A Real Insider’s Guide To Napa Valley
Between 1985 and 1995 I traveled to France fairly regularly; usually twice per year. Due to various familial circumstances, each of my visits to the the country included a week in Paris, alone. I can say without equivocation that the most important item I always brought with me to Paris was a great guide book.
In the 80s and 90s, a “great guide book” possessed a few essential features for me:
1. It had to be very handy to lug around, meaning it had to be small in outline
2. It need to be opinionated, not ecumenical, on the question of where to go, where not to go, what to see, what to eat, and how long to devote. It other words, the guide needed to demonstrate at least some insider’s knowledge.
3. Maps. It needed great, easily accessible and easy to read maps.
4. Some impressive degree of history and context had to be provided for the major and minor cultural attractions.
I had such just such a little guide book that I used over he years and became wrecked for all its lugging around. It was perfect.
What struck me upon reading through Paul Franson’s new “The NapaLife Insider’s Guide to Napa Valley” is that today, great guide books no longer need to include the essentials of being luggable and don’t need to possesses any maps. Our little electronic phones and pads provide that for us. Today, a great guide books, in my opinion, needs to provide the reader with a real insider’s guide to the locations, demonstrated by compelling tips, history, recommendations and details.
This is exactly what Franson’s new guide provides and it looks like it might be something of an essential for visitors to Napa.
Franson acknowledges the new world of guide books and what they must do in his introduction when he writes:
“This isn’t your usual travel guide, for it is written fro a local insiders viewpoint, not a writer who parachutes in for a few days…And it is not objective. I make no claims to objectivity…This book is also prepared with a nod to today’s technologies and tastes. It doesn’t include detailed listings of restaurants, lodgings and wineries and their contact information, for almost everyone turns to the web for that these days.”
“The NapaLife Insider’s Guide to Napa Valley” is sort of stitched together. It consists of re-purposed information that first ran in Franson’s other writing venues as well as a great deal of it being written specifically for the book. What’s also impressive is that Franson really does have the most up-to-date information on Valley attractions, restaurants and wineries, critical for any guide book’s shelf life.
The information in the guide is extremely readable as it guiding. I learn the nature of housing prices in the Valley, where locals tend to go to eat, profiles of key individuals from Napa’s history and today, insight on various political issues that have roiled local residents. Being about Napa Valley, no one will be surprised to learn that Franson includes background on the various growing regions in the Valley as well as the various grapes that tend to dominate the landscape, and offers recommendations on which wineries to visit.
Beyond this kind of required information, Franson pulls the traveler into chapters not necessarily so obvious and this is what rally makes the new book so charming and useful. Among these types of chapters are:
-Gourmet Chocolate in Napa
-A Peak Inside the CIA
-Should Napa Restaurants Feature Napa Wine
-How to Stay at a Winery
-School and Charity Auctions to Attend
-Top Gardens in Napa Valley
-Winters in Napa Valley: Cabernet Season
-Visiting Napa Valley Alone
Make no mistake, this new guide points visitors to the places to shop, eat, sleep and visit, but does so in what is an unmistakably personal way that retains an opinionated voice throughout. Exactly what I’m looking for in a guide book.
Being a publicist working in Napa Valley, I do what every other similarly situated publicist and local business owner does: look to see if my clients are included in Franson’s book and recommendations. Of course, I noticed that on of my clients is not included in at least two sections of the book where their absence is conspicuous. That of course is not Paul’s fault, but rather mine. This oversight will be fixed via an invitation from Franson that comes at the end of the book: “If you find anything mentioned in the book has changed—or is simply wrong—please pass along your comments and changes so we can update it for future readers.” I’ll be happy to. And the invitation to do so is a nice touch.
The only complaint I really have about the book is in its format and structural form as delivered in its electronic form. First, chapter listings in the front of the book are not linked to the their location in the document, meaning one must scroll to the page to get to specific chapter. Also, through out the book, numerous website addresses are list, yet neither are these are live links. Finally, I’m thinking that when Franson lists addresses of wineries, restaurants, hotels, etc, those physical addresses ought to link to some sort of mapping service on the web. All this would make the book’s electronic version far more immersive. Finally, there are no photos or illustrations throughout the electronic version of “The NapaLife Insider’s Guide to Napa Valley.” A little eye candy wouldn’t hurt.
Franson lives and works in Napa Valley and this book demonstrates that important fact. In this neck of the woods he is well know for his writing and chronicling of Napa life from his regular contributions to the Napa Valley Register and articles in a number of other wine, food and travel publications. Simply put, he’s the right man for this job.
Still overall what we have here is a tremendous resource for visitors to Napa Valley that is likely to stand the test for some time to come. And the book delivers wonderfully on its title’s promise: It truly is an insider’s guide.