I love trains. I used to live in Central Europe, where taking the train was a normal part of life. When we wanted to go to the next city to shop or have tea with friends, we took the train. Prague for the weekend? Hop on the train. But here in the U.S., train travel is not such a part of our culture anymore.
The Napa Valley Wine Train in Napa Valley, California, keeps old style train travel alive. A leisurely ride in a restored luxury train sounded like the perfect daytime getaway for me and my husband, and we were fortunate to take a lunch ride last month and experience it for ourselves.
The Wine Train uses the old train tracks that were laid running north and south through Napa Valley in 1864, well before there was neighboring Highway 29. I love that the old train tracks are still being used, but what’s especially appealing to me is the train itself. Perfectly restored original Pullman train cars make up the Wine Train. Some of them are 100 years old!
The three-hour ride begins next to the amazing Oxbow Public Market in the Oxbow District of the city of Napa and travels north to the town of St. Helena. Here the train takes a break while the locomotive is disconnected and then switched to the opposite end for the return trip down the valley.
The train trip is a luxurious experience that encouraged us to slow down and appreciate the views, both of the antique train cars inside and the wine country outside.
This being the wine train, every train ride begins with wine. Ours was a dry sparkling wine, Mumm Brut Prestige from Mumm Napa.
Several lunch and dinner train ride packages are available, from the quintessential lunch Gourmet Express Package in the lounge and dining cars, lunch the open air Silverado Car from May to October, and the fine dining experience in the Vista Dome Car. All packages allow passengers to experience the other train cars, including the Kitchen Car where meals are prepared, the lounge cars, deli car, grappa power car, as well as the Wine Tasting Car where visitors can enjoy a customized wine tasting flight for $10.
We took the new the Vista Dome Car “premier train.” Starting in January, the Wine Train performs maintenance on its cars and therefore has begun offering a limited number of weekday Vista Dome Car excursions. The train feels more private because the number of guests is smaller than usual. The dome car is connected to antique lounge cars, a grappa power car, and a deli car. We especially enjoyed walking through the cars and finding old details, like the original yin-yang symbol in the red stained glass of Pullman cars:
All lunch rides include a four-course meal–appetizer, salad or soup, a main course, and dessert, as well as coffee and a welcome glass of wine. The food, which is all prepared on board in special train car kitchens, uses seasonal ingredients. I especially like the chef’s use of local micro-greens, as seen on my risotto (which is topped with a roasted gypsy pepper stuffed with sweet potato puree–yum!).
Our meals included plenty of delicious seafood–smoked salmon crepes as an appetizer with various kinds of caviar, lobster bisque, and grilled salmon as a main course option–but there was a nice variety of choices for each course, and vegetarian options are available. The espresso creme brulee was one of the best desserts I’ve had in a while!
Besides the antique train cars and the views, I cherished the time to just sit and relax. As parents of two little boys, my husband and I rarely get the opportunity to just sit, have adult conversation, tune out our kids’ needs for a while, and enjoy each other’s company. The three-hour train ride gave us the opportunity to do just that.
Winter is actually a great time to visit Napa Valley. It’s much less crowded, and in mid-January or February, there can be warm days like the one we had. Even though the grape vines are not as pretty without their leaves, the yellow mustard blossoms that cover most vineyards and the green, green hills that are here only after winter rains are quite a sight.
We ended the ride in one of the lounge cars with coffee, just watching the valley go by outside and savoring the quiet moments. (Obviously, I need to get more used to taking photos of us–I came home without even one photo on my camera of us enjoying our date!)
Have you gone on a luxury train ride? Would you like to ride the Napa Wine Train?
P.S. Much more about Napa Valley:
My travel guidebook for Napa Valley with a complete 3-day itinerary, available on Amazon
And more blog posts about Napa Valley:
Build the Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley
Where to See Art in Napa Valley
Disclosure: We were guests of the Napa Wine Train, but my love of the Wine Train is my own! In fact, we saw what happens when things don’t quite go as planned on the Wine Train–the old train engine encountered some difficulty during our ride–and were impressed that the staff handled it with grace and refunded the train ride portion of the ticket for all the passengers.