Napa Valley. The words conjure up visions of swirling red wine in long-stemmed glasses, rouge-kissed lips sipping on the ambrosia of the gods. Purple plump grapes hang from vines like jewels, and rows of lovingly planted grape varietals like merlot, cabernet, pinot, syrah are all over the valley. Lush green vines twist up the gently undulating hills as the sun sets over the horizon. Napa Valley is an experience, an indulgence for all the senses.
There are more than 400 wineries in Napa. So many to visit, so little time! But it’s not always all about wine tasting. One of the most fun ways to see Napa is to rent a bicycle and bike through vineyards on the Silverado Trail, grapes within hands reach.
September and October are harvest months and one of the best (and busiest) times to visit the wineries. Given the warm 70+ degree weather and the refreshing grape-kissed breeze that flows throughout the valley, who can say no to biking through Stags Leap District along the 16 mile Silverado trail? Not to forget the free workout you are going to get alongside all the wine tasting. The wine will make the miles seem a lot shorter.
And you don’t have to bike the entire trail. There are several places like Napa Valley Bike Tours in Yountville which rent out bikes for the day. Rent one and make your way along the wineries at your own pace through Stags Leap District.
During harvest time the vineyards are laden with grapes. Bright green leaves hide gloriously purple bunches of grapes underneath. This is one of the best times to visit wine country. There is joyous energy in the air. Everybody is excited about the season and looking forward to that year’s crop.
While biking along the Silverado Trail, you can drop in at any of the 40+ wineries including Laird Winery, Clos Du Val, Mumm Napa, Rutherford Hill and many more. Just park your bike, walk in and be refreshed with a wine tasting. Relax on the outdoor patio while admiring the impeccably landscaped grounds before taking off on your bike to the next winery.
Or if you prefer floating instead of biking, there awaits a blissful ride in a hot air balloon above the gorgeous vineyards of Napa and Sonoma. You can watch the sunrise while taking in a bird’s-eye view of the undulating green valleys from a height of more than 2000+ feet. A clear day with no fog or clouds allows you to see as far as Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco downtown and Mt. Tamalpais!
Hot air balloons are not your typical adrenalin-pumping thrill-seeking activity like sky-diving or bungee-jumping. But it’s still an adventure all the same. Starting with an early rise (6am!), watching the balloon being inflated with blasts of hot air from a fire-breathing apparatus, seeing the balloon slowly stand upright, hopping into a basket tied to the balloon, sensing the rise of the basket – slow but steady – as you are gently lifted off the ground.
It is not a yank that you feel at the pit of your stomach, but more of an involuntary gasp which escapes your throat as you see the ground below receding rapidly. Trees soon start looking like romanesco broccoli underneath your feet and before you know it, you’re high up in the sky, floating underneath a bubble of heated air!
Most rides last approximately an hour, and you can opt to get the scrumptious champagne and mimosa breakfast that follows afterward. A thrilling start to your day of wine tasting! There are several companies which offer hot air balloon rides all over Napa and Sonoma. Napa Valley Balloons Inc in Yountville is well regarded and has great reviews.
So, there’s more to Napa Valley than just wine tasting. You can get as close to or as far away from the wineries as you like, whether you choose to bike alongside luscious grapes or indulge in a panoramic view of the lush valley from a hot air balloon. Whichever experience you choose, the memories are sure to last a lifetime.
About the author: Trupti Devdas Nayak is a freelance writer and photographer who loves (and lives!) to travel. She has explored many parts of Asia, the Americas and Europe and blogs about her experiences at Exploring The Blue Marble.
Photo credits: All photographs are by Trupti Devdas Nayak.