What’s Old Is New Again at the Napa River Inn
There’s nothing I love more than an immersive vacation experience—one that transports you to a time and place that connects you with the past in a palpable way while adhering to modern standards and expectations. This is what I encountered during my stay at the historic Napa River Inn in downtown Napa Valley. But, don’t let the quaintness of this locally owned, antique-laden boutique hotel fool you. This property is downtown Napa’s highest Michelin-rated hotel, which also nailed a four-star rating in the 2015 Forbes Travel Guide.
With its plum location within the Historic Napa Mill situated right on the Napa River guests of this waterfront hotel are in walking distance to a burgeoning urban renaissance scene replete with restaurants, shopping, and, of course, wine tasting. Lots and lots of wine tasting.
Given the property’s deep and rich past, with roots dating back to 1884 courtesy of Captain Albert Hatt, I felt it would be apropos for my stay at the property to embrace the spirt of history this hotel embodies. To accomplish this I opted for the inn’s “Wine Train” package, which allowed me to explore a few of Napa’s most historic features: The Napa River Inn and Napa Mill as well as the vintage Wine Train rail cars—some 100 years old. This one-night package for two includes the perfect mix of activities for a fun-filled Napa getaway: luxury accommodations in a historically authentic setting, a gourmet in-room breakfast from the award-winning Sweetie Pies Bakery that’s adjacent to the property, two “Downtown Wine Tasting Cards” for 10-cent tastings at 12 Napa winery tasting rooms that are all within walking distance, complimentary bicycle rentals, and a truly unforgettable gourmet lunch on the Napa Valley Wine Train.
As was my explicit intention, my visit to the Napa River Inn was a true Victorian era throwback. From the moment I stepped into the quaint marble-laden lobby to the time I spent in my beautifully appointed “Historic Deluxe” room, I could vividly imagine the good times of yore this unique locale has hosted. There are only 66 guest rooms here spread out over three diverse buildings: the Plaza Building, the Embarcadero Building, and the main building above the inn’s lobby. As mentioned, I stayed in the Historic Deluxe room—one of eight of the oldest and most notable rooms all located within the main Hatt Building. This building began as a two-story structure with a US government warehouse on the first floor and a roller skating rink on the second floor. The roller rink was quite popular for social events and was in use until 1930. However, while the exposed white rock maple tongue-and-groove plank hardwood floor of the skating rink exists even today, the modern incarnation of the Hatt Building is home to a group of elite hotel rooms, each boasting a king-size canopy bed, a fireplace, and a slipper-backed tub as well as a separate walk-in shower and a comfy sitting area with lounge chairs and a velvet ottoman that make these cozy yet elegant rooms an ideal retro retreat.
Amenities abound at the Napa River Inn. All rooms include a personalized California breakfast delivered daily to your room, evening wine tasting showcasing a featured winery, in-room gourmet coffee and tea with Keurig coffee makers, and a refrigerator with complimentary water and creamer. Enjoy a nice soak with a selection of Napa Valley Spa bath products and lounge in a plush terry robe. Down pillows, extra cotton blankets, non-allergenic pillows, and individual climate-control systems make for a great night’s sleep. Not only is every room stocked with top-quality linens and refreshments, but they also all have the technology you would expect from a modern inn including a flat-panel television with pay-per-view and in-room check out; complimentary wireless high-speed Internet access; two direct-dial telephones with voicemail and two-line data and voice ports; and a CD clock radio and MP3 player with iPod docking station. Guests enjoy a complimentary daily newspaper available Monday through Friday. Of course, there is also the requisite iron, ironing board, hair dryer, nightlight, and illuminated make-up mirror. I spoke with Melodie Hilton, director of marketing and PR, about what makes the rooms and the Napa River Inn special. “We make sure our rooms have a blend of historic romance and modern day accoutrements to make our guests feel at home. Also, since Napa Valley is a romantic destination, we have a top concierge that can book the most romantic experiences in Napa Valley.”
Speaking of romance, that brings me back to the hotel’s Wine Train package. After you’ve enjoyed a restful night at the Napa River Inn and your sumptuous breakfast-in-bed courtesy of Sweetie Pies Bakery—the smell of baking pastries deliciously permeates the property throughout the day and night—it’s time to take the hotel’s courtesy shuttle over to the Napa Valley Wine Train. There you’ll indulge in a three-hour, multi-course gourmet lunch aboard a gorgeous antique train that meanders through the Napa Valley countryside. The train’s expertly refurbished 1915-1917 Pullman Cars create an atmosphere conducive to relaxation and enjoyment. Meals crafted by executive chef Kelly Macdonald are freshly prepared on the train using environmentally responsible ingredients; humanely raised, hormone-free meats; and fresh, line-caught fish. The excursion begins with a welcome taste of wine to set just the right mood and prepare your palate for the epicurean delights ahead.
Once the train pulls back into the station and the Napa River Inn’s courtesy shuttle has whisked you back to the property, I highly recommend booking a service at The Spa at Napa River Inn, which is known for using all organic, wild-harvested, and hand-milled products crafted locally. Each treatment is signature and exists only at this spa location, and all are designed with a guest’s relaxation in mind. Also notable is that inn guests enjoy discounted pricing. After the uber-romantic train ride, a couple’s massage is a fantastic finish to the day.
With its downtown riverfront location, the Napa River Inn provides stellar access to an array of activities. The mill may have been built in the 1800s, but today this waterfront space offers visitors a variety of dining, entertainment, and shopping options including live music and microbrews at Silo’s, art and theater at the Riverbend Performance Plaza, sandwiches and pastries at Sweetie Pies, candy and confections at the Vintage Sweet Shoppe, and local artisan goods at Amelia’s and the Napa General Store. Additional dining options include French cuisine at Angèle and global comfort food at Celadon. When you’re ready for some wine tasting, grab the two “Downtown Wine Tasting Cards” that come with the inn’s package and take a leisurely stroll to a dozen downtown wine tasting rooms that’ll ensure you’ve left no varietal stone unturned during your visit to the valley. Each tasting costs just 10 cents, and some of the tasting rooms offer full, well-rounded flights of up to six different kinds of white, rosé, and red wines. These cards are a wonderful way to experience the diversity of wines for which Napa is famous. And, with the inn just a stone’s throw away, a designated driver need not be required (although the courtesy shuttle would be happy to pick you up). Of course, you can use the bicycles that also come with your package as well to jaunt around downtown if you prefer.
A more modern sensibility is the Napa River Inn’s concerted efforts to be eco-conscious. Hilton explains, “We are an important adaptive-use development for downtown Napa—an effort focused on saving and restoring buildings with historic significance. We maintain environmentally healthy practices, including key cards of wood instead of plastic, energy-efficient lighting, and strong recycling policies. The bricks of the Hatt building were made from the clay of the Napa River. We also provide free EV charging for our customers.”
As my own stay drew to a close, I considered what Hilton indicated was her favorite aspect of the property: its dedication to the local community. The significance of this property and its preservation practices cannot be underestimated as, without the Napa River Inn’s dedication to upholding its rich and storied past, downtown Napa on the whole just wouldn’t be quite as remarkable.