Hot air balloons, vineyards and European sophistication

Although I am a California native, I had never visited the Temecula area. As I was assigned to visit the region, I purposefully didn’t dive into research as I normally do because I wanted a completely open mind. I knew it was in the valley of inland California but not much else. What I discovered was an emerging luxury destination that is bringing old world sophistication to modern day meetings.

Meet Smart

seats around a fireplace at sunset
The Inn at Europa Village

Temecula is tucked away in the hills of Southern Central California, just over an hour away from the San Diego International Airport (SAN.) I had never visited a casino before, so I was shocked at the magnitude of Pechanga Resort Casino. With two towers–one for the hotel and one for the casino–a fire station, a golf course and club, a luxury spa and its own power supply, I was taken aback. The resort has a second floor dedicated to corporate meetings and conferences with breakout rooms and easy access to all the eating, shopping, amenities and activities the resort has to offer. After settling into my apartment-style room, I was ready to explore Temecula’s wine country.

Europe and California have an unexpected marriage in the hidden gem that is Temecula. Not only do the sprawling golden hills of grape vines and fruit trees bring to mind a Tuscan vacation, Temecula has taken the European vibe a step further and is currently building out Europa Village. The compound consists of three separate “villages”, Spanish Bolero, Italian Vienza and French C’est La Vie for a walkable tour of three iconic European countries complete with markets, delis and shopping. While Bolero is open to the public, Vienza and C’est La Vie are projected to follow by 2025. Groups can stay at The Inn at Europa Village and choose from any of Europa Village’s many meeting and event spaces for corporate meetings or social receptions.

Read MoreEurope in Southern California

Eat This

wine bottles and wine glasses
Leano Winery & Vineyard

Food and wine pairings at the wineries in Temecula offer delightful food, local wine and flexible meeting places. Oak Mountain Winery has 50 acres of vines between two properties and the only underground wine cave in Temecula. 107 ft. below the outdoor seating area and the tasting room is The Cave. For a small meeting or event, the library in The Cave or the private tasting room gives an intimate Temecula wine country experience, complete with a globally diverse menu. I tasted the sesame crusted ahi tuna and devoured (too much) of the Italian charcuterie. Everything was delicious!

We connect with our guests on a whole different level.”

– Executive Chef Hany Ali, Europa Village

Transport your group to Sicily with the gourmet food of Alex & Charity Prestifilippo, owners of acclaimed restaurants in Old Town Temecula such as Bottega Italia, Gourmet Italia and Poggio Leano Winery & Vineyard. The duo also caters private events for groups. Putting a modern twist on classic dishes with the freshest of ingredients, Chef Alex & Charity will create a menu that truly transports your palette to Sicily.

Must Do

Wilson Creek Winery is one of the larger wineries in Temecula with the oldest cabernet vines in America. As I sat underneath the canopy of vines in the outdoor “Vineyard Row,” Pinot’s Palette provided the group with a paint & sip experience. As we sat surrounded by the incredible landscape of Southern California’s wine country, we were guided in painting our own individual wine bottles.

Wilson Creek has a courtyard large enough to host live music and other group events for up to 1,700 people. Second story meeting and tasting rooms with private verandas overlooking the courtyard can be rented for exclusive events for up to 50 people. From private executive meeting rooms to major concerts, Wilson Creek Winery offers an immense variety of options to fit any meetings or events needs.

If you had asked me six months ago if I would ever ride in a hot air balloon, I would have said, “Absolutely, no.” As someone who is afraid of heights, I didn’t know if I would have the courage to do it. But as the majestic balloon provided by A Grape Escape lifted me up and floated over the Temecula Valley, I found it to be a safe and peaceful experience. The serenity, the beauty of Temecula’s wine country and the hot air balloon itself made for a morning I will never forget.

Larger balloons can take up to 16 people. At the end of the trip, adventurers receive an official “honorary aeronaut” certificate complete with a champagne toast! Groups will bond over this once-in-a-lifetime activity.

This article appears in the digital-only July and July/August 2023 issue. You can subscribe to the magazine here.