SAINT HELENA, CA. — Visiting the Napa Valley just weeks after the October 2017 wildfires, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The news stories and footage still haunt me. People lost their lives. Wineries and homes had burned to the ground.
To my surprise, and relief, the damage in Napa was not as extensive as I’d imagined (Sonoma was more heavily impacted, I learned). In the distance, some of the rolling hills appeared mysteriously dark, but had I not asked for what to look for, it’s possible I wouldn’t have even noticed. It was, I confirmed, the forested hillsides that were mostly impacted here. Of the more than 1,200 wineries in the Northern California region, fewer than 10 were heavily damaged.
Locals were pretty quiet about the fires, instead, they were focused on rebuilding and moving forward. Fundraising events and the occasional T-shirt spotted on a local declare “Napa Strong” and the mood reflects this in a quiet resilient way.
While I initially felt a bit uncomfortable coming to have fun and explore after such a tragedy, once there it hit home that the best way you can help a region whose economy relies on tourism is to travel there. And with that, while respecting the impact the fires had on the area, we set forth to make the most of the still beautiful valley in Northern California.
Above: You can ride through the vineyards of Napa Valley and then enjoy a stretch out at a yoga class at a vineyard.
Our focus while here: to explore the health and wellness opportunities the Napa Valley has to offer. Not only the resveratrol of red wine offerings (although we did enjoy several wine tastings) but rather indulging in the recent trend of taking an active vacation. According to research conducted by Hotels.com, 80 per cent of 18 to 35 year olds consider keeping fit one of the most important parts of their holiday experience. Baby boomers do as well, with 66 per cent mentioning fitness as key. I definitely see the appeal. Mix in just the level of fitness you’re comfortable with and it’ll help you counterbalance the indulgent eating and sipping you have in store.
As for what Napa has to offer? Here’s our guide to making your Valley vacay a fit and fun getaway:
Pedal, pedal, taste
Taste the Valley’s riches in the most enjoyable way to take in all of the sights: on two wheels. Consider, after all, that you’re breathing in the fresh air while working off at least a few sips of wine if you do a wine tasting tour with Napa Valley Bike Tours. We opted for their cruiser bikes (choosing to make it less of a serious cycling workout and more of a stroll on two wheels). With mostly quiet country roads and busier streets with wide shoulders, even non-frequent cyclists will feel at ease. Our pedal-powered tour took us from Yountville to Saint Helena where we completed our tour with a wine tasting at Rutherford Ranch Winery and a picnic lunch from Yountville Deli highlighted by a savoury garlic dip — it is well worth the garlic breath.
If you prefer to go wine tasting with your rental car, designate a driver, of course, and make sure you include Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga. Its iconic white building with towers featuring bells salvaged from St. Dunstan’s Church in East London stands out amongst the greenery of the hills. Once you arrive, hop onto the aerial tram, which will carry you up to the winery. And even though you’ve been immersed in your surroundings, the view of Napa from their patio will stun you. Once you catch your breath, indulge in a tasting and definitely opt for the cheese pairings because it will make everything your wine expert shares about the wines make perfect sense.
Left: Writer Karen Kwan gets into the spirit of a Napa holiday.
Soak away your stress
After your tasting, since you’re already in in Calistoga, taking part in the mud baths is something everyone should at least try once — Suits fans will recognize it as the mudding treatments Louis Litt is so fond of. At Calistoga Spa Hot Springs, you immerse yourself into thick, warm volcanic ash mud, followed by a mineral bath and a stint in the eucalyptus steam room, finishing off with some quiet time on a bed as your body temperature returns to normal. While I’m skeptical of the toxins being drawn from my body, I must admit my skin did feel baby soft afterwards..
Stretch & strengthen in the California sunshine
That California good-feel vibe has a way of inspiring one to want to do yoga. And for those not feeling it, perhaps combining one’s savasana with sipping wine will win you over. The beautiful fields of grapes and the glow of sunshine makes for an idyllic setting for a yoga practice. Wineries host yoga and wine events throughout the summer; a little online research will help you find a place to practice. After the five-hour flight to California, I welcomed the private session of yoga inside the beautiful wine cave at Trinitas Cellars.
Make it leg day
As much as I love a good Pinot, I know I can’t spend an entire trip only examining the legs in my wine glass; keeping my own legs moving boosts my mood just as much. Besides cycling on a winery tour, you could just put on your sneakers to explore the Valley by either running or hiking.
Settle in for R&R
Rest and recovery is a key part of any active getaway so choose where you’ll catch your zzzs wisely. Checking into the Meritage Resort & Spa, I can tell right away it’s a place where you could kick back and stay for your entire visit in Napa. There’s the grapevine fields to stroll, a Trinitas Winery tasting room, a luxurious outdoor pool, Spa Terra (you’ll need a massage if you’ve been going full-out with your fitness here, after all), a Tuscan-inspired restaurant, Siena, and a charming bowling alley to show off your bowling skills.