Riding a train is not that common in the states anymore, whereas in Europe, it’s an ordinary and everyday way to travel. So when you’re in Northern California wine country, and someone says they’re taking “the train”, it can only mean one thing: the Napa Valley Wine Train.
The concept is brilliant. A beautiful collection of restored vintage rail cars runs passengers up 25 miles of track alongside some of the most picturesque vineyards of Napa Valley, while riders leisurely partake in a world-class fine dining experience along the way. Each of the lunch or dinner’s multi-course menus is expertly paired with wines, thoughtfully curated by their on-board wine educators to showcase the most notable vintners in valley.
Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Well, hop aboard and I’ll take you along for my journey on the iconic Napa Valley Wine Train where you’ll discover a food and wine experience that truly embodies a spirit of luxury rail travel from a by-gone era.
I booked the Gourmet Express lunch for two, the truest vintage rail dining experience the Wine Train offers. This package includes a welcome-glass of wine served upon embarking, followed by a 4-hour train ride and an exquisite multiple-course gourmet meal.
We arrived at the Napa depot a few minutes before to 10:30 am to get checked-in. The boarding started promptly at 10:50 am and we crossed a little bridge ornamented with lover’s locks, similar to those that once hung on Le Pont des Arts in Paris. This train trip is all about romance indeed. The train’s staff were well dressed, some in captain’s attire, so I knew we were about to take a luxurious trip back in America’s past.
The train is divided into several cars, each with a different décor from a specific time- period. We were lead to the Merlot Lounge Car – finely adorned with lavish details and warm colors– it was everything a luxury coach would have been back in the day. So much so, I actually wondered if I had time-travelled to a past century!
We were seated in comfy armchairs right in front of a window framed by thick, plush curtains. The view began to change as soon as we left the town of Napa. The sun’s reflection off the valley’s vines and countryside was splendid. As soon as the train pulled away from the station (at 11:30 am sharp!), their hospitality staff graciously offered us a glass of wine- their way of welcoming us aboard. We had the choice of Chardonnay or Merlot, so given the car we were in, I chose the Merlot of course–an excellent drop and the perfect way to start our afternoon on board the Wine Train.
It wasn’t long before the appetizers arrived. We dined on a tasty calamari and ginger salad, a seaweed, shrimp and sesame salad; three slices of cheese and bread, and I ordered a glass of Riesling to accompany it all. I was really hungry, so these opening plates pleasantly teased my taste buds. As we sat back and admired the evolving landscape while sipping our wine and nibbling on our cheese, it was impossible to complain about anything. What an ideal way to start a lunch!
Since we had time before lunch was served, we took a stroll through the other compartments, hoping to stumble upon the kitchen car and get a sneak a peek of what the chef was preparing for us. Each car was decorated in such a unique way; it was a joy to stop and appreciate each one. I grabbed an empty seat with an open window and hung my head outside to feel the warm wind blowing on my face.
Next, we moved to the dining car, Le Gourmet Express, to enjoy our lunch. This turn-of-the-century car has been converted into a five-star restaurant, complete with white-linen tablecloths and beautifully pleated curtains around the windows—giving the entire room an authentic historical feel.
Once everyone had been comfortably seated, our three-course meal began. For the first course, we had the choice of a Baby Lettuce Salad or the Soup du Jour, which was Shrimp Bisque. I chose the soup, served with fresh chives on top. The bisque was soft and creamy, and paired perfectly with the acidity and sweetness in my Riesling. The antique silverware at our place setting was an elegant touch as well.
Then it was time to choose our entrée. There was an impressive selection of dishes, sure to satisfy anyone’s tastes. I chose the Beef Tenderloin, served in a Cabernet-reduction sauce with Gorgonzola toast and sautéed vegetables. The beef was tender and cooked to perfection, and nicely complemented the peppery notes of the Cabernet sauce. The glass of Cabernet Sauvignon I selected to pair with the dish created a symphony of flavors and impeccable balance on the palate. And to top it off, I was able to savor this amazing meal while taking in the gorgeous views of Napa Valley.
Lastly, it was time for dessert. Although I was already full from my entrée, I couldn’t pass up a Crème Brûlée or a Chocolate Fondant Cake. As soon as my server mentioned the word chocolate- my choice was made. Instead of wine, I asked for a coffee to prevent any post-meal nap temptation. The chocolate cake was out of this world; I ate every bite! It was the perfect way to end such a decadent lunch.
Over the four-hour journey, our train had ambled up the tracks to the beautiful town of St. Helena and back again to Napa. We returned to the station at 2:30pm and it was time to disembark. My escape back in time was unfortunately over. It was so hard to leave such a relaxing environment, yet stepping into the beauty of present-day wine country isn’t such a bad thing either!
Overall, this was an incredible experience—I’d take this trip again in a heartbeat. The Wine Train is a one-of-a-kind way to discover some great, often overlooked, vantage points of Napa Valley you aren’t able to see when driving in the busy traffic on Highway 29. Not to mention, this is an extremely romantic trip. Most of the passengers were nicely dressed couples celebrating an anniversary or some sort of special occasion. Lovers of all ages should definitely consider the Wine Train for their next romantic outing!
Gourmet Express Lunch – $129 per person – from 10:30 am to 2:30 pm – Napa
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Louise Veron – firstname.lastname@example.org
Marketing and Social Media Coordinator at VinoVisit.com
Originally from Bordeaux (France), I moved to the Napa Valley to work for VinoVisit.com in 2015. I just finished my trilingual Master’s degree in Wine Tourism and International Marketing and graduated with honors. As a real food and wine lover, I’m enjoying exploring the area and relating my discoveries from a very French point of view.