Almost like France

Trip Start May 06, 2014
Trip End May 28, 2014

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Where I stayed
1260 Shady Brook Lane
What I did
Vineyards, meadows, forests, wild flowers

Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Napa I
 Napa!   Who would have ever guessed that we would love California as much as France!  Or at least THIS part of California!  Our house for the last 3 weeks has been magnificent beyond words.

  Part of what makes it so spectacular  are the vistas of vine covered hillsides, rolling terrain of dark old-growth forests,  and golden meadows visible from every room through walls of windows.  

 Layers of color:  bright blue sky, dark black forests, new green growth on the grapevines, golden meadows, red iron-rich rocky ledges, rich green lawn and cultivated flower beds of purple, yellow, orange.   

 We stand on the huge deck overlooking the Napa Valley.  In the distance we see the town of Napa and the Napa River glinting in bright sunlight and off in a hazy distance rises a point which leads down to the Golden Gate Bridge.  (We drive about 20 minutes to catch the ferry and can be in San Francisco in an hour).  We are on 40 acres of lovely gardens, lemon and orange trees, vast meadows with grasses so tall I could drown in them, old pines and young redwoods, scrub oaks with Spanish moss hanging from lichen-crusted branches.


 Hiking trails are marked along an old road that goes up and over our mountain, along a brook(our address is Shady Brook Lane) up to the edge of a steep ravine.



  The trail goes  up and up to over 1000 foot elevations (the house is at 800 feet-we can sometimes see the soaring hawks eye to eye) and to meadows where we have spotted families of deer with velvet antlered bucks and California quail.


  In the evenings, we see 2 big fat black feral pigs followed by 5 little reddish brown piglets.  (Gary is thinking roast pig!)  From the deck, I watch 2 foxes hunt the mice and lizards.  

  Wild flowers abound: purple, yellow, orange, red, white.


 The air is scented with lavender, wild fennel, jasmine, and orange blossoms.In a clearing not far from the house, there is a primitive stone labyrinth.

    Walking the labyrinth leads to inner peace and understanding…so they say.  Our exchange partners hold winter solstice bonfires and host new age “back to nature”  spiritual events.  It all adds to the mystique.

 Almost nightly, I soak in the hot tub as the stars come out  overhead.  The  air is chilled, the water warm, the night is so quiet.   Sometimes, if it is still light enough, I bounce on the trampoline...feeling so free! 
Blood oranges, navel oranges, and lemons hang in abundance on the trees just outside our bedroom window.  

  Picking and eating oranges right from the trees and having freshly squeezed juice!  How amazing! (There is an electric juicer right on the kitchen counter.)Being immersed in all this natural beauty is overwhelming, awe-inspiring, and humbling.  And we have not even had any wine or visited San Francisco yet!

Napa II. 
 San Francisco 
 Our way to get to San Francisco?  Take the ferry! 


   An hour’s ride looking out at the Bay, passing Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and seeing the city from the water.  No traffic, no directions to follow, no parking worries.  

 Relaxed and refreshed, we arrive at the famous Ferry Terminal Market
 with its Cowgirl Creamery, Acme Bakers, Humphry Slocombe ice cream with flavors like government cheese, balsamic caramel, Barak-y road, peanut butter curry, and Thai chile lime.  Just reading their choices of flavors is entertainment in itself. 

   A dim sum lunch at Yank Sing (which makes New York dim sum look like remnants from a dumpster) just  a few blocks from the terminal market is deliciously different.  Gary thoroughly enjoys each and every bite!! 

  Finding our way via BART train is a challenge.  Not as easy as NY or Paris.  But we get to the Omnivore Book Store -which specializes in cookbooks- to meet a favorite author.


  David Lebovitz autographs his new book Paris Cooks for us.  We have been followers of his Paris Blog ever since I discovered his recipe for brownies with dulce de leche and his recommendation for the  Marche D'aligre.  David is from San Francisco but he has lived in Paris for the past ten years.  It is exciting to meet him in person. 

 Another San Francisco day brought us together with Francine and Scott and their friends for lunch at the Italian II Fioro.  We wandered a few streets until the hills intruded and ultimately we climbed up to Coit Tower rising from a hilltop and were relieved to learn that the tower itself was closed so we did not have to go up the last 200 or so  steps.


Napa III

 Former Tidewater residents now living in the DC area and Colorado converged on our Napa paradise for an exciting whirlwind of winery visits, tastings, hiking hillsides, collaborative cooking, and general revelry and camaraderie. 




 Sharing our temporary dwelling with such good friends made our wines more intense, our dinners more exciting, and our evenings so  comfortable and relaxing.





  We chose a day to engage a driver and his Suburban SUV to take the six of us from winery to winery.  

 (Tom commented that it was a good thing we did not get a limo.  It would never have made it up our mountain with its steep inclines and switchbacks.)




  We tasted an assortment of luscious California Napa Valley wines  from Chateau Montelena, Peju, Clos Pegase, and Frank Family Vineyards experiencing Cabernet Sauvignons, Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, and, after so many tastings, who knows what.   On our own we visited St Clements and ZD (Zero Defect).In addition to the wineries, we also visited tasting rooms in downtown Napa.

So many many many wines...



So many many vineyards...



So many many wineries...





  Some of our favorites ended up being the ones from the local Trader Joes enjoyed on the deck overlooking the valley at dusk.


  Our dinners together with our friends were memorable not only because of the company and the breathtaking setting but because of the combinations of flavors in our ultra fresh foods.


  Chard, kale, lettuces,fava beans from the vegetable garden, and orange sections right off the trees came together for salads.  Scott and Francine prepared a spice-rubbed slow-roasted pork(from the Oxbow Market-not from the woods) that cooked all night.
 Gary and I roasted whole chickens with carrots, onions, and potatoes.  Elaine and Bill bought tender aged beef steaks and marrow bones. 

  We did indeed dine well! 

  The marrow bones must be a guy thing:  Scott, Bill, and Gary loved these!!  And the local butcher had them right there in his case.


Good friends, good food, good wines...




  A few mornings Gary gets up early and goes to the Model Bakery in Napa for their English Muffins...amazingly light and buttery, cinnamon buns...moist and spicy with thick white frosting, and bacon-egg-cheese tartines-the ingredients say it all.



 We went out to eat too:  Mexican lunches, steakhouse dinners, arepas from Pica Pica (from Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives), prime rib from the Rutherford Grill, a memorable dinner at the French Bouchon with Elaine and Bill(almost Paris) and breakfast at Highway 29 Cafe and a Napa favorite Soscol Cafe-only open for breakfast and always crowded with a line going down the block.


  All that food and wine combines with the fresh outdoor California humidless air and we can’t resist the hiking trails and walkways by the river.


  Wildflowers abound as well as wildlife.  


Three weeks come to an end.  Sadly we leave Napa behind but take with us such vivid happy memories. 

  We still say--this trip was almost as good as France!
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Lola on

What a treat to the senses! So glad you're enjoying it!

Barbara Henderson on

Estelle - You are clearly having WAY too much fun!!! I can practically SMELL the flowers and warm sunny air. Have to admit - although it's not Napa, there's great wine in Washington, and I'm surprised by how much I love this coast. Be well!

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