Tasting the Good Life in Carmel Valley

Life was good: a glass of wine in one hand, and a bocce ball in the other, gazing out across a vineyard at the scrub-forest hills of the Carmel Valley. As my wife knocked my ball out of scoring position, I silently complimented myself on the choice to come to Bernardus Lodge & Spa for our first year wedding anniversary.

Bernardus Lodge is well-known among some Bay Area cognoscenti for its enviable location, several miles inland of the fog zone that entraps so many unsuspecting coast-bound tourists in the Big Sur, Carmel By the Sea, Monterey region, but close enough to the ocean to benefit from the sea breeze that keeps summertime temperatures comfortable. However, it's still off the radar among the broader set of visitors interested in epicurean delights and classic casual California luxury.

Arriving one weekend in July, we settled into our room and relaxed with some chilled wine on our patio facing the small vineyard planted on the front of the property. Later, not feeling like getting back in the car, we had a casual dinner at the on-property bistro, enjoying a wood-fired pizza and a few glasses of local Carmel Valley cabernet.

The following day under brilliant blue skies (and admittedly after missing breakfast to watch a bit of the World Cup), we drove a few miles up the road into Carmel Valley Village, where we stopped at The Corkscrew Cafe for lunch. Sitting outside on the terrace, we had what we both agreed was one of the best lunches we'd had in years, with a delicious pear salad, succulent salsiccia pizza, mussels with frites, and curried skirt steak.

Later that day, I hopped on my road bike and cruised up the Carmel Valley Road, with the temperatures rising every few miles east as I rode further from the coast. After narrowing for a bit, the valley opened back up, and I was surprised by the beauty and remoteness I soon found myself in, just miles away from a popular area. Eventually I crested a small pass and dropped into a spectacular oak and savanna valley, with views south into the Ventana Wilderness. Turning around at the junction of the road to Greenfield (California), a farming community in the Salinas Valley, I began the long, hot slog back up to the pass at 2,000 feet and then back to Bernardus.

Early in the evening, we ordered a few glasses of wine on the terrace and made our way to the lawn bowling (bocce) court just steps away from our room. The evening sun made the hillsides glow and illuminated the textured walls of the lodge, bathing everything in a soft golden light that nicely complemented our contented state of mind. Afterwards, we had dinner a few miles down the road at the Carmel Valley Ranch overlooking a pretty grove of live oak trees.

During our stay, we also enjoyed a nice short hike in Garland Ranch Regional Park, just a few miles down the road from Bernardus. The park hosts riverine habitat along the valley floor, open meadows, and forests of oak and bay that rise up the rugged hillsides. It was a treat to so easily access protected lands just around the corner from such a civilized place.

On our final morning, I went for a short bike ride up the steep climb on Laureles Grade starting right from the property, before taking a cooling dip in the Bernardus Lodge pool. Sad to depart such a gorgeous setting, our spirits were lifted by the thought of returning to the Corkscrew Cafe for one last lunch on the patio. Both Bernardus and Corkscrew are worth going back to, again and again, and we found ourselves already hatching plans to return.

Practically Speaking

Sometimes overlooked by visitors who want to stay only in Carmel or the Pebble Beach area, or by those who first think of Napa or Sonoma when it comes to food and wine regions, Carmel Valley is an excellent alternative. The area boasts sunny fog-free weather, plenty of hiking and biking opportunities, great food and wine, and easy access to tourist spots ranging from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to the Big Sur coast. It's about a 2 hour and 30 minute drive from San Francisco.

Bernardus Lodge has a variety of different room types among its 50-odd quarters, so it's worth cross-checking your interests and needs with the various room types to ensure the best match. The resort also has an excellent on-property fine dining restaurant in addition to the casual bistro mentioned above. Spa treatments are of course available as well. The lodge grows its own grapes on property and in several other nearby areas, and produces its own label of quality wines.

Article and photos by Josh Steinitz, originally written for NileGuide

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