Yountville: Exploring Napa Valley’s Culinary Epicenter
“You might be able to snag a seat at the bar.” This was our innkeeper’s recommendation for scoring a table without a reservation for the Michelin-starred Bouchon Bistro in Yountville. My husband and I had taken a quick, last-minute sojourn to the heart of Napa Valley wine country. Getting a reservation at The French Laundry was completely out of the question but savoring French bistro fare at Thomas Keller’s other acclaimed French restaurant seemed within the realm of possibility. It also helped that it was still early, and Bouchon Bistro was located directly behind our hotel.
We were lounging beside the fire in the exposed-brick dining room of Napa Valley’s oldest hotel, the Maison Fleurie, sipping wine and nibbling on hors d’oeuvres from the hotel’s evening happy hour. The snug dining room is an enchanting space decorated with antique treasures and warm glowing pendant lights. After a full day exploring Napa Valley wineries, rousing ourselves to walk around the block to dinner was going to require some effort. While chatting with us about the renowned restaurants comprising Napa Valley’s culinary epicenter, the innkeeper glanced at his watch. “But if you want to try Bouchon, I’d go now,” he said.
We took his advice and lucked out with a table on the front patio, where we feasted on classic bistro fare. We started with the oysters and a deeply flavorful French onion soup and worked our way through several other delicious courses before capping the night with an exquisite crème brûlée and light as air profiteroles drizzled with chocolate.
In the morning, we took our breakfast up to the rooftop deck of the hotel. The space is furnished with comfy outdoor seating and overlooks the hills rising above the valley. Afterward, we set off to explore the town on foot.
Yountville is the site of Napa Valley’s first planted vineyards. The village has grown up around the vines, combining a charming small-town setting with a sophisticated wine country flair. The highly walkable town is only 1.5 square miles, but it’s packed with seven Michelin-starred restaurants, 15 wine tasting rooms, and a delightful art walk with 35 rotating outdoor sculptures. The art walk offers a downloadable map and audio tour. A couple of our favorites included the “Rock Mushrooms” by Rich Botto and “Who Rescued Who” by Lorri Acott.
We later stumbled across Bouchon again and its namesake bakery next door. We couldn’t resist the glass cases filled with flaky croissants, buttery Kouign-Amann, chocolate éclairs, and colorful macarons. We ordered a second breakfast and stuffed our faces with sublime pastries while sitting in Bouchon’s sunny outdoor courtyard.
A few blocks north, we strolled through The French Laundry’s culinary gardens, which sit on three acres directly across the street from the legendary restaurant. A map provides visitors with notes on what’s currently growing in each of the 50-some-odd garden beds.
A couple of blocks beyond the gardens, we discovered the best gas station ever. Kelly’s Filling Station and Wine Shop is a place where you can not only fuel your wine country ride but fill up on fine wines and chocolates, find gourmet provisions for a picnic, and indulge in a delicious affogato made with soft-serve ice cream.
At the northern end of town, we wandered through a picturesque cemetery with sprawling oaks. The cemetery is the resting site of Yountville’s earliest settlers, including the founder of the town, George C. Yount.
We capped our afternoon with a wine tasting at Hope & Grace. Winemaker Charles Hendricks focuses on limited production, single-vineyard varietals, producing just 3,000 cases a year. His line of artisan wines is named for his two daughters. We fell in love with yet another cabernet sauvignon and added it to our collection of bottles to take home.
Where to Stay: Maison Fleurie and Lavender
Built in 1873, Maison Fleurie in downtown Yountville is Napa Valley’s oldest hotel. The historic main house resembles an inn plucked from the south of France. Profuse gardens, handcrafted furniture, and an exposed brick dining room with a fireplace add to the enchantment. The bed and breakfast inn also features a pool, a jacuzzi, and a rooftop deck with views of Napa’s rolling hills. The inn is within an easy stroll to several tasting rooms and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Just two blocks from the famed French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, Lavender is an intimate bed and breakfast inn combining the warm colors of Provence with contemporary design elements. The historic main house features a wraparound porch and an enclosed veranda where breakfast is served daily. Surrounding the main house, enchanting courtyard rooms feature vaulted ceilings, fireplaces, and private patios, many of which also have outdoor spa tubs.
Complimentary amenities at both hotels include bicycles for exploring Yountville, evening wine and cheese, and a full breakfast served each morning.