Big Sur at Dusk
I happen to be driving through Monterey to Big Sur right at dusk, aka magic hour. The sky to my west over the Pacific literally looks on fire. It is ablaze with deep red and oranges and the dry hills to the east glow pink. It is mesmerizing. And I can’t get over how warm it is. I just flew in from Chicago where I left 40ºF temps. Here it’s somewhere in the 70s and…perfect.
Ventana Inn & Spa
By the time I reach my hotel, it is pitch black and I almost miss the turnoff of Highway One for the Ventana Inn. I start ascending into a forest of coastal redwoods and can smell the wood fireplaces burning. There is just a palpable feeling of contentment in the air. I slowly drive my rental car up and around some switchbacks and curves while only small, tasteful lights light the way. In the dark of night, I can already tell I love this place. The grounds are landscaped in a way that seems natural, yet lovely. The downward lights illuminate the road without washing out the stunning Milky Way galaxy overhead. If the curvy roads don’t kill me, the fact that I keep looking to the sky and not the road, will. With no bearings of where exactly to go to check-in, I am greeted in the dark parking lot by one of the workers. Turns out he, like many others I speak to during my stay, had emigrated from Mexico, lives on the property, and has worked here for two decades. He says he loves working here. So far his ‘office’ doesn’t seem to shabby. High above the sea in the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains, the Ventana Inn & Spa is smartly and respectfully carved into the forest. The property is meticulously landscaped in that not-really-looking landscaped kind of way – kind of like a girl that wears just the right amount of makeup so you can’t tell she’s wearing make-up. Parts of the grounds delight with revealing ocean overlooks while the rooms and cabin-suites are built around stately sequoia trees. This is a special place where you come for those memorable occasions – honeymoons, anniversaries, milestone birthdays…and random blogger road trips like mine.
The property was conceived as a retreat by movie producer Lawrence A. Spector and built in the 1970s with profits he earned as co-producer of the flick, Easy Rider. Back then, the Inn was frequented by stars like Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, and remains a popular getaway for the rich and famous. In fact, part of movie star Ann Hathaway’s wedding party stayed here just a few weeks before I arrive, as she got married on some amazing outdoor spot nearby overlooking the Pacific.
My ‘Superior Fireplace’ room is just the right combo of rustic and modern and feels like a little apartment. I love the natural stone tiles used in the shower and the cushy, comfy cloud-like bed. The walls are all made of cedar.
And I especially love curling up like a cat on the window seat or plopping down in front of the wood-burning fireplace after a lovely bath in the oversized tub nearly in the center of the room. I’m not normally a bath girl, but this is too good to pass up – a roaring fire, bubble bath, some Bose speakers and an iPod dock for some sweet tunes…how romantic. Oh yeah. I’m alone.
Despite the fact that I travel solo all the time and enjoy it, part of me wonders if I will feel lonely or a heightened sense of my ‘aloneness’ since I will be possibly surrounded by couples all enjoying romantic bliss. But this never happens. Although it’s an expensive resort, it still keeps an air of ‘laidback-ness’, which I really appreciate.
Dinner at the Restaurant at Ventana
On my first evening, I have dinner at Ventana’s restaurant. Part of the adventure of eating here, is getting here. It is on the property, but about a 20-minute hike down a dirt path through the forest and at night it’s at once, both beautiful and spooky with all the stars above and tastefully-lit grounds, while a rustle in the bushes makes you wonder what nocturnal forest creatures lurk. Once cozy inside the fireplace-heated, woodsy dining room, I settle in to a cushy booth to begin my feast for one. I start with a raspberry almond lemonade with fresh raspberries, homemade lemonade, orgeat syrup, and white rum. It is just the refreshing drink I need after my mini-hike in the darkness. Next comes a light and delicious roasted spaghetti squash dish with ovendried tomatoes, arugula, a brioche, and balsamic vinegar.
For my entrée I choose the wild California sea bass with celery root, chanterelle mushrooms (which make any dish for me), wilted arugula (another fave), and a red wine reduction. It wasn’t cheap, but I liked the simplicity of the menu – all the appetizers were $16 and all entrees set you back $38.
A Hike in the Woods
During my stay, I enjoy the complimentary hike offered to guests every morning. We loop around the grounds for about an hour and a half and learn about the various animal and plant life around these parts (and thanks to my inquiries, I also get the best recomendations of where to eat from a real local – my guide’s family goes back generations here). There are a number of indigenous species— some rare, endangered or threatened like the Smith’s blue butterfly, California red-legged frog, California condor, wood stork and western pond turtle, live around this diverse natural habitat.
Luckily, there were a few warmer-than-normal days here, so I am able to enjoy some R&R poolside. There are two pools here, one being clothing optional. I debate going, but figure that would be best saved for my next visit…with my boyfriend. 🙂
Disclosure: Thanks to Ventana Inn for hosting my dinner and part of my stay. My trip to Big Sur was made possible by Samsung who gifted me a Samsung Galaxy SIII with which I shot some of the photos shown here. As always the views expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views of Samsung.