wines, while the table service at Mumm Napa (mummnapa.com) is a hospitality high note on any visit.

Tee Time

An avid golfer's visit to Napa wouldn't be complete without playing a round on one of the two, award-winning 18-hole courses at Silverado Resort (silveradoresort.com). Situated on 1,200 acres of rolling hills in the southern part of the Valley, Silverado also comprises tennis courts, a spa, a restaurant and a lounge in its postcard-perfect 1870s manor house - affording plenty of activity options for non-golfing companions.

Alfresco Agenda
Weather permitting, a picnic is the perfect way to celebrate Napa's stunning natural beauty. Travelers looking for a low-fuss lunch will find everything they need - including food, wine, outdoor seating and eats from nearby Dean & Deluca - at Flora Springs Winery (florasprings.com) in St. Helena, while those who pack their own provisions may prefer to dine at Rutherford Hill Winery (rutherfordhill.com), which boasts extensive grounds with sweeping valley views.
Panorama Extravaganza
Visitors to Sterling Vineyards' (sterlingvineyards.com) spectacular Mediterranean-style winery in Calistoga get there via aerial tram, which offers jaw-dropping vistas of the Valley. The $15 ride is one of the most talked-about excursions in Napa, and culminates in a tasting in the winery's panoramic tasting room. Self-guided tours are also available, and a special Reserve tour and tasting is offered daily by appointment at 11am.

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