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Road Trip starts!

Napa Valley and Yosemite

Our first destination after leaving San Fran was the Napa Valley - California's premiere wine growing region. A quick "google and book" session and we were on visits to two of Californias best, by which I mean cheapest, vinyard tours. I've always felt that a disproportionate amount of successful Americans had a weak grasp on reality, and our first stop - Castello di Amorosa backed this up. The owner had made a fortune from a previous vinyard, then decided that he wanted to build a 100% authentic Tuscan castle there in California. With a mix of 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th century characteristics. To this end he imported over 200 shipping containers of rocks and stuff from Italy, and the materials alone for the 9 year projecct came it at over 40 million bucks. Nice!

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To be fair though, he's built a pretty impressive place; complete with feasting halls, underground tunnels to store and cool all the wine, and of course a fully operational dungeon. Apparently they hold massive parties here once a month (in the whole castle, not just the dungeon), with the highlight of the year being the underground based, free booze on tap halloween party. It does sound like fun! The wine was pleasant but fairly average really, but it's still a cool place. Seems like building this thing might actually have been a less crazy idea than I first thought though, as apparently they get over 1000 people taking the $40+ tour here on a busy day!
After lunch in St Helena we hit our second tour - the Kuleta vinyard. This place was a bit different! They take a max of 20 people on a tour, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and it's all about the wine. But again, what a place! Looks like the owner just built his dream house here and also produces wine from it. The gardens are amazing, before you even get to the views over the valley. The owner's something to do with restaurant designing, and has included 11 different pizza ovens around the grounds for when he throws parties! The tours are carried out by the vinyard staff who produce the wine, which is nice, and I've never seen anyone as happy and enthusiastic about their jobs. This proved a bonus for us when it came to the tastings because after the standard 7 or so wines we were meant to taste (all between $50-$100 a bottle) our "guide" couldn't contain his enthusiasm and got excited talking about, and then went to fetch some of his favourites from the more expensive list. We must have gone through 12 bottles between the 10 of us on the tour. Jamie had had enough red wine after the first few and volounteered to drive, so after doubling up with his share on most of them I left with a big smile on my face. Stunning place, superb wine!


Following a milkshake and burger stop we arrived that night at our hotel just outside Yosemite park, a very satisfying first day on the road! Yosemite has some amazing scenery, so the next day we decided to do a hike to take in the views. We asked a park ranger what he would recommend to get the best vantage points if we were just here for one day.
"Just here for the day? I'd do "4 mile hike." to Glacier Point."
"OK cool. How long is that one?" I joked.
"9 miles."
Not a shred of a smile on his face or any kind of explanation. He wasn't joking.

The hike involved a 1000m + climb from the bottom of the valley to the peak and was pretty intense. Great training for later on though. Not a lot for me to say about this as words don't really do it justice - but here are the pics.

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Never seen anything like this - definitely worth the climb, and the trip over to see Yosemite!

Posted by Matt Cocken 19:58 Archived in USA Tagged yosemite roadtrip

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