TRAVEL: Spa and food delights in Napa Valley’s Yountville

The Villagio Inn and Spa in Yountville, Napa Valley, is part of the 23-acre Vintage Estates.

When heading to Northern California for fine wine, the busy town of Napa is the first place that comes to mind for a stay in the famous wine country of Napa Valley. However, just a few miles north lies Yountville, a small, peaceful town that remains about the size it was when Mexico gave the land as a grant to George Calvert Yount about 130 years ago. The town, originally named Sebastopol but later changed to Yountville after its founder, is a sleepy, quiet place; perfect for a relaxing getaway to enjoy the finest of food and wine, galleries and shopping.

A stay during the fall at the Villagio Inn and Spa on the 23-acre Vintage Estates (which encompasses the Vintage Inn and the V Marketplace) resulted in a three-day getaway during which my companion and I left the town only once, for wine tasting at the nearby small, private winery.

Everything was practically at our fingertips, from dining and shopping, poolside relaxation and spa treats to walks through vineyards.

It’s hard to leave the Mediterranean-style resort itself. Breakfast brings a sparkling wine buffet with everything from delicious pastries, fruit and made-to-order omelets. For lunch, a delicious endive and date salad, with Manchego in pear vinaigrette, accompanied by a beer (yes, I know, this is wine country, but there was plenty of that to imbibe later) was the perfect way to start an afternoon of exploring.

For complete relaxation, a visit to Spa Villagio is a must. Staff is extremely courteous and helpful. There are separate spa areas for men and women, with an outside whirlpool and lounging area with fireplaces, and inside, a sauna, steam room (with a unique and refreshing lemon juniper scent rather than the standard eucalyptus), lounging area with fireplace, Swiss showers and amenities such as samples of the Villagio’s signature lemon juniper body scrub to take into the shower. In fact, the spa offers the new Scrub Bar-you can choose your own mix of salts, sugars, oat or ground coffee, herbs and scented oils to create your own scrub, and then get a 20-minute body scrub from a therapist ($75, includes scrub to take home).

The Spa Suites are the ultimate way to go for treatments alone, romantic couples or even a get-together with girlfriends. The private rooms have fireplaces, outdoor jetted soaking tubs, steam showers, wet bars, flat-screen televisions and private terraces. After a treatment (the Aromasoul Mediterranean Ritual that includes a body scrub with herbs blended with jojoba oil is a great stress reliever), a light spa lunch can be enjoyed in the room or on the terrace.

A walk through the Villagio’s vine-covered trellises leads to the shopping/dining gallery, V Marketplace 1870, which was originally a winery and distillery built by immigrant Gottleib Groezinger (it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places). Quaint shops, selling everything from clothing and house wares to jewelry and artwork, are located in the main building, as well as Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega restaurant.

Bottega offers the ultimate dining experience. It is a rustic and cozy establishment, with multiple fireplaces, a wine bar and private dining areas. Reservations are recommended, as on a Wednesday evening it was packed.

Bottega’s menu is described as “micro-regional Italian cuisine” and many of the ingredients such as the pastas, cured meats, fresh cheeses and cured olives are made in house. Even the sparkling water is served from the restaurant’s own well. We feasted on such delights as the Polenta Under Glass, served with caramelized wild mushrooms and balsamic game sauce, and the Linguine with Porcini Mushroom Sugo and Parmesan, which is out of this world.

In fact, everything we tasted was fantastic, and our waiter Walt was super knowledgeable (as well as entertaining), describing each dish as well as our wines in detail. Dessert brought the Tiramisu and sponge cake gelato “cocoa puff” served with warm chocolate sauce, paired with Far Niente winery’s 2005 Dolce Late Harvest, a supremely delicious dessert wine.

After all that good food and wine, it was a good thing the Villagio is within walking distance.

For another rich dining experience, Hurley’s restaurant serves a variety of fare that includes roasted chicken, seafood and steak, as well as special menus on occasion. During our visit, we sampled a special game menu that included venison Carpaccio and wild boar. Again, this place was packed, so reservations might be a good idea.

If you want to taste wine without getting in a car, there’s the V Wine Cellar at V Marketplace, as well as others in town. However, a visit to Keever Vineyards is a nice excursion.

Bill and Olga Keever retired from careers in telecommunications and became “farmers.” As Olga said, “There’s more to life than bridge.”

Right now they produce about 1,500 cases of wine per year (and hope to boost it to 2,000 soon). Their first crop produced a cabernet that received a 93 from Wine Spectator magazine. The winery is truly a family-run affair-their son Jason is the cellar master and their daughter Ashley helps with tours. Olga was a wonderful host, and gave us a private and informative tour. Reservations are needed for tours.

The visit to the friendly Keever family is reflective of the Yountville experience and was a perfect way to end our stay in Napa Valley.