CARMEL VALLEY RANCH
One Old Ranch Road, Carmel, Calif.; carmelvalleyranch.com. 139 guest suites from $250 (U.S.) No eco-rating.
Once an enclave for the moneyed and aging tennis set, the Carmel Valley Ranch has recently undergone a zeitgeist renovation: $35-million later, it's an upscale “summer camp resort” targeting families, couples, corporate groups and the premier wedding market. The new owner, billionaire Hyatt heir John Pritzker, infused a nostalgic sense of play into all aspects of the ranch – from tree swings to the kids' splash zone to gourmet s'mores roasted around the outdoor bonfires.
Just a 10-minute drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea, the low-key Carmel Valley is a patchwork of cattle ranches, understated vineyards and small organic hobby farms, sheltered by the rolling Santa Lucia Mountains. Hiking paths and horseback riding trails crisscross the wooded hillsides; becoming one with the outdoors is big here.
I was greeted in The Lodge, the hub of the property, whisked to the check-in desk and served a welcome drink of lavender lemonade. The comfy chairs by the fireplace are perfect for people-watching, but the real action at Carmel Valley Ranch is (you guessed it) outside. The main lodge is encircled by massive, 100-year-old oaks and nearby slopes are planted with rows of pinot grapevines. The property also features 7,500 fragrant lavender plants, which are harvested, the distilled oil used in the spa, rooms and the kitchen.
More than 200 hectares is a lot of real estate, and in addition to the adult playground at The Lodge (spa, infinity hot tub, outdoor saline pool, poolside cabanas), the resort stretches out into two other distinct areas. The River Ranch is home to fitness and family-centred activities, tennis courts (two of the nine courts are clay) with two on-staff tennis pros, and courts for bocce ball, basketball and volleyball. The second hub is the sunlit Golf Clubhouse, where a lounge overlooks the only course in the Monterey Peninsula designed by world-renowned golf architect Pete Dye. Rated by Golf Magazine as a “must-play” course, the 18-hole, par 70 layout has been restored to its original, playable design with long fairways and spectacular views.
A new 5,200-square-foot fitness facility combines a gym outfitted with cardio equipment and a movement studio for Pilates, yoga, core and spin classes. The centre also offers TRX suspension training equipment and classes.
Part of the resort's summer-camp philosophy includes a focus on the experiential. Enriched learning experiences include cooking vacations in the Culinary Adventure Kitchen, a tour of the resident beekeeper's hives, kids photography workshops, guided nature hikes, organic gardening and stargazing workshops.
The sleek new Spa Aiyana features 11 treatment rooms (including three for couples) with private patios, steam rooms and fireplaces, and the extensive spa menu incorporates lavender oil harvested from the gardens into wraps, facial treatments and massages.
My one-bedroom suite was built into the hillside and from the large, wraparound terrace it felt like being nestled into the treetops with a panoramic view of the valley, the mountains and a star-splashed sky. The decor was calm and contemporary, with cathedral ceilings, large gas fireplaces in the living room and the bedroom, oversized furniture to sink into, and flat-screen HD televisions backed up by a Blu-ray system (there's a small library of DVDs available at the lodge). An expansive workstation, complimentary wireless Internet and a Keurig coffee maker made it convenient to work in the suite. The king-size bed was topped with Fili D'Oro cotton linens from Italy, soft down pillows and a fluffy duvet. The enormous bathroom, with separate tub and tiled shower, has been upgraded to feature granite countertops, double sinks, and bath amenities designed by an English botanist (using the aforementioned lavender).
The staff are prompt and friendly. I had an in-room breakfast (complimentary on weekends) of pastries, fresh fruit and coffee delivered to my front door within minutes of placing an order. Housekeeping and maintenance staff arrived via golf cart to quickly sort out a DVD-player malfunction.
The menu at Lodge Restaurant reflects executive chef Tim Wood's commitment to sourcing ingredients from local growers, markets and Monterey Bay fisheries, as well as herbs and produce from the resort's organic gardens. The River Ranch Café is a more casual eatery found by the 9th hole of the golf course. Here golfers stop to snack on such casual fare as pizza from wood-fired ovens. With the organic garden a stone's throw from the kitchen, it was an easy decision to choose a luncheon dish skewed toward vegetables. My sourdough veggie panini was piled thick with melted mozzarella and products from the garden – roasted tomato, arugula, eggplant and summer squash. I felt virtuous (and satiated).
I was immediately hooked by the large wood-burning fire pits scattered throughout the property. The quiet of the hillsides, the valley views, the deer wandering the grounds and the ahhh factor that permeated from the spa to the suites all spelled relaxation. This is a prime spot for getaways steeped in the laid-back ambience of the valley.
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