Rachel Awtrey

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Napa Valley, California

It's been about a week since one of Thomas and I's greatest getaway and I can't wait to share all of the details and pictures we were able to capture on our trip!

We arrived on Monday evening and checked into our inn in Sonoma Valley, got dolled up and headed out to our dinner to celebrate our first wedding anniversary together. We chose to eat at a quaint and intimate restaurant that sits in the hidden corners of Saint Helena (a small neighborhood that sits in Napa Valley) called Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen.  It's the sweetest place with the kindest servers. When Thomas made the reservation, he snuck in the small detail that we were celebrating something special and when we arrived and were seated at our table, they brought us complementary glasses of champagne to start the evening. How thoughtful!  It's not just the menu that takes your breath away - we'll get there - but the interior decor as well (the wallpaper is so perfect!). I didn't grow up in a meatloaf loving family but thanks to Thomas, he's turned my tastebuds towards loving it. Cindy's had the most flavorful meatloaf I have ever eaten, Thomas admitted it was his favorite too. To top the evening off, we had their Campfire Pie (s'mores pie) with a marshmallow top that's torched to perfection. It's big enough to split, for sure.

The next morning we woke up and needed to grab a good but quick breakfast to go because we wanted to make sure we weren't late for our reservation on the Napa Valley Wine Train (eeek!)

Because of the crunch we were in, we ate flaky, warm chocolate croissants and ham + cheese breakfast sandwiches and a dark chocolate and cherry muffin from Bouchon Bakery. Again, another aesthetically pleasing place with the greatest goodies. They have a large selection of macaroons, and all baked goods. They don't have seating inside the bakery but there's outdoor seating right outside so we highly suggest this for a morning that has perfect weather and little rain. Bouchon Bakery sits in the sweet neighborhood of Yountville. If you're not in a hurry to get anywehre that morning, take some time to roam around this sweet town that holds so many Michelin-rated restaurants as well as great boutiques.

Like I said, Yountville is so stunning, it deserves more time than what we had leftover after Bouchon so we continued on our way to the Napa Valley Wine Train Station. Thomas had reserved us a train ride through the valley, passing all of the vineyards with a four-course lunch with a fabulous wine selection. We sat in the Vista Dome, seated higher than the other cars, which gives you a glass roof view of the entire valley. It is so so worth the extra few dollars to grab a prime seat like the ones in the Vista Dome.

The lunch selection is more delicious than you can ever imagine. To be completely honest, Thomas and I had expected a meal that is mass produced for everyone on the train. However, the Vista Dome received an exclusive menu that was only made for the few people sitting in this section of the train.  There was a first and second course followed by an entree and dessert. Each course also had wine pairings from vineyards and wineries in the valley. Throughout the train ride, you're brought your courses by an incredible server with the greatest waiting service.

We chose the Ambassador train tour which takes you to two vineyards after the train ride: Charles Krug Winery and Raymond Vineyards. 

Charles Krug was the most "traditional" styled winery that we visited our entire trip. I loved it for its green gardens, carriage house exterior, and Tuscan feel. You're immediately transported to a vineyard in the outskirts of Italy. When we arrived, we were poured a tasting of their house made Pinot Grigio, which was refreshing on this sunny day. They take you through a guided tour inside of the fermentation process, the certain rooms that act as venues to wedding ceremonies and then you end up at the last tasting room that holds a "museum like" feel to get the historic background of the vineyard and Charles Krug. Thomas and I snuck away to visit the carriage house a little more up close than the far away look we got from the gardens - so worth it!

We were then taken to our second vineyard spot on the tour, Raymond Vineyards which has a fun vibe, less traditional more modern. There were purple and pink lights glowing in most of the rooms. This is a well-known place for celebrities to host their most extravagant parties. Before you're taken inside, though, they let you wander through their farms and gardens which is a super fun part that we thoroughly enjoyed. We got to feed the goats, see the chickens and get the beautiful view of the vineyards from afar. 

After all of the vineyard tours, we needed a little bite to eat so we headed into the town of Napa to explore and snack a little. We wandered around to find a super cute market, a great boutique called Hunter and Gatherer and finished up the evening snacking on Redd Wood's well known flatbread pizzas and appetizers and unique bar concoctions. Yum! Highly suggest their procsuitto pizza.

We wanted to end our evening early because of the big adventure that was waiting for us the next morning: a sunrise hot air balloon ride. This has been on our bucket list for a while so we were so so thrilled to be able to mark it off while being in the famous Napa Valley with Napa Valley Aloft. Thomas and I have gone skydiving before, and other adrenaline filled adventures, so we were nervous to know that this hot air balloon ride is more peaceful than eventful. And although it was, it was a memory we'd never forget. Hot tea, hot chocolate and coffee was served to us when we arrived early that morning. We were able to see the hot air balloons being filled up and took off shortly after. Although there's no drop or quick elevation, we were in need of a peaceful experience like this. Getting a bird's eye view while being calm is one that you'll never forget.

After our ride ended, we wandered back over to the town of Saint Helena where we ate a quick bite before brunch at Model Bakery and shopped around some of their boutiques before going to Archetype for their famous brunch. This greenhouse type of restaurant, with incredible landscaping, has the most flavorful menu, so it took us a while to decide on something. I ended up with the Norwegian Eggs and Thomas with the brunch burger. Great choices!

Our last vineyard experience was the greatest to end on: Sterling Vineyards. First and foremost, you have to take a gondola ride to get up to the actual quarters. We paid extra for the "Silver Experience" and we can't recommend it enough. You're swept away to a balcony/terrance view of the property while given three tasting paired with local cheeses, meats, fruits and nuts. After this experience, you're on a self-guided tour, at your own place, for the rest of the tour. The last tasting ends on the rooftop terrace with a spectacular view. It offers tables and chairs and outdoor seating with umbrellas to relax and take everything in before the gondola ride back down to the Valley. 

Thomas and I are so so thankful that we got this sweet time to take in another great part of our country, to roam through vineyards, to learn new processes and to have an "adventure" that also offered more rest than we ever knew existed. Napa, we will see you again very soon. 

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