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Napa Valley - on a Budget


Don't let sticker-shock scare you from touring one of the world's foremost wine countries. Try these five money-saving tips.

Splurging for a memorable meal, plush accommodations, or a few reserve wine tastings is part of the fun of a wine lover's romp through Napa Valley. However, if you alternate your well-chosen splurges with these cost-cutting strategies, you actually might have enough money left over to bring home some bottles of wine:

1. Pack a picnic: The dry, mild climate that makes Napa Valley such a great place for grapes to grow also makes it a paradise for picnickers. Many wineries welcome visitors with picnic tables overlooking scenic vistas. Find a list of wineries offering picnic areas at www.napavintners.com.

Finding the goodies for your picnic can be a pleasurable treasure hunt; most every wine country town has quaint food shops and serious gourmet delis.

2. Splurge at lunch: So you have your heart set on a world-famous culinary destination-a Napa outpost of your favorite celebrity chef or someone whose cookbook you've used and admired for years. If you're on a budget, book lunch instead of dinner, when you can usually savor the great flavors and savoir fare of the kitchen at scaled-back prices. 

3. Have dinner in the lounge: For dinner, look for restaurants that have informal lounges, cafés, or pizzerias adjacent to their pricier dining rooms. Often, such places offer casual dishes that cost less but are-in the best cases-prepared with the same overall philosophy for which the restaurant is famous. These hideaways also are where you're most likely to rub elbows with the locals.

4. Travel Out of Season: Reasonably priced national chain hotels can be found in the area; however, if you do have your heart set on that unforgettable bed and breakfast or luxury hotel or resort, consider going in the off-season. Prices generally climb April 1 through October, but are lower during other months. For example, the refined country cottages nestled amid the 250 wooded acres of the sumptuous Meadowood Napa Valley resort go for about $100 less per night from January through March (www.meadowood.com). Look for special off-season packages at other Napa Valley bed and breakfasts and resorts. Find links to lodgings at www.napavalley.com.


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