by E. Joyce Glasgow -
SGN A&E Writer
The Ventana Inn and Spa sits on 243 acres of land on the east side of Route 1 in Big Sur, California, directly across from the Post Ranch Inn, 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean. It was once part of the homestead of William Brainard Post. His original red house is a historic landmark that sits at the entrance to the Ventana Inn driveway. The property of the inn is snuggled up against the border of the Ventana National Wilderness and the striking, jagged Ventana Peaks, and has a ranch-style feel in its colors, terrain and climate. It is another one of the well-known popular destinations for visitors to Big Sur who are seeking relaxing and low-key accommodations more on the luxury end of things. It is designed more as a romantic and quiet getaway for adults and only accommodates guests over 18 (although families are welcome at the restaurant).
The thing I most enjoyed about my brief stay at the Ventana Inn was the clothing-optional swimming pool (there are two lovely pools, 75 feet long each) and the beautiful, warm sunshine and colorful, fragrant petunias and other flowers. It was so profoundly relaxing to be able to take my clothes off and feel the soft, cool water against my skin and to lie in the sun's warmth unclothed in peace, quiet and privacy.
I also was thrilled to have a lovely hammock on the deck of my room with a view of the Pacific Ocean in the distance. My room was spacious, with an understated elegance. It was well-appointed with a comfortable king-sized bed, wood-burning fireplace, and a seating area with comfortable chairs. The open-walled bathroom had a soaking bathtub, two sinks, and a glass-walled shower, with Ventana Inn signature toiletries. A luxurious bathrobe was provided for my comfort.
In the middle of the night, I went out on my deck just in time to see the stunning sight of a giant, bright orange full moon sinking in the west, over the trees, into the sea. In the silent night, a barn owl's hooting echoed in the distance. I lay in my hammock and marveled at the Milky Way and was delighted by seeing a couple of shooting stars. These wonders of nature were so intense, immediate and so packed into a short span of time that I felt like I was experiencing nature on steroids!
The Inn provides its guests with a number of nice amenities, including a daily discovery walk through the property's redwoods, a fitness room, daily yoga class, daily afternoon wine and cheese reception, free WiFi throughout the resort, a dry sauna, and two Japanese hot bath pools, which are tiled tubs adjacent to the clothing-optional pool. I went on the discovery walk through the woods with a wonderful guide, who is a Big Sur native and whose family has lived there for many years. He was able to share wonderful and insightful history and anecdotes about the area and its inhabitants with me that made my whole experience there more meaningful.
The popular Restaurant at Ventana reopened at the time of my visit in late September of 2009, after being rebuilt from the ground up following an electrical kitchen fire that completely destroyed it in 2008. That catastrophe came on the heels of the devastating Big Sur fire that summer, which was started by a lightning strike. It was a terrible fire that wreaked havoc in the very dry and vulnerable Big Sur and Ventana Wilderness Areas.
Executive chef Dory Ford, formerly executive chef at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, was new to the Restaurant at Ventana when it reopened. His focus is on sustainability, and he uses local, organic and seasonal foods for his dishes. He graciously prepared me a delicious and creative six-course tasting menu, with one delectable treat after another, accompanied by appropriate wine pairings chosen by the restaurant's wine sommelier, Steve Johnson. My dinner included yogurt melon (with champagne rose), tomato trio (with sauvignon blanc), butter-poached Maine lobster (with chardonnay), pan-roasted organic Sonoma chicken breast (with a Tondre wine), wine and cheese (with a 20-year-old Tuscany port), and chocolate and caramel (with an ice wine). I especially loved the lobster and chicken courses. The chicken, for example, was interestingly prepared with wonderful flavors of whole-grain mustard spaetzle, Brussels sprouts, carrot coulis, and cardamom apple cider vinegar sauce.
The restaurant's patio has stunning views of the Pacific coastline to the south and the adjacent golden hills of the Ventana Wilderness behind. I was surprised, however, that the physical positioning of the restaurant does not take advantage of the incredible views of the sunset. When I lamented the lack of forethought in rebuilding the restaurant in this configuration, an employee told me that they would have preferred to rebuild and take advantage of the views, but that the insurance company would only allow them to rebuild exactly the way it was before the fire.
Comparing Ventana Inn to the Post Ranch Inn across the street, on the ocean side, where I also stayed, would be like comparing apples and oranges, even the micro climates of the two places are a little different from each other. Ventana is very expensive by fine hotel standards, at anywhere from approximately $400 to $1,400 per night, per room, for one or two adults, but is considerably cheaper than the luxurious Post Ranch Inn.
I expected some sumptuousness to the inclusive breakfast at Ventana, but was surprised only to find a sideboard with hard-boiled eggs, various breads and muffins, Odwalla juices, coffee, and tea - somewhat like the continental breakfast one might find at a lower-cost hotel or bed and breakfast. A guest has to pay extra for an omelet with potatoes. It seems to me that for the high cost of a room here per night, things like omelets, waffles, pancakes or whatever breakfast food a guest might desire should be automatically included, as this hotel prides itself on being a luxury destination that caters to its guests.
I ate breakfast outside on the reception area patio and was amused by the pesky and wily crows and blue jays who jealously coveted the guests' breakfasts, vying for territory and brazenly diving for unattended treats right off the tables. It is a beautiful setting for outdoor dining, but guard your food well.
Due to time constraints, I was not able to experience the spa or a massage, so am unable to report on the quality of the massage therapists or spa treatments. One does not have to be an overnight guest to book a massage or spa treatment at The Ventana Inn, and is welcome to enjoy the pools when visiting the spa.
For more information about The Ventana Inn and Spa and The Restaurant at the Ventana Inn, visit www.ventanainn.com.
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