A European Vacation (without the European Price Tag)

Last week, I went on the best vacation I’ve had in years. I spent four days and five nights ignoring emails, voicemail, and all work-related thoughts. I stayed in a beautiful French Country-style Inn, slept in a plush king-sized bed in a room with a fireplace and terrace, enjoyed luxurious spa treatments and Swiss-style showers, ate ridiculously good Italian and French food, and drove through the countryside visiting gorgeous vineyards and drinking the delicious product of local winemakers. 


No, I didn’t just win the lottery. 


I also didn’t take a long and pricey trans-Atlantic flight to Provence or Tuscany, or stay with close personal friends who own a Chateaux (none of my friends own a Chateaux, sadly). I simply planned and saved, then took myself on a blissful trip to the Napa Valley – right here in the USA. Why blog about it? Because I’m always writing here about Holidays and Celebrations, and I want to encourage my readers to actually take a holiday and celebrate something. I’m always asking friends about their travels – where they stayed, what they ate – so that when I finally take a trip to that place, I’ll be in the know. So here you go…


It all started because a friend of mine was getting married in California (more on her gorgeous, fuss-free wedding in a later post!). I rarely get out to California, so I thought – why not make a trip out of this? I had always wanted to visit the Napa Valley, and the Boyfriend was game for the trip. We were already buying the plane tickets to get out there for the wedding, so figured half the battle was won. 


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For me the biggest thing (after deciding where to go) in planning a vacation is picking the place to stay. I had gotten plenty of recommendations and read dozens of articles in travel mags about great places to stay in Napa. I was overwhelmed with options. I contemplated the idea of trying a few different places – for variety’s sake – then realized there would be nothing relaxing about checking into a new hotel every other day (all the unpacking and re-packing!) – especially after a day of wine tasting! 


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The best plan, I realized, is to choose one hotel that makes you feel right at home – totally relaxed and settled in about 5 minutes – and stay in that one place for your entire trip – so you can spend all your vacation time enjoying the surrounding area and all it has to offer. 


Boy did we strike gold when I happened upon the Vintage Inn. I heard about it from my Aunt Nancy – the kind of woman who always seems to know about these tucked-away places that turn out to be absolute gems – when I told her I was planning a trip to the Napa Valley.


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As part of the Vintage Estate (which includes the Villagio Inn & Spa, pictured above, among other things), the Vintage Inn is tucked away in the quiet, tiny town of Yountville (just one mile long), in the Napa Valley but far enough away from the tourist-heavy bustle of downtown Napa for it to really feel like an escape. 


Yountville is known mostly for its restaurant scene – some call it a “culinary mecca”; Thomas Keller and Michael Chiarello are two well-known chefs with quite the presence there. Leave it to me to choose a hotel based on proximity to delicious food! It turned out to be the best decision we could have made.  It was the most charming town – very much a “walking town” – and felt so manageable. Within an hour we knew our way around. We were also just a few miles from hundreds of wineries and vineyards – including some of the best in the world – and boy did we taste them! All in all, the location was just perfect. 


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As I said before, for me, it’s all about feeling at home, even when you’re away. For the five nights we stayed at the Vintage Inn, we were beyond comfortable and relaxed, supplied with every amenity we could have imagined, and treated with a warmth and hospitality that never seemed forced, and always made us feel right at home. Best of all? It was totally affordable. To have this level of luxury at such do-able prices was both a surprise and delight. 


They have rooms and suites of varying sizes (priced accordingly), and each room has the exact same luxurious amenities – jacuzzi tub, fireplace, outdoor terrace – and booking any one allows you access to the amazing facilities on the Vintage Estate – including 24 hour outdoor heated pools and hot tubs, a Champagne buffet breakfast (with an Omelette Station – yum!), and the Villagio Spa (more on that later). Many hotels and resorts I’ve seen charge extra day-rates for guest to use all the “add ons” or only offer fireplaces, terraces, etc in the priciest of rooms. The democracy of luxury at the Vintage Inn is unlike anything I’ve seen. The staff is friendly and helpful, and there’s always someone there to answer your questions. 


