Friday 22nd May
Memorial Weekend and today we moved up to the Napa Valley and the town of Calistoga. Taking the I-101 north we turned off at Santa Rosa onto the California 12, branching off to the north and entering Calistoga via the Petrified Forest Road. The weather improved as we approached the Valley and we pulled off the road to stay for a while, have a cup of tea, admire the lovely countryside and walk out in the sunshine. The securing strap attached to one of the car tyres on the trailer had come off so the first job upon stopping was to replace and secure the strap. Back on the road we headed into town and the Calistoga RV Park which is next to the Napa County Fairground. The park is in a quiet suburb of the town with views of Mount St Helena and is just a short walk into downtown. Next to the park is a golf course and nearby is a community swimming pool and nice dog park for Sandy. After we had set up camp we went for a walk along part of the Oat Hill Mine Trail which is just in the hills at the back of town. Opened in the 1870's the mine along this trail extracted ore to produce quicksilver and didn't close until the 1960's. The trail started to climb immediately we left the roadside and was rough and rocky in parts. The views of the valley started to appear as we continued along and we let Sandy off the leash for a run but needed to be watchful because there was a warning about poison oak being found along the trail. Coming down from the trail we continued our walk into town for a late lunch.
Calistoga is a small town situated in the upper Napa Valley and is famous for its geothermal hot springs and of course wine. Since the 1860's the town has been a spa resort and there are still lots of small hotels around the town offering mineral treatments and mud baths. The place has a very relaxed atmosphere and is reminiscent of an old west mining town. There are lots of wine tasting houses in the main area of town where you can sample the regions produce. Nice small restaurant with outside terraces serving good wine country cuisine, small boutiques and art galleries some with truly unique pieces. We chose the Calistoga Kitchen for our lunch and sat outside in there shady seating area.
For the rest of the afternoon we relaxed back at the camp before walking back into town for dinner at the Pacifica Mexican Restaurant where we were entertained by a seven piece Mariachi Band.
Saturday 23rd May
Chris and I went into town this morning to look at the shops and have coffee. It's really nice being able to walk everywhere. The first shop we went into we got chatting to the lady serving and it turned out that she used to teach at the American International School in St Johns Wood, London, back in the 60's. There was a small farmers market opposite City Hall selling all sorts of food and goods, cherries seem to be the fruit of the moment. We had enjoyed ourselves visiting all the boutiques and art gallery shops and decided it was time to have coffee at Yo El Rey cafe. On the way back we met up with Tony and Dave making there way in so we turned around and headed back into town for lunch. Today we tried the Calistoga Inn and Brewery. It was busy being a holiday Saturday lunchtime but we managed to get a table on the outside patio and noticed a lot of people had their dogs with them, Calistoga is a very dog friendly town. Chris and I had crab cakes and cheesy garlic fries for lunch - delicious. On the way back through town we went into the Visitor Centre for information on the local wineries. We asked about taking Sandy going into places and the helpful lady we spoke to gave us a list of of restaurants, attractions, Wineries, etc where the dog is welcome. Then if all else fails there is Calistoga Doggie Day Care. Spent the afternoon back at camp relaxing in the sunshine. BBQ Steak for dinner cooked by Chef Tony.
Larry and Holley our next door neighbours came around for a chat. They live in Concord which is in the San Francisco Bay Area and have travelled the US and Canada extensively. We had a really lovely evening talking with them and getting their tips on the best places to travel, plus travel books on Oregon and Canada.
Sunday 24th May
A nice sunny day and we stayed around camp relaxing all day and had a chicken BBQ lunch. In the evening we went back into town to Pacifico as this is Chris and David's last night and they want to get one more good Mexican meal in before going home. We all had the Nachos again to start, they really are good with the best and juiciest jalapeños ever.
Monday 25th May
The sad day has arrived after three weeks with us Chris and Dave go home today - Los Angeles and Malibu Beach seem a long time ago already. We went into town to find breakfast Chris wanted Hash Browns before going home. As it was Memorial Monday many of the restaurants were closed, therefore the one place open had a queue. We decided to head off and get breakfast on the way to San Francisco Airport. We made our way south on the I-101 and stopped at Denny's in Petaluma for breakfast. Between us we had the works, eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, pancakes, french toast and maple syrup, plus copious amounts of coffee. Denny's never fail to please, after all they have been doing it for about fifty years. As we approached San Francisco, the top of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz were shrouded in cloud and mist. Our route took us through the city around the southside of the bay to the airport. We said a very sad and teary goodbye to Chris and Dave at the check in area and wished them bon voyage for their ten hour journey back to the UK.
