Themed facilities earn Napa Valley winery high marks.

The men's bathroom at Castello di Amorosa winery in California's Napa Valley. (Photo credit: Julius Ballanco.)

Every year since 2000, there is a competition for the best public bathroom in the United States. While a rather interesting contest, it’s nice to see someone honoring the fruits of our labor. (To view the 2011 winner and the other nominated bathrooms, go

When the finalists for 2011 were announced, I noticed the Castello di Amorosa winery in Napa Valley had one of the top 10 best bathrooms. I was on my way to California for vacation, which included a few days in Napa, as well as some hiking in the High Sierras in Yosemite.

Our trip was already mapped out and Castello di Amorosa, also known as Castle Winery, was not on our agenda. Hence, I had to convince two other couples and my wife to take a side trip to the winery. Of course, they wanted to know why.

I had to explain if I was that close to one of the best bathrooms in the country, I needed to see it. I also needed to take pictures of it. One response was, “You’re going to take your camera into the bathroom?” I responded I would, of course, get permission first.

They all agreed to indulge me by letting me take this side trip to Castello di Amorosa. Of course, it helped the rental car was in my name, so they knew there was little they could do to stop me.

Quite The Site

As we approached Castello di Amorosa, you could see a beautiful castle sitting on a hillside. In a way, I was disappointed we didn’t have this winery on our itinerary. But, when traveling with friends, you don’t throw a curveball by changing the wineries at the drop of a hat.

The castle, which features a hand-painted great hall, was built in 1993 and was intended to replicate a 12th century Tuscan castle. The castle is 121,000 square feet with 107 rooms and features eight levels, although four are below ground. After all, it is a winery. The castle wouldn’t be complete without a drawbridge, moat, dungeon, torture chamber, chapel and, of course, a wine barrel room.

Small by Napa Valley winery standards, it only produces about 15,000 cases of wine a year - all sold on site.

I promised my traveling companions a short stop, with me only taking a few minutes to see the bathrooms. I also felt that asking to see their highly ranked bathrooms might be a little dicey.

My fears were alleviated when I mentioned what I was interested in to the hostess at the front door to the castle. She said everyone at Castello di Amorosa was very proud of the recognition the bathrooms have received. She immediately ushered me into the general manager’s office. I already was impressed with the friendly greeting by the hostess. She was magnificent.

The general manager contactedJim Sullivan, the winery’s vice president of public relations and marketing. Jim was a very pleasant man and was very proud of the bathrooms. I apologized for taking time out of his busy day. After all, I was there during the height of tourism season.

I explained my mission was to see the bathrooms, take a few photos and write an article on what I saw. Jim was delighted to show me the bathrooms. He also was pleased to have the bathrooms written up inPM. I did promise him a few copies.

First, I was offered the ladies’ room. I said I would rather stand outside than go in. After all, there were many people around and who knows how many ladies would be in the bathroom. I didn’t want to freak them out by walking in with a camera.

Castello di Amorosa women's restroom.

The Big Moment

I didn’t have to go in to already see the bathroom’s beauty. The ladies’ room was impressive. The entire castle theme was maintained through the bathrooms. The door to the water closet compartment in the ladies’ room had a beautiful painting of a lady of the court (see photo above).

The men’s room had an entry door that looked like you were going into the knight’s training room. The water closet compartment had a painting of a knight with his horse on the door, and three knights on the remaining compartment walls. It sure looked a lot better than a sterile stainless-steel water closet compartment.

The walls and floor had beautiful tile with your standard wall-hung urinal on the wall. The lavatory looked like a period piece - something that belonged in a castle. The faucet spout was a dragon head. That was the first time I had an automatic faucet provide water to wash my hands through a dragon’s mouth.

What it showed me is you can have fun by maintaining the theme of the building with your bathrooms. Too often, themed buildings have standard bathrooms. At Castello di Amorosa, the bathroom continues the theme. I really appreciated how they decorated the bathrooms. You can easily feel like a knight in the 12th century when you are using the facilities.

The only drawback was my traveling group of friends did not include Castello di Amorosa on our tour of Napa. After seeing the bathrooms, I would have enjoyed seeing the rest of the castle. Jim Sullivan invited me and any of my guests to tour the entire castle. But I had made a promise to my traveling companions. So I have to add Castello di Amorosa on my list of stops the next time I get to Napa Valley.

I would encourage everyone to make a stop at Castello di Amorosa if you are visiting northern California. Be sure to visit the bathroom. Not only are the bathrooms some of the best in the country, but you’ll be able to sample some of their great wines.