Spring Freeing

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By Deirdre Bourdet

Spring is in the air... and so is romance.  Now that Valentine's Day is over and done with (to everyone's great relief), we can all turn to romantic pursuits with a lot less pressure and a whole lot more enthusiasm.  A weekend escape to the natural beauty of wine country offers fresh air, fresh perspective, and perhaps a fresh start.  And despite what you may have heard, it doesn't cost a fortune to enjoy the area's greatest assets.  Some of the most staggeringly gorgeous experiences are 100% free to those willing to take them.  Here are some of the more visually stimulating activities to enjoy.
By car.  Two of my all-time favorite drives are in wine country.  The curvy section of Highway 121 between the intersections with Highways 116 and 29 connects the Sonoma and Napa valleys, and is, quite frankly, one of the most striking stretches of road to be seen.  So striking in fact, that Microsoft used one of the hills as one of its most famous desktop wallpapers.  Insanely green hills, geometric lines of vines in the lastest seasonal colors, and the scent of true country if you dare to open the windows... toll-free.  My other most favorite drive is the Silverado Trail between Napa city and Calistoga--a half-hour stretch of sometimes winding road, with some of the finest cabernet sauvignon vineyards in the world, and some of the finest vistas of the valley floor.  No crowds, no waiting, and open all year round.  Words simply cannot do it justice.

By foot.  Few non-locals know of the Westwood Hills trail, and many of the locals would probably like to keep it that way.  Just west of the First Street exit from Highway 29, you will find yourself on Browns Valley Road, the main westward artery of Napa city.  A few short minutes after the exit, you'll find yourself heading in an ever-so-rural direction.  The parking lot on your left before the Connolly Ranch and Thompson Avenue is where you want to turn.  Trails run past huge brontosaurus-like trees and up the hill onto an amazing panoramic vista... complete with spectator bench.  The vista is not really of vines, or country, but of the real wine country community.  It gives you perspective on the people who actually live in this corner of the world, and gives you some time and distance to reflect on whatever you need or want.

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