Napa City: a gem in the heart of Napa Valley

PART 2: where to stay
In the first of this three-part series on Napa City, in the heart of the famed Napa Valley, I told you what to see and do in this city of 75,000. In Part 2, the focus is on lodging, from intimate B&B’s to grand resorts.

The history of Napa Valley and Napa River plays out in a meandering river of Italian mosaic tile leading to this fountain and the Napa River Inn. photo by Karen Kuzsel

 An intricately-woven mosaic-tiled river meanders lazily across the outside courtyard of the Napa River Inn, telling the history of Napa as it routes to a steep climb up and across a bubbling fountain, designed and constructed by Napa artist Alan Shepp. The Italian glass-tiled mosaic led from the Napa General Store (originally a mill)– where my party had just eaten a hearty breakfast in the middle of the store, and across the courtyard, where we were headed outside to gaze at the Napa River. My first thought was what a charming place to hold a reception. In fact, the Napa River Inn frequently uses the exquisite courtyard for receptions up to 250 people. My personal preference when travelling is to stay at B&B’s, particularly those with quaint, historic charm, individually-decorated rooms, lavish custom breakfasts with hot-from-the-oven muffins and piping hot coffee, and other amenities that make me feel as if I’m partaking in an experience I couldn’t find elsewhere. While larger than a typical B&B, the pet-friendly 66-room Michelin-starred independently-owned boutique hotel (the only one in Napa) qualifies for stardom on so many other levels. The re-imagined 1884 Hatt Building now houses three separate buildings, individually decorated and themed. I lost my heart in the Victorian-era decorated building with its beaded lamps, laced curtains, and dark wood furniture. Although small corporate groups and wedding parties succumb to the beauty of the Hatt Hall as an event space, with its 14’ high ceiling of original pressed tin from 1905, I sighed at the romance the Inn exudes. A colorful flower garden surrounds the walkway between the buildings and the river. Within a matter of a few minutes you could have a casual meal at the Napa General Store, feast at Iron Chef Morimoto’s new contemporary chic restaurant, or try French cuisine at the eclectic Angele Restaurant and Bar. Cap the evening off with sophisticated cocktails at Silo’s comedy and jazz club, and you’ll still be back in your room before sleep overcomes you.
                There are more than 3000 guestrooms within the city limits of Napa. There are B&B’s like the 1801 First Luxury Inn, The Inn on first, La Belle Epoque, and the McClelland-Priest. Six miles outside the city, the 322-room luxurious Meritage Resort & Spa provides luxurious amenities that encourage onsite stays. Not to be overlooked are relatively new branded properties that are partly responsible for helping to reinvent the city’s appeal to both corporate and leisure travelers. These are the Westin Verasa Napa, Embassy Suites, Marriott-Napa Valley, and the Avia (soon to be reflagged as Andaz, a Hyatt chain). I didn’t get to visit the B&B’s on this trip, but I did find something unique at each hotel I visited.

You know you’re in wine country with the Westin Verasa Napa’s riddling wall. photo by Karen Kuzsel

 Westin Verasa Napa                There are more than 400 wineries in Napa Valley and if the Westin’s Executive Chef, Ken Frank, had his way, all of them would take their turn pouring samples in the hotel’s lobby for the evening’s complimentary tastings. It’s just one more opportunity for the chef to pair his equally-complimentary appetizers to selected wines, just as he does in his Michelin-starred La Toque restaurant and his more casual, lobby-based BANK Bar and Café.  Weekends, the 5-7 pm tastings are accompanied by free chair massages. I missed out on those during my stay, but was fortunate enough to dine from Chef Frank’s customized multi-course meal with paired wines at La Toque. (More on that in Part 3 of this series.) The restaurant isn’t a hotel venue: it’s a destination unto itself.
                When the Starwood property opened in 2008, smaller hoteliers feared guests would be lured away and their businesses would face losses. Quite the opposite occurred. The strength of the Westin name and the hotel’s location that puts it within an hour’s drive of three international airports (San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento) actually increased the number of visitors who now use the city’s lodging as base camp for their wine country getaways.  The Westin’s health-and-wellness philosophy often seals the deal for groups.
                “More groups are asking for green hotels,” says Heidi Miersemann, CMP, Director of Sales and Marketing, noting that the Westin is going for LEEDS certification. Environmental concerns are apparent, from the heated saltwater pool and hot tub to the succulents artfully arranged in the lobby’s large tabletop pots. “We want people to leave healthier than they came, so we encourage them to walk, shop and enjoy Napa,” says Miersemann. The “be healthy” philosophy begins with the staff. “Our executive staff and even the housekeepers gather on the river walk and take a yoga class once a week before their shift begins.” 
                In keeping with its craftsman bungalow styling, the Westin spacious lobby is rich with warm natural colors and natural slate mosaicked on walls and columns. The entire wall span behind the registration desk is a riddling wine rack loaded with empty wine bottles. A locally-sourced cork tree trunk coffee table sits underneath five large mission-styled chandeliers.       “The lobby is very representative of what you find organically in Napa Valley,” says Don Shindle, GM for the Westin Verasa Napa. The oak flooring is a prime example of California casual. “If you were looking down on it, it would resemble the end of a wine barrel.”
                Here’s more. There are three boardrooms and one ballroom that can seat 230 max. Each guestroom is a suite and has a full kitchen and original art by locals.

