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June 11, 2014

The Wine Road

It is near the end of the day; the winery tasting rooms have all closed and the intrepid warrior of the wine-country road needs two things: good food and comfortable lodging for the night.

This is especially true heading into the summer months, when wine country restaurants are packed and the hotels are full with wine enthusiasts on vacation. For those contemplating a summer getaway to any important wine-producing locale, planning is essential.

Three favorites quickly come to mind as I consider attractive options for a summer escape. All three serve the dual purpose of providing exquisite cuisine combined with superb lodging in the midst of an amazing wine experience.

For those who would prefer a domestic wine experience, I commend California's Hotel Healdsburg. Situated on the square in the charming Sonoma County village of Healdsburg, Hotel Healdsburg is within easy walking distance of numerous top-notch restaurants, winery tasting rooms and the renowned Oakville Grocery. Its own restaurant, Dry Creek Kitchen, is overseen by iconic American chef Charlie Palmer. The hotel is chic and modern, with an inviting and comfortable bar area. By day, visitors can fan out in several directions and within minutes visit some of America's finest wineries in the Alexander Valley, the Dry Creek Valley or the Russian River Valley. It's a trek over a winding two-lane road, but even the Napa Valley is less than an hour's drive from the Healdsburg square.

Bordeaux is still a magnet for wine tourism, and there is no finer destination in the region than Les Sources de Caudalie, a five-star resort and spa surrounded by the vineyards of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, one of the best wineries in the Pessac-Leognan appellation 20 minutes south of the city of Bordeaux. Les Sources de Caudalie boasts a gourmet restaurant with one Michelin star, and what it calls the world's first "Vinotherapy" spa, which utilizes grape and vine extracts in its skincare products. Day trips to Graves, Saint-Emilion, Sauternes-Barsac and even the appellations of the Medoc north of the city of Bordeaux are easily arranged. By night the bar is cozy and the selection of wines by the glass outstanding.

The Yeatman Hotel in Vila Nova de Gaia, overlooking the Douro River across from the city of Porto, is very possibly Portugal's finest hotel. Built into the side of a hill, with the lobby on the top floor, it is designed to mirror the terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley, where the tiny country's signature wine, Port, is made. Port is then shipped down the Douro in cask and aged in the "lodges" of Vila Nova de Gaia, many of them just steps away from the Yeatman. The views are spectacular, and the Yeatman also boasts a gourmet restaurant with one Michelin star. The Yeatman provides a unique experience with its 24-hour wine bar, which serves wine and snacks 24/7. Access to the Yeatman is easy by train from Lisbon, less than three hours to the south. And there is a network of trams for transport across the river for those who wish to visit Porto.
Posted by Robert Whitley at 5:47 PM