News, Tips & Bargains : Rooms Go Begging in Napa Valley

<i> From Times wire reports</i>

Reports of widespread destruction in Northern California from the recent rains have slowed the tourist trade to a trickle in the Napa Valley--one of the nation’s premier wine regions and one that depends as much on the flow of visitors as the flow of wine.

Although the valley was spared the flood damage suffered in the wine-producing regions of neighboring Sonoma County, this isn’t the image tourists apparently gathered from news accounts. As a result, many Napa Valley hotels, B&Bs;, elegant restaurants and health spas are nearly empty.

“It’s murder,” said Chuck Foster, head of the Napa Valley Conference and Visitor’s Bureau. “They flash a caption that says ‘Wine Country,’ and the world associates that with the Napa Valley. We’ve had places reporting 50% cancellations. It’s like someone flipped a switch.”

Winter is usually the slow season in the 30-mile-long valley, when hotel occupancy rates drop 40% to 45% from the summer highs, but cut that figure in half and financial losses start to pile up.


Napa Valley officials expect the cancellations to end, and the tourist business to pick up, but they aren’t taking any chances. Businesses are buying radio advertisements and calling travel agents to beg them not to cancel tours and conventions, Foster said. “We will bounce back. We’re still gorgeous and eventually we’ll get the word out,” Foster said. “But in the hospitality industry you cannot sell yesterday’s room.”

Visiting Taiwan Without Visas

Starting this month, citizens of the United States and 11 other countries can enter Taiwan without visas for visits of up to 14 days, according to the Taiwan Visitors Assn. Americans and citizens of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom and New Zealand are included. One must have a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date of entry.

France Completes Bridge of Normandy


A spectacular 2,808-foot-long bridge linking the French port of Le Havre with resort towns in lower Normandy has been completed.

The new Bridge of Normandy (pictured right) is the world’s longest cable-stayed bridge, according to Associated Press. Unlike conventional suspension bridges, which rely on two massive cables anchored at each end of the structure, cable-stayed bridges have numerous smaller cables angling down from two large towers. Engineers say the structure is capable of withstanding winds of 217 miles an hour. Cars will be charged $6 per crossing, and the world’s top cyclists will cross the bridge July 5 during the fourth stage of the Tour de France.

One-Stop Shopping for London Arts

Beginning Feb. 1, travelers to London can buy tickets to plays, musicals, operas, concerts, museums and galleries with one telephone call as part of a two-month program called the “London Arts Season.” During February and March that means one-stop shopping for more than 100 venues--tickets that normally must be purchased individually. The schedule and details--including some discounts and other special events--are outlined in a “London Arts Season” booklet, available from the British Tourist Authority (800-462-2748).