Swans swimming. Palm trees rustling. Who would know the Mill Pond is in the center court of the Embassy Suites Napa Valley? photo by Karen Kuzsel

Embassy Suites Napa Valley                 This Mediterranean-styled hotel is unlike any other Embassy Suites I’ve seen. It’s more elegant, more spacious, and once the public areas are renovated in November, the décor will be more updated. Even though Napa is considered an adult playground, the Embassy Suites is often considered the most family-friendly because of its indoor pool and fabulous center court, with a picturesque mill pond, small buildings, lush greenery and both black and white resident swans lazing on rocks and shrubs. The breakfast area opens up to the patio for dining around the pond.               
                There are double bedroom suites and gourmet coffee with coffee grinders in premium rooms. Thirty percent of their business is corporate, with the average group size taking about 80 rooms. There’s a Mexican tiled lobby that makes you feel like you have left the country for South of the Border. There’s a 10,000 sf ballroom that opens up to the outdoors.
                Complimentary breakfasts are cooked to order. Manager’s reception at night includes beverages and appetizers.
                 When we were told the Avia’s lobby was being renovated this summer as part of its conversion to becoming Andaz, a Hyatt lifestyle hotel, we were all quite surprised. We all loved the carved tree façade that disguises the elevators. The lobby is already gorgeous and the hotel’s contemporary style is bold and eclectic. But change is coming. Instead of a registration desk, pods will dot the area. Clerks will stand in front of them, offering personal welcomes and beverages.  The restaurant will be open more hours and the 141-roomed boutique hotel will include complimentary juice, water, soda and some snacks.  A new bar and deck furniture will brighten the outdoor second-floor deck, which is often used for private events. A parking garage abuts the building, but bamboo trees placed between the garage and hotel makes you feel like you are in a tropical setting.

A carved tree facade hides the elevators. photo by Karen Kuzsel

               There’s 2,600 sf of meeting space and the hotel caters to upscale groups of 35, ideally. Best of all, the hotel is literally right downtown, in the heart of the action.
 The Meritage Resort and Spa
                 Unlike the aforementioned properties, The Meritage Resort and Spa is a stay-and-play (or work if you must) resort. The four-diamond luxury resort’s recent $40 million expansion includes an indoor playground called Crush Ultra Lounge, with six bowling lanes, a pool table and shuffleboard, along with sports entertainment, food and a full-service bar. The new Blend café serves gourmet coffees, light food options and has al fresco seating. Work out in the expanded fitness studio whose floor-to-ceiling Wieland doors overlook private vineyards, olive trees and the Grape Crusher Statue.
                The Meritage is remarkable for its old-world sophisticated décor, dark wood furniture, gallery-worthy art, and that it features North America’s first underground, full-service spa, a vineyard and an underground tasting room, as well as the largest amount of meeting and event ballrooms north of San Francisco and west of Sacramento, totaling more than 50,00 sf of indoor and outdoor space. The ballrooms are lovely, but if I was planning a reception or private dinner, I’d want to be inside the Estate Wine Cave. This place is gorgeous. Polished stone, low lights, luscious wines from the resort’s own Trinitas Cellars and sumptuous meal catered by the resort’s signature Tuscan-inspired restaurant, Siena, would make this a night to remember.
The Napa Valley Welcome Center makes unplanned stays a no-brainer. More than 170,000 visitors pop by the Welcome Center each year. The 72 local volunteers who inform them of which wineries will cater to particular tastes and which are pet friendly, frequently heard visitors sigh that they wish they’d pack a bag to stay. Hence, the creation of the Napa Valley It’s-OK-To-Stay-Overnight kit, with contact lens solution, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap to wash delicates, chapstick, and a shirt to sleep in. Just ask at the Welcome Center or at the lodging of your choice.
And while you’re there, have a glass of wine for me.
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI, for which she is on the Membership Advisory Council and the Industry Advisory Council. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events.;

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