On our return to Calistoga we took a different route. Going past the Bayview and Mission districts of San Francisco we took highway 80 across the Bay Bridge. We followed the bay around past Berkeley and north past San Pablo over the Carquinez Bridge picking up the California 29 and leaving the Bay area behind. The sun had now come out and as we approached Napa the vineyards started to appear either side of the road. The road follows the Napa Valley train line and the Wine Train, that operates as restaurant, passed us along the way. We passed by the towns of Napa and Yountville and went through St Helena that had the look of a pretty english market town at first sight. There are many wine estates along the road, some with buildings that looked like French chateaus or Tuscan castles. With the back drop of wooded hills, striking estate buildings and rich green vine filled valleys the area had a European look and is very picturesque. About seven miles on from St Helena we reached Calistoga, the valley is about thirty miles long and is a lovely drive. Later in the evening we went into Calistoga and had pasta at Checkers Restaurant.
Tuesday 26th May
Catch up on the chores day today. Stayed around camp in the morning then went into Calistoga for food shopping and to use the laundry.
Wednesday 27th May
Took Sandy for her walk to the dog park. There seems to be a pattern to the weather, dull with low cloud over hills until about 1030 then the sun comes out for the day. We went south on the 29 about four miles out of town to the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Here they have trails through Redwood, Douglas Fir and Maple tree forest but when we got to the entrance the Ranger informed us dogs were not allowed on the trails, what a shame. We left and made our way into St Helena for a look around the shops and there are some pretty plush shops, some beautifully presented with chandeliers over the lights and unusual goods for sale. On the way back we called in at Castello Di Amorosa to check on the times of their winery tours for the next day and if the dog can come along.
We also went to Chateau Montelena Winery which is just the other side of Calistoga. The stone Chateau building is carved into the hillside overlooking a Chinese garden and lake, the vineyards beyond stretch to the base of Mt. St. Helena. I dropped Tony in town to buy something for evening meal and test the beer out at the Hydro Bar whilst I drove Sandy back to camp.
Thursday 28th May
Spent most of the day at Castello Di Amorosa, just 3 miles out of town in the valley along the 29. This winery is a replica of a medieval Tuscan castle, complete with drawbridge and moat and is indeed a magnificent place. The owner Dario Sattui is a vintner who has a deep interest in medieval architecture. His ancestors came from Italy in the 19th century and started producing wine and he is carrying on the tradition. From inception it took thirty years to get the castle built and every brick, stone, door and nail is either an imported antique or has been hand made as it would have been in the 12th-14th century. Peacocks and chickens were running around the grounds and there was an enclosure with a couple of very large pigs. Walking in the vineyards we came across an artist painting the castle and the vineyards, showing some of the poppies that were growing in between the vines.
We had a guided tour with our guide Tim who told us all about the building and explained the process of making wine. Our first stop was the chapel where Tim explained the background to why and how the castle was built. From there we moved to the courtyard where the walls represent the evolution of a castle over time between the 10th and 15th centuries. In good times the bricks are of a similar size and laid in a pattern. When there has been a period of war and buildings destroyed the bricks are fragments of the destroyed building used again to rebuild making for an interesting finish. There was a hand made wine press in one corner made in the 16th century and found in rural Italy, very rare and found in good condition. We walked along the loggia down one side of the courtyard, past the well and the outdoor oven to the the Great Hall. The entrance door was made of Italian oak with a lattice of steel attached with 2000 hand made nails. The metal work in the castle is hand made by two Umbrian blacksmiths. The walls are covered in hand painted frescos, there is a long wooden table and the fire surround was made in the 1400's. The room is very impressive and can be hired for private functions.
We then went out of the building to the business end of the wine making process where the harvests are brought in and the grapes put in metal vats for fermentation. There are pipes from the vats that transport the wine to barrels in the cellars. We made our way to the Grand Barrel Room located three floors below ground. The vaulted ceiling is made from brick hundreds of years old and imported from Europe. Here the wine is left to age and the temperature and humidity is closely controlled. We tasted a Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from the barrel that was 15 months away from finishing the ageing process. Tim guided us through the correct way to test the wine, with lots of swirling in between tastes. The first taste was of the oak barrel, acidity and the tannin. By the last taste the fruit was really coming through, it is just remarkable how much the first taste differs from the last taste.
From here we went through a maze of cellar corridors to the armoury where there were suits of armour, chainmail and weapons dating back hundreds of years. Next was the torture chamber complete with an original Iron Maiden, nothing has been spared to make this an authentic European castle.
Lastly we entered the tasting room where we all sat down at a long bar and chose five wines we would like to taste. My choice was two dry white wines, a Rose and two sweet wines. Tony picked five red wines to try. Tim dispensed the wines and advised which foods they would best suit. Although I liked a Pinot Bianco that I had tried the winner for me was the late harvest Gewürztraminer sweet dessert wine. Tim advised that this teamed well with Creme Brûlée or biscotti, he then produced a few squares of sea salt chocolate to try which went with it perfectly, I was sold. Tony decided on a Zingaro - Old Vine Zinfandel.