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When I wasn’t spending time wandering around the Villagio Spa Women’s lounge, wishing I could just move in there for good (again, more on that later), I was thoroughly enjoying our comfortable and spacious room (like the one pictured above). The bed was like sleeping in a cloud and the fireplace and patio made us feel like we had our own little villa tucked away in the romantic French countryside. The grounds of the Inn are beautiful – perfectly manicured landscaping and bubbling fountains everywhere. Everything is done with exquisite taste and feels almost effortless. It really is like staying at some luxurious European resort – with the added convenience that everyone speaks English. 


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The Champagne breakfast – served in the lobby (pictured above) or out in the garden – is a really fun way to start the day as well – mimosas anyone? Complimentary with your stay, the spread is quite impressive, and all so very fresh. I had figs poached in wine, beet and watermelon salad, omelette made to my specifications, piping hot lattes at the coffee bar – and a cup of oatmeal with fruit on the mornings I was still too stuffed (from dinner the night before) to handle the full spread. There is really something for everyone – the Boyfriend was beside himself trying to choose from the bounty each morning. They even served bread pudding at breakfast. Now that's my kind of vacation. 

When you’ve been eating and drinking the way one does when vacationing in Napa, a little exercise is in order. Enter the Pilates Studio at the Villagio. An incredibly friendly (and unbelievably fit) instructor, Heidi Strong (yes, Strong is the Pilates instructor's last name – too good to have made that up), led me in an hour-long series of movements on the Pilates reformer in a studio right on the property that is filled with natural sunlight. I was pretty sore the next day – an indication that Heidi is very good at her job. They’ve got classes nearly every morning, attended by a mix of hotel guests and locals from the Valley. Don’t worry – the hot tubs in the spa just below are open to hotel guests, so you can go down and soak your hard-working muscles straight away. Or you could just spend the day relaxing by the pool (pictured below) and ordering food and wine from the comfort of your lounge chair! 


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There are a dozen other reasons to love the Vintage Estate. A quick tour of the grounds made it quite clear to me that this would be the perfect place to host a wedding or other large, very fun party. They’ve got an old “Barrel Room” where you can set up a banquet dinner, an on-site wine cellar, a picturesque Pavilion with gardens where you can hold ceremonies and tented receptions, plus an on-site catering division that will handle all the food. You could even host a “girls’ get pampered day” with all your bridesmaids at the spa – they have special suites for these occasions! The V Marketplace has fun shops and art galleries for guests to peruse during down time, and there are plenty of blocks of rooms at both the Villagio Inn and the Vintage Inn that everyone could stay in one place if they so chose. 


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All in all, the Vintage Inn was the perfect place for a romantic getaway, and probably the best place we could have landed in all of Napa Valley. The grounds are laid out in such a way that, at times, you feel like you’ve got the place all to yourselves. I’m also dreaming of going back some day with a group of girlfriends – it would be the perfect hideaway for an “escape from the boys” trip – drinking wine and relaxing at the spa, then walking to a delicious restaurant each night for dinner. 


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Okay – enough for now. I just had to share a little bit about the magic of this place, in the hopes that one day, when you’re planning your own trip to Napa, you’ll discover its charm for yourself, and save yourself the hassle of agonizing over where to stay. I certainly know where I’ll be staying on my next trip to Napa – and I’m hoping it comes sooner than later! 


And if you’re headed to Napa anytime in December through February, be sure to check out the “Moveable Feast” value program at Yountville.com. the Vintage Inn is participating, as are all the great restaurants in Yountville. There are deals to be had when you travel in the off-season – so don’t miss them! 


Going to Napa anytime soon? Stay tuned! I’ll be sharing some other fun recommendations here – including my favorite spa treatments, restaurants, and vineyards in the area. 

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