California, Here We Come!We packed the car and hopped on the Black Ball Ferry in the Inner Harbour under heavy grey skies. Not only was there a depressing drizzle. In addition, the temperature was a chilly 55 degrees Fahrenheit, or 13 degrees Celsius. After crossing the border, we skirted the Olympic National Forest on Highway 101 until we hit Olympia, Washington. And we drove straight down Highway 5 for two days. Because I had California clearly in my sights, I only pulled off the highway to eat or sleep.
Castello di AmorosaSet amid vineyards, a replica of a 14th century Tuscan castle, Castello di Amorosa is surrounded by a water-filled moat. Talk about California Dreamin’! There is an enormous iron drawbridge that closes the castle off from intruders – or is it wine tasters? And it’s unlike anything I had ever seen before. Castello di Amorosa, which is Italian for Castle of Love, is the faithful reproduction of a medieval castle with five towers and three acres of rooms on eight different levels.
When you go to Castello di Amorosa – and you must go! – you might feel as though you are dreaming! After entering the massive structure, you arrive in the castle’s Great Hall. And great it is!
After walking through the large Italian oak doorway, which was made with 2,000 hand-forged nails, your eyes are drawn to the hand-painted frescoes adorning the large walls. And the 500-year-old Umbrian fireplace in the Great Hall lends authenticity to the space.The centerpiece of the room, its very raison d’etre, is a massive table begging for a medieval banquet to be set before you. Surely knights in shining armor are about to enter the room, cast aside their swords, and pull their boots off, leaving them scattered on the cold brick floor! Go outside and contemplate the attention to detail that was showered on the courtyard. For example, almost a million antique bricks were used in the building of Castello di Amorosa. And many of them are artistically displayed in the courtyard along with handcrafted nails, bolts, and lamps.
14th Century Italy?The rest of the rooms at the castle are equally impressive. For example. there is a chapel, an armoury with weapons that are centuries old, and a torture chamber all confirming the dream (or is it a nightmare?) that you have been transported back to 14th century Italy. And if you take the castle tour, you will be offered a barrel tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Grand Barrel Room, which is three floors below ground level with precisely engineered brick supports surrounded by large aromatic wooden barrels. To clarify, these barrels are filled with Italian style wines made from grapes grown around the castle and in carefully chosen vineyards close by. And they are under precise temperature and humidity controls to ensure the wines age exactly as they are meant to do.
Cellar Master Margarito RiveraWhen I entered a room lined with stainless steel vats, the soft aroma of grapes morphing into wine was an exhilarating and intoxicating experience. Imagine a workplace full of open wine bottles, and you will start to understand the heady aroma filling the air. This is where I met privately with Cellar Master Margarito Rivera, chatting with him about his enviable job. When I asked him what he liked the most about his job, he said, “That bouquet is what makes me look forward to coming to work.” We should all be so lucky to have a job we can’t wait to get to! And similar remarks were made by other staff I chatted with as I explored the castle.
Blogger’s TipIf you plan to visit the Napa Valley, make sure to put Castello di Amorosa on your list. But also be sure to book in advance! In order to provide the most meaningful experience possible, the number of guests is meticulously managed, just like everything else at the castle. So advanced bookings are required.
How to Get to Castello di AmorosaIf you’re flying, the closest airport to Castello di Amorosa is Charles Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa. And it is served by four airlines, with nonstop flights to several cities on the West Coast as well as Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. The closest major airport is Oakland International Airport, which is served by 11 airlines and has flights to dozens of cities across the United States and Mexico. Most importantly, it is a focus city for Southwest Airways and Allegiant. Finally, Sacramento International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Mineta San Jose International Airport are also within driving distance of the castle. San Francisco has by far the largest number of flights to the most travel destinations. While it is a hub for both United Airlines and Alaska Airlines, most other legacy US airlines and close to to 40 foreign air carriers also serve the massive air field.
- Sonoma County Airport (STS) – 22 miles (40 kilometers); 40 minutes in light traffic.
- Oakland International Airport (OAK) – 75 miles (121 kilometers); 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes in light traffic.
- Sacramento International Airport (SMF) – 88 miles (142 kilometers); 1 hour, 40 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes in light traffic.
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – 66 miles (134 kilometers); 1 hour, 40 minutes to 2 hours in light traffic.
- San Jose International Airport (SJC) – 107 miles (172 kilometers); 2 hours to 2 hours 15 minutes in light traffic.