Superb wine, friendly locals and a countryside paved with natural beauty, Temecula has charm by the bucketload says Kaye Holland
Temecula Valley may not have previously figured on your mental map – the likes of LA, Anaheim and San Diego typically top the SoCal sightseeing agenda – but when you get there, it’s hard to see why not.
Only 90 miles southeast of LA and 60 miles north of San Diego, Temecula is Southern California’s premier wine growing region and a good place to disappear for a long, lazy weekend. For while Napa – Northern California’s wine country – throngs with Michelin starred eateries (here’s looking at you French Laundry), chi chi boutiques, bizarre architecture and high end wineries, Temecula is quieter and far less developed.
You’ll find around 40 wineries free of crowds and mercifully, without their northern counterparts’ perturbing price tags (after all, the last person you want to be chatting to on your hols, is your bank manager).
I can recommend Wilson Creek Winery where you can quaff an array of sparkling wines including orange mimosa, peach bellini and, my favourite, the celebrated almond champagne. Be warned: you will experience a strong urge to splurge on a few bottles. There’s an onsite restaurant if you’re in the mood for food (think hearty sandwiches and salads), which is often served by the warm, hospitable owners Rosie and Gerry, who always have time to talk.
Elsewhere Callaway Vineyard and Winery also rewards a stop off. The name Ely Reeves Callaway is often associated with golf (the success of the ‘Big Bertha’ golf club made Ely an icon among the Pringle wearing posse), but it turns out that the entrepreneur knew a thing or two about wine as well. Visitors can explore the 40 year old Callaway estate through a hosted tasting tour (don’t miss out on the 1974 white riesling which was served to Queen Elizabeth II during a luncheon in New York City and who, legend has it, enjoyed the variety so much that she asked for a second glass) before soaking up the alcohol with a meal at Meritage. This onsite restaurant specialises in tapas paired with the perfect glass of wine, natch, and unrivalled views of Callaway’s rolling vineyards.
Yet while vines and wines do dominate proceedings, Temecula Valley isn’t just for oenophiles. Much of Temecula’s appeal lies in its heart stoppingly pretty old town – a beguiling place for camera clad tourists owing to its wooden boardwalks and unique shops. Fun to browse stores include the Temecula Lavender Company (a haven for all things lavender), the Temecula Olive Oil Company where you can taste blood orange, basil and balsamic vinegars and the Old Town Root Beer Company. The latter is the place to peruse more than 100 flavours of root beer and perhaps indulge in a root beer float – a ‘beat the heat treat’ made with vanilla ice cream and root beer, that was invented back in 1874.
But it’s not all about tradition. New bars and restaurants are mushrooming and I enjoyed a fabulous meal at The Gambling Cowboy – a family owned All American steakhouse where I found myself fast slipping into a food coma (I blame the brownie martini). Yes eating here is without a doubt bad for the waist, but boy is it good for the soul. E.A.T. (Extraordinary Artisan Table) is another standout Temecula restaurant specialising in seasonal produce, and one that participates in the Slow Food movement – a not for profit organisation that’s dedicated to improving the way we eat.
However while there are plenty of excellent eateries in Temecula, fab hotels are currently few and far between. The Temecula Creek Inn is both characterful and comfortable boasting every amenity you could desire – including a stunning 27-hole championship course that received the coveted Four Star rating from Golf Digest Places to Play – but there aren’t many, if any, other charming hotels in town.
There’s no pumping party scene either (for nightlife you need to head to the nearby Pechanga Resort and Casino, the largest in the Western U.S) but those who venture to Temecula do so for its peacefulness. Compared with the rest of the state, it feels like exactly what it is: off the beaten track and undiscovered.
At the risk of gushing, I’d recommend you visit and experience a part of California that has largely been forgotten. That would make the tourism board’s day. But don’t worry about them – be selfish and go for yourself because, with so much on offer, it can only be a matter of time before Temecula becomes the next Napa. Explore, enjoy and get there before everybody else does.
For more inspiration and information on what to do in Temecula, click here