Things are Afoot in Yountville

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villagio.jpgBy Robert Farmer

One of the best things about Yountville - the little berg that could in the heart of California Wine Country - is that is wonderfully self-contained. One might argue that the best thing about it is that it is home to French Laundry, the vaunted and impossible-to-get-into restaurant helmed by Thomas Keller. While that's certainly a big draw, the truly beautiful thing about Yountville, all two miles wide of it, is that indeed it is so compact that it is one of the few destinations of its caliber that can be easily accessed entirely by foot.

I've expounded on this site before about the phenomenon of the abundance of top-notch culinary attractions available to the intrepid Yountville visitor. But it's worth noting again because even in spite of the gravity created by this small galaxy, things are about to shine even brighter.

It was announced recently to surprisingly little fanfare that Yountville would soon up its own ante with a master plan to add to the town a pallet of new hotels, spas, and of course restaurants--effectively jamming even more into its already packed four square-mile radius.

Indeed one of the conundrums to overcome when planning a visit to Yountville (if those plans call for staying in Yountville--which is sort of a prerequisite to taking advantage of the walkability) is where to stay. Beyond making the selection from among the handful of excellent choices, one must also manage actually to get in. Reservations can be hard to come by--especially in peak season--and can therefore require well-in-advance booking.

That may be at least somewhat alleviated with the planned addition of two new hotels slated to debut in 2009. The first is a new luxury boutique-style inn called Bardessono Inn and Spa, a 62-room environmentally conscious property set on six vineyard-planted acres. The new inn will feature large guestrooms (some as big as 1200 square feet), as well as a 2,000 square foot spa and an intimate fine-dining restaurant.

Bardessono will have company in the new Hotel Luca, a 20-room luxury hotel operated by L'Auberge Carmel folks. The Hotel Luca will enjoy a prime location directly on Washington Street (Yountville's main thoroughfare) and is planned to open by fall of 2009. The Luca will of course feature a restaurant--announced as a contemporary style 90-seat eatery offering regional Italian fare.

Meanwhile, in effort to keep up with the Joneses, naturally, Yountville mainstays are busily brushing up and polishing off. The venerable Yountville Inn announced that it would add 32 rooms to its existing 51-room inventory and refurbish its overall property. And recently the Villagio Inn & Spa unveiled a new13,000-squar-foot Mediterranean-style spa--now among the largest spas in Napa Valley, including 16 treatment rooms and five spa suites making ideal for things like bridal parties.

Now that it might be a little easier to find a place to stay, what about somewhere to eat? Presuming French Laundry is out or you've been there done that, how about some additional culinary star power in the form of Food Network regular Michael Chiarello. The celeb chef will debut a signature restaurant this fall, thereby notching up the competition for Michelin stars in a town that already boasts a grand total of six (!). Chiarello's new 150-seat restaurant will be situated in the historic1870s-era brick structure that houses V Marketplace, and will feature his beloved Southern Italian specialties.

What's the catch, you may ask? Certainly a car is required at some point, especially if wine tasting is part of the agenda--and this being Napa, wine tasting is most certainly a big part. Not so, as it happens. Yountville has that covered as well; enjoying a location within a four-mile radius of more than 24 wineries, representing some of the top varietals Napa Valley has to offer. And if that isn't enough, Yountville will also welcome two new tasting rooms in the next year--one each from Blackbird Vineyards and Girard Winery.

Thrown into this evolving mix for good measure are also a collection of new retail establishments and upgrades to the current assortment of shops and eateries. In a region full of temptations for the traveler's dollar, Yountville has stepped up the pace. Lucky for all of us, that pace is an easy stroll.

For more info, visit www.yountville.com.

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