Relax, Reconnect and Retreat to the Bernardus Lodge & Spa
Someone once told me that Carmel was about the “same driving distance from Orange County as it is to Mammoth Lakes.” What they failed to mention was that this picturesque seaside city but is a world away from the rugged peaks of the Eastern Sierra - particularly when planning a romantic retreat defined by gourmet cuisine, fine wine, panoramic ocean views and a languorous pace.
Situated on the southern bend of the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel is 120 miles south of San Francisco, and is an historic nod to the independent and creative spirit of California’s early residents. The last time we visited the region a few years ago, we spent time in Monterey with a mind toward family-friendly fun and the town’s arguably incomparable aquarium. This trip, however, wasn’t about the area’s early inhabitants, cultural significance or family attractions. This was an escape - for grownups only. Pure and simple.
On foot, or by car, there is no lack of activities in Carmel - a quaint, seaside town chock full of fresh air, quaint breakfast nooks, boutique shopping, art galleries, and antiques: all tucked into corners lined with California Cypress or tracked through by cobblestone pavers. The Scenic Road - just off the far end of Ocean Avenue - offers views to transfix, of both stunning homes and the Pacific seascape below.
So we set our sights on the 28-rolling acre estate that is home to the Bernardus Lodge & Spa in Carmel Valley (bernarduslodge.com), for a taste of romantic perfection. Rooms replete with seagrass wall coverings, bathrooms with heated floors and ash wood throughout were just what the doctor ordered. We would achieve our slow ambulations through the Lodge’s gardens and vineyards, and enjoy a VIP wine tasting, farm-to-table fare and garden-to-glass experiences (Bernardus produces its own honey and wine to give its food and drink menu an added personal touch - take a guided hive walk in the property’s new apiary, flush with 180,000 Italian honey bees). Because Bernardus Lodge & Spa has an extensive range of organics on site, from herbs to veggies, vineyards to fruit trees, the estate produces much of its seasonal menu on-site: a dream for a couple of amateur foodies.
Lucia Restaurant + Bar, named after the eponymous mountain range that runs southeast from Monterey County, features an eclectic and airy space, perfect for afternoon drinks or in-between meals, and a bar chock full of craft cocktail specialties. We enjoyed a round of drinks in the bar, and followed it with a hearty entree from Chef Cal Stamenov. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Cal moved across the country to test his skills at New York’s famed Four Seasons, then worked his way west again to perfect his talent in restaurants all along the coast. At home in the rustic-ranch decor of Lucia, the communal table is never bare of a local, artisanal favorite straight from the garden.
Indulge in the VIP Experience at the Bernardus Winery - an exclusive private tasting with a personal host of Bernardus’s smaller production vineyard designated wines paired with three of my favorite things in life: Artisan cheeses, charcuterie and chocolate.
The city of Carmel might well be a photo reference for Merriam-Webster’s definition of “intimate” - and the property at Bernardus is no different. We were consumed by the solitude, and not at all surprised by the fact that the valley was recently named one of the top ten most romantic places in Travel + Leisure. The roaring surf nearby, more than 300 days of sun, and world-class amenities at hand were more than enough to set all of our cares aside and soak into the weekend. Having a spa onsite where we could practice yoga, surrender to all-natural treatments at the salon, and relax poolside was almost too decadent. Needless to say, we somehow managed. We’re looking forward to our next visit - to enjoy another glass of wine or two out on the bocce lawns. I’m owed a rematch anyway.