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by Erika Lenkert



Girls Gone Napa


While "Sex & The City" didn't capture the essence of my female friendships, it did get one thing right: There are few things we enjoy more than hanging with our crew and gossiping about our lives. Add a stunning backdrop, places to shop, great spas, and fantastic food and libations and we truly are in heaven. For that reason Napa is the perfect destination for a girlfriend weekend.

Not all gaggles can be seen hanging out of Hummer limousines, hooting at grapevines and befuddled tourists, as they careen toward the next winery—although those girls seem to be having a particularly good time. Many of us are just as happy meeting up for a massage and a mani-pedi, discovering a genius pair of shoes at a cute boutique, sipping wine in a hot tub, and slipping into something festive for a night on the country town. If you fall into that category, read on for a few of my all-time favorite things to do with the gal pals.

Lounge!
Wine Country hotels are famous for their cute and cozy factor. With comfy rooms, patios or terraces, fireplaces, wine and cheese socials, many of them could inspire you to linger on the premises for a good portion of your trip. If that sounds good to you, head directly to The Villagio (6481 Washington Street, Yountville, 800-351-1133, www.villagio.com. It's an outstanding group choice because it has lots of well-appointed rooms and an elaborate spa. A more affordable option, that can pack a few pals in the same pad, include the simple but fully equipped two-bedroom Hideaway Cottages in Calistoga (1412 Fairway, Calistoga, 707-942-4108, www.hideawaycottages.com).

Spa!
The Villagio's not the only spa destination. The cute town of Calistoga is home to a hearty handful of spas centered around the town's famous hot springs and their trademark treatment—mud baths. Yes, a mud bath is just that—a bath in a tub filled with warm mud. It's exhilarating to some, horrifying to others. But for girlfriends with a sense of adventure it's an opportunity to giggle uncontrollably as you're ushered through an experience seems straight out of an "I Love Lucy" episode. By the way, you can also find great massage and facials here. Try the mid-century funky Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs (1507 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 707-942-4102, www.drwilkinson.com).

Shop!
Serious retail therapy starts at the base of the valley at Napa Premium Outlets (629 Factory Stores Dr., Napa, 707-226-9876, www.premiumoutlets.com), a cluster of discount stores that includes Banana Republic, Barneys New York, and TSE. For a more luxe boutique experience, beeline directly to downtown St. Helena where four blocks of housewares, clothing, jewelry, gourmet chocolate, and fancy pet gifts might have you calling your credit card company to increase your limit.

Eat!
To me, the best girlfriend gab happens at the dinner table. Fortunately, the valley has a number of delicious spots that seat larger parties and won't be offended if hearty open-mouthed laughs come from your table and ring through the air. For lively Italian food and atmosphere, I regularly turn to Bistro Don Giovanni (4110 Howard Ln., Napa, 707-224-3300, www.bistrodongiovanni.com). A Mediterranean small plates feast and large upstairs table await you at quaint Zuzu (829 Main St., Napa, 707-224-8555, www.zuzunapa.com). If you are having too much fun to pause and mull over a menu, you're in luck at Ad Hoc (6476 Washington St., 707-944-2487). Until famed chef Thomas Keller can turn his attention to its new concept he is serving one menu per night, served family style, in a relaxed but slick room. Hurry up. It's only happening through the winter. But another of his gems, Bouchon (6534 Washington St., Yountville, 707-944-8037, www.frenchlaundry.com) is always a sure thing for great French bistro food and conversation.

Live It Up!
Any combination of good friends and the above will make for a memorable weekend. And if you want to put it over the top, there is always the 20-passenger Hummer Limo (800-851-4294).