The California We Love: Monterey Peninsula/Big Sur/Oakhurst

Lodges, boutiques and a great drive

The Bernardus Report

Here's the report card on Bernardus Lodge, the latest indication that Carmel Valley is becoming the Monterey area's most upscale leisure travel destination.

Layout and Architecture: C+
Most of the 57 rooms are in one- and two-story buildings that are vernacular western in style. Of these, the Lawn View rooms are in one-story units clustered around the croquet lawn. The architecture is unprepossessing, and the buildings are quite close together. They do have some wonderful detailing—French doors and Palladian windows in the rooms on the ends.

Premium View Deluxe Rooms: A
They're large with enormous arched windows (although the proximity of adjoining buildings means your neighbors can see in), fireplaces, and high ceilings. Best of the best: 34, 36, and 38. Of these, 38 is tops.

Regular Rooms: B-
Standard-issue doubles. Get a Scenic or Vineyard View, as these rooms have a bit more privacy.

Amenities: A
The thick feather bed on the mattress is fabulous, a nice complement to the Frette linens.

The Spa: A
Terrific treatments offered in a beautiful building. The centerpiece is a Warming Room, so called because of the fireplace, which keeps the space at about 80 degrees. The dipping pool outside (101 degrees) makes a great pre-massage soak.

The Restaurant: A
Chef Cal Stamenov, who came here from Carmel's Highlands Inn, has put together a sophisticated but straightforward menu. Standout dishes include the salad of slow-roasted chioggia beets, the spot prawn broth, and an excellent pan-roasted wild striped bass.

The Wine List: A
Great selection with some real connoisseur's choices. Don't miss the Marinus, the wine produced by the hotel's owner, Bernardus "Ben" Pon.

The Bottom Line: A-
Overlook the layout and you easily have the most sophisticated hotel in the Carmel area. If you don't stay here, by all means come for dinner. $375-$1,900, June through October, less at other times. 415 Carmel Valley Rd., Box 80, Carmel Valley, CA 93924; 888-648-9463, 831-658-3400; fax 831-659-3529;

By The Sea, By The Sea

The little crosshatching of streets—about ten blocks wide and six long—that make up the commercial district of Carmel-by-the-Sea is a thicket of art galleries and boutiques. Here's a hit list of stores that represent real artistry, a singular aesthetic, or both.

Ambrose Pollock Furnituremaker
The Vatican, along with the local diocese, commissioned Pollock to make the altar for John Paul's papal mass at Laguna Seca, one of the stops on his 1987 visit to the U.S. What better recommendation do you need that this man makes divine furniture? He specializes in hardwood pieces reflecting an Arts and Crafts and Shaker influence in style. His philosophy in a nutshell: "There's no substitute for . . . well-executed joinery." Mission St. (between 5th and 6th, West side); 831-625-6554;

Luciano Antiques
This store could dress the set of an opera. Owner Luciano Tempo specializes in very large furniture, both antiques and "creations," those works he commissions that are inspired by a style, period, or even a particular piece. San Carlos (between 5th and 6th); 831-624-9396.

Ladyfingers Jewelry
Look here for designer and artisanal jewelry from around the world—one of the best sources in the state. Dolores near Ocean; 831-624-2327.

Maxine Klaput Antiques
There are 33,000 pieces of silver flatware, most of it American, in this major source for dealers. Court of the Fountains (Mission and 7th); 877-624-8823, 831-624-8823.

Anderle Gallery
Here's a good mix of Asian antiques and new pieces, including something the world needs—handsome TV armoires. Lincoln (between Ocean and 7th); 831-624-4199.

Weston Gallery
Edward Weston and his son Brett memorialized the Big Sur coast in countless masterful black-and-white photos. They are the specialty here, along with work by other masters of the medium. Thursday-Monday 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. By appointment only on Wednesdays. 6th (between Dolores and Lincoln); 831-624-4453;

Room To Get

The 144-room Carmel Valley Ranch perches on a high hill overlooking Carmel Valley, which is rapidly becoming the upscale destination in the Monterey area. Suite 158 has one of the best views of all, plus a Jacuzzi on the balcony from which to take it in. Like all the units, it has a condominium feel. The plus: Rooms are residentially scaled and the larger units are perfect for families. $255-$750. 1 Old Ranch Rd., Carmel, CA 93923; 800-422-7635, 831-625-9500; fax 831-624-2858;

Pacific Heights
The Post Ranch Inn probably has the most spectacular setting of any hotel in California—strung out along a bluff some 1,100 feet above the Pacific. The air here is intoxicatingly bracing—a mix of vanilla, sage, and rosemary—and the alternation of hot and cold currents constantly changes the intensity of the aroma.

