In a house with kids, it’s easy to lose a weekend. I’m sure you know what I mean. With homework, swim meets, birthday parties, you can forget to take some time to just relax. I can’t do it sitting at home. The list of things to do is too long, so I try to plan fun family adventures right in my Northern California Wine Country backyard.
This was one of our best summer’s yet. Splashing on a hot day at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, riding through Chalk Hill’s Vineyards with Wine Country Trail Rides and ziplining through the redwoods. Now I can add a California Castle to the growing list.
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa is located in California’s Napa Valley, in the small-town setting of Calistoga. If you’re not paying attention you’ll drive right by it on North Saint Helena Highway. But once you make the turn and start your way up the driveway, the Tuscan castle will make a dramatic first impression. It took 15 years to build the 121,000 square foot castle with 107 rooms (95 devoted to winemaking) a church, drawbridge, moat and yes, even torture chamber.
You might be curious to know how a castle found its way to the middle of Napa Valley? It’s a childhood dream come true.
Castle owner, Dario Sattui, of V. Sattui Winery fame, explains it best in a welcome message posted at the entrance to the castle.
“I built Castello di Amorosa (Castle of Love) because of my passionate, all-consuming desire to create something extraordinary, to honor my Italian heritage, because of my deep love of medieval architecture, and because of my commitment to making superior wines in a magnificent setting.” Dario Sattui
Kid Friendly Tours
“That knight suit is my new Halloween costume,” declared my 10 year-old daughter as we were getting ready to start our tour.
My girls were the only kids on the tour, but our guide Henriette hooked them right in when she asked if they had ever seen the movie Bedtime Stories with Adam Sandler. Turns out parts of the movie were shot at the castle, and my girls were quick to remember the scenes as we got moving.
Tours last about 1-1/2 hours in length. Along with learning about winemaking, you’ll learn fascinating things about the castle itself. Sattui spared no expense making the castle as authentic as possible. Handmade antique bricks were purchased and shipped from Europe. Painters were brought from Tuscany. All the ironwork was hand-forged by Italian artisans. The ironwork dragons and stone gargoyles have definite kid appeal. My kids enjoyed finding whatever lurked around the next corner. And some of those corners are dark. Two-thirds of the castle is below ground.
Gargoyles aren’t the only surprise. Keep your eyes open for Lancelot and Guinevere, the resident felines. Lancelot has been known to accompany tours every now and then. You’ll spend about an hour walking, the tasting will take up the rest of the tour time. Take a sweater, the wine caves can be chilly.
My kids had just about had it when it was time to taste, so I didn’t expect to be able to linger very long, but when we entered the small tasting room reserved for tours a special kids table was set and ready to go with crayons and castle inspired coloring sheets. They headed straight for it, leaving my husband and I in the dust. We made it through 2, maybe 3 tastings before one wandered over to see what we were up to.
While the adults were enjoying a selection of Castello di Amorosa’s italian style wines, the girls we sipping from the winery’s bottled Muscat of Alexandria, also known as California grape juice. The next thing you know our guide Henriette had also delivered chocolate to their table.
Wineries can get crowded and noisy, so the private tasting room that came along with the tour was nice perk for families.
I’d recommend making a reservation for a guided tour. If you’d just like to do a tasting and not tour the castle, reservations are not necessary. When you arrive, instead of heading for the main tasting area, look for a smaller tasting area that is home to the Knight’s Room. Right next to the tasting bar is a large table covered with crayons and castle coloring sheets for kids of all ages. The table was full of kids and folks I’ll call kids at heart, showing off their artistic side.
“Tons of families come in and out everyday,” said Castello di Amorosa employee Kelly Valles. “How many castles do you get to go in in California?”
My girls couldn’t wait to get to the castle store to buy the sea salt chocolate they had sampled, along with their own bottle of Muscat of Alexandria. Their own bottle put in a fancy wine bag that they weren’t letting go of. Mom the Sherpa was happily, albeit temporarily, out of work.
It was time to head home, and think about dinner and homework. Just one catch, when you leave the castle you exit on another side of the property. Home to sweeping views of vines and a few lucky sheep, chickens and peacocks. You know what happens when kids and critters get together.
That’s okay. I wasn’t in any rush to get home to that to do list.
Editorial Note: Dana and her family were given a complimentary tour of Castello di Amorosa. She was not asked to present any particular point of view in her coverage of the experience. Photos by Dana Rebmann
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