Ever since Chateau Montelena put Napa Valley on the map with their award winning 1973 Chardonnay, people have been flocking to the region. Touted as the ultimate destination for its hotels, spas, and of course, wines, Napa has long been the place to be for anyone seeking a luxury travel experience.
While that is certainly one aspect, what can sometimes be overlooked is that at the end of the day, this isn’t Disney World, and we mean that in a good way. It’s farm country, built by real people who not only care for the land, but have a passion for the product that they create, and a real desire to share their life story and experience with anyone interested in hearing it.
When we traveled to Napa this past winter, our goal was to experience the area as locals do, and to truly get to know the people and culture that make Napa Valley what it is. A large majority of their visitors come up from San Francisco, and we made the drive, as well, after being in town for the Winter Fancy Food Show.
I’m not a hotel snob, by any stretch of the imagination, but location and easy access are important. Because we’re running a business, staying plugged in is a must, and WiFi in the Valley can be spotty, at best. Instead of staying at one of Napa’s quaint bed and breakfasts, we chose the Andaz hotel in downtown Napa.
Andaz Napa is part of the Hyatt portfolio of hotels, and the name comes from the Hindi word for “personal style”. As a reflection of that, each location is unique and distinct, pulling inspiration from wherever the hotel might be located-whether it’s Liverpool, Savannah, Maui, or Tokoyo.
Because of their desire to showcase each unique location’s culture and style, Andaz Napa Valley is deeply focused on locavorism, with everything from food, wine, and spirits sourced from nearby producers, to Lydia Mondavi’s 29 Skin Care-an age-protecting toiletries line sourced from grape seeds-in guest bathrooms, you’ll feel immersed in all that is Napa when staying at the Andaz.
When we first walked into the hotel, we thought we were in a bar, or perhaps the wrong place. There was no desk, only roaming, friendly staff dressed in plaid shirts and jeans, who noticed we looked confused (and were carrying luggage). One of them with an iPad greeted us, offered us (complimentary) glasses of wine, and a seat on one of their comfortable couches while they managed our check-in.
To the right of the lobby lounge was a small, bustling bar, with a mixologist serving up locally distilled spirits. To the left, a Napa artist had painted a map of the valley on the way, and we were told that Andaz frequently changes the pushpins, marking local wines currently featured at the hotel. In the back was a fireplace, with lounge space for guests. It was classy, but comfortable-we felt like we were home.
Before we could finish our glasses of wine, we were quickly checked in and whisked up to our room-a king suite on the fifth floor, with floor to ceiling windows, a living space with sofa and flat screen TV, and a Juliette balcony overlooking the main street.
The staff had been informed that we had recently celebrated our anniversary, and upon entry, we were surprised to see a bottle of St. Helena cabernet and a plate of fresh strawberries, along with the most delicious dark and white chocolate bark with dried strawberries, and a handwritten note to welcome us to the city. We opened a jalousie window, and let the night air in. It was quiet and dark in downtown Napa Valley.
In all of Andaz’ 141 rooms, décor is modern, but warm, with hickory floors, white down bedding, and accents of merlot, violet, and lavender grey, with the occasional pop of citron green. All the colors of a vineyard, and a nod to the beauty that Napa Valley becomes while in harvest season.
The bathroom was floor to ceiling Cararra white marble, with a walk in shower, two above counter sinks, and a separate enclosed toilet area. Amenities are not lacking at the Andaz. If you find yourself in need of anything from a razor and shaving cream, to a flat iron or yoga mat, just pick up the phone, and a neatly dressed staff member (this time in a black on black suit and tie) will arrive to deliver them to your door.
When it came to sleep and rest, we can honestly say that the beds in Andaz Napa’s rooms are some of the most comfortable we’ve ever slept in. We were grateful for this, as traveling and walking for four days in a row can take its toll.
We awoke the next morning refreshed, ready for breakfast, and an exploration/tour of the hotel. Aaron Feeny, director of marketing, met us up at the Farmer’s Table restaurant downstairs. We order coffee and noshed on their ‘Lox and a Muffin’ – a huge portion of smoked salmon, caper berries, tomatoes and arugula over a Modern Bakery English muffin (a local favorite, and highly recommended), and a ‘Wine Country Breakfast Sandwich’ – a fried egg with goat cheese, andouille sausage, tomato pesto, and seasoned potatoes. Both were delicious.
Other guests were scattered around the restaurant’s lounge area and fireplace, playing board games and chess from brown leather and brass studded bonnet chairs-a fun, countrified take on what is traditionally a rather uptight, stuffy furniture piece.
As we ventured up the stairs to see the outdoor balcony, Aaron told us that they book frequently for business meetings (we could see one in progress through the glass windows on the second floor), but also for weddings and events. The wooden deck had its own bar, fire pit, low containers filled with Meyer lemons (fragrant and laden with ripe fruit-highly useful for cocktail making!), standing heat lamps for chilly Napa evenings, and access to the back street entrance from the stairs.
In the back of the hotel is a parking garage, but you wouldn’t know it from the tall bamboo covering the building. We really appreciated that parking was included, given that most San Francisco hotels were charging upwards of $50 a day for a spot to put your vehicle. Valet is only $20, if you so desire to use it.
Aaron made some recommendations on local dining, and wished us well. We hopped in the car for a meeting, and then drove around to explore a bit.
When we got back, we bumped into Timothy Nuss, a local winemaker that had introduced us to his wines earlier that day. Tim was hosting a wine event at the hotel, and guests, seemed to be having a blast. Andaz allows winemakers and wineries to host tastings during their weekday happy hour, with producers hoping to get exposure for their brands. It’s a nice way for guests to experience small lot wines, and a great way for the hotel to bring in locals to hang out at the bar.
While the area’s attractiveness, with hills lined with green vineyards, award winning restaurants and incredible wines, are in outer lying cities and towns, staying in a hotel downtown puts you right in the middle of the action.
If we ever get to return to Napa, I would choose Andaz as our home base in a heartbeat. All suites have a king sized bed, with some featuring soaking tubs and two-sided fireplaces. The gym next door will help you burn off all that wine and cheese you ate last night, and if you need a recommendation on anything from cocktails and happy hours (yes, there is more to Napa than wine), to a local pharmacy, the staff is knowledgeable and ready to help.
The best feature of the hotel, however, is their rates. During their winter low season (November-April), a standard room starts at only $229-a refreshing alternative to overpriced B&Bs and expensive luxury resorts.