The rooms, done by architect G.K. Mickey Muennig, who is famous on this stretch of coast for his bold, residential architecture, are rustic and futuristic at the same time. The choicest rooms, the cylinder-shaped Ocean Houses, overlook the ocean; some of them are built into the earth and have roofs covered in sod (and in the spring, wildflowers). Most private are Ocean Houses (116, 117, 118) at the end of the property. The Tree Houses, farther back and perched on stilts so as not to disturb the redwood root systems, are dramatic-looking outside, a bit spartan inside.

The hotel restaurant, Sierra Mar, with its panoramic ocean view, has a fairly basic lunch menu and a more adventurous dinner one. The hotel is often booked out a year in advance. (Your best shot at a room is the week after Thanksgiving.) Be warned: Deposits (one night for weekday stays, two nights for weekends) are forfeited if you cancel fewer than seven days before arrival. Remember: Check-in time is 4 p.m., and guests usually stay to the last minute, so plan your arrival accordingly. $455-$755. Highway 1, Box 219, Big Sur, CA 93920; 800-527-2200, 831-667-2200; fax 831-667-2824;

Great Food, Ocean View
The dining room at the Pacific's Edge o has a fabulous view of the ocean. Moreover, this restaurant defies the rule that you can have either good food or a good view, but not both. The pan-seared foie gras is superb—a densely rich flavor played nicely off against toasted hazelnuts and Bing cherries. Another tasty option is the roasted beef tenderloin with glazed turnips in a lavender scented jus. The wine list is a standout; for one thing, it has a fantastic selection of half bottles, including the 1995 Boillot Volnay and Gaja Darmagi. The Pacific's Edge is a great alternative to dining at the Post Ranch Inn or Ventana Inn & Spa. Open for dinner only, with a three ($48), four ($56), or five ($64) course prix fixe menu. A Sunday buffet brunch is also offered ($29). In the Highlands Inn Y, Highway 1, 120 Highlands Dr., Carmel, CA 93923 (four miles south of Carmel); 831-622-5445; fax 831-626-1574;

Ventana Revisited
The Ventana Inn & Spa is a venerable property. Most people find the cedar paneling and the floral-print bedspreads and drapes rustic; some find them dated. There are six room types, offering three different views. Here is the lay of the land.

  • The rooms are in 14 units scattered about the property. Most units have two stories, and almost invariably the ones on top are better than those below.
  • Redwood House and Vista House have by far the best design from the standpoint of size and decor.
  • The property is oriented toward the ocean, but most windows don't have very good views. This is particularly true in Ocean House, which is actually situated above the lobby/reception area.
  • There are, of course, exceptions to the view conundrum. Room number 51 in Madrone House ($575), which has a huge terrace, has a terrific view out to the Pacific. So do the upstairs rooms in Bay House (particularly number 58) and those in Pacific House. The best view overall is a fabulous vista inland down a valley from number 45 ($575) in Canyon House. $340-$1,100. Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920; 800-628-6500, 831-667-2331;

A Great Drive
The road to Mission San Antonio de Padua turns off Highway 1, but it's not for white-knuckle drivers, as it makes a vertiginous, switchback climb up from the coast highway, then an equally vertiginous descent through a canyon. From there it's a cinch—an easy run across a tawny valley studded with big oaks to the mission, the third oldest in California. Then it's about a 40-minute run through vineyards out to Highway 101 just north of Bradley, where you can finally start making some time again.

Sierra Nevada Chateau
The strip-mall town of Oakhurst, 16 miles from Yosemite National Park, wins the "Unlikeliest Spot for a Relais & Châteaux" award (the drive from San Francisco takes about three hours, from Los Angeles about four). It is the home of a superb property called Château du Sureau, a 10-room hotel, excellent restaurant, and 2,000-square-foot villa that is one-of-a-kind in California. There isn't an inn anywhere like this one, the creation of Vienna-born Erna Kubin-Clanin. The turreted French country-style château was built in 1991, and she chose the beautiful antiques that fill each room. The two-bedroom Villa Sureau is her showcase. Its master bedroom, which has a gloriously long canopy bed sheathed in streams of organza (the duvet on the bed, from Lisa Galimberti in San Francisco, has a thread count of 590), and the attached bathrooms, would on their own make up one of the finest suites in the state. The villa has 24-hour butler service, the perfect amenity for the salon, which is furnished for a tea party of the sort that occur in Henry James novels.

In the detached restaurant, Erna's Elderberry House, where talented chef James Overbaugh has been cooking for five years, the food is light but solid. And the dining room's deep-red walls and elaborate chandeliers make the menu seem seasonal, even in the middle of summer. Dinner, $75 six-course prix fixe. Rooms, $325-$510 (includes breakfast); Villa Sureau, $2,500. 48688 Victoria Lane, Oakhurst, CA 93644; 559-683-6860; fax 559-683-0800;

A Meal With A View
In Big Sur that means the back deck at Nepenthe (831-667-2345), where the specialty du maison is the Ambrosia Burger, and theSunset Terrace of the Rocky Point restaurant (831-624-2933). Both are on Highway 1, the former on the south end of Big Sur Valley.

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