For nonstop hedonism, hit the gourmet mile in the heart of Napa Valley.
The Napa Valley village of Yountville, Calif., has a handful of pricey shops, two outfits offering hot-air balloon rides, and some lovely wineries. But make no mistake: The real reason to visit this bucolic mile-long town is to eat.
In 1836 North Carolina fur trader George Yount settled in the southern end of the valley and gave the town its name. In 1994 brilliant New York chef Thomas Keller bought a low-key Yountville restaurant and gave the town its identity. Under Keller, the French Laundry became world-renowned for its smoked salmon cornets and the shocking difficulty of reserving one of its 17 tables.
Yes, the French Laundry is that good. But it is just one of several superb restaurants in this little town. Consider the alternatives: If you absolutely must worship at the altar of Keller, you can often walk right into his airy Bouchon, which serves bistro standards like steak frites. Philippe Jeanty's Bistro Jeanty dishes up French country fare, such as coq au vin and cassoulet, while his new spot, Père Jeanty, features specials like fig and prosciutto pizza. Domaine Chandon, set in the hills west of town and celebrated for its sparkling wines, also offers inventive seasonal dishes such as salade niçoise sashimi.
The Napa Valley Museum features installations on local history, from displays of early Wappo basketry to an interactive exhibit on winemaking. 55 Presidents Circle, (707) 944-0500, www.napavalleymuseum.org.
Between meals Yountville makes an ideal base for winetasting. Some wineries—among them Goosecross Cellars—require appointments, but Cliff Lede Vineyards is open daily for visitors.
To burn some calories, stroll to the chamber of commerce and get a pamphlet for a self-guided walking tour. You’ll wander past Yount’s gravesite and the old railroad depot, which now houses Overland. Here you’ll find an array of leather jackets and beaver ponchos. Or stop by the enticing Antique Fair and pick up a $495 serving dish for asparagus.
The town abounds in hotels and inns. Although breakfast is almost always included in the price of a room, a treat from Keller’s tiny Bouchon Bakery is a must-eat. Highly recommended: the homemade fruit turnovers. Not on your diet? You’re in Yountville: Loosen your belt, pace yourself, and relax.
Photography by Maren Caruso
This article was first published in July 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.