Friday, May 21, 2010

The Ventana Inn and Spa: Big Sur Ranch Style Relaxation in the Sun

The Ventana Inn and Spa: Big Sur Ranch Style Relaxation in the Sun

The Ventana Inn and Spa, Route 1, Big Sur, California

Article and all photo credits/copyrights: E. Joyce Glasgow,

The Ventana Inn and Spa sits on the east side of Route 1 in Big Sur, California, directly across from the Post Ranch Inn, on 243 acres of land, 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean. It was once part of the homestead of William Brainard Post. His original red house is an historic landmark and sits at the entrance to the Ventana Inn driveway, right by the side of Route 1. The property of the inn is snuggled up against the border of the Ventana National Wilderness and striking, jagged Ventana Peaks and has a ranch style feel in its colors, terrain and climate. It is another one of the well-known, long time, 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 get away for adults and only accommodates guests over 18, although families with younger children are welcome at the restaurant and one does not have to be an Inn guest to dine. Reservations are recommended. The Inn was built in 1972 by writer, Lawrence A. Spector with his earnings from his very popular and iconic film “Easy Rider”. Its current owner is the Joie de Vivre corporation, owner of a group of hotels, of all different styles and price.

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 pool water against my skin and to lie in the sun’s warmth un-clothed in peace, quiet and privacy, with hardly anyone around.

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. There are relaxing hammocks on every room deck and in the trees around the grounds, where one can take a spontaneous nap. My room was spacious, understatingly elegant and well appointed with a comfortable king sized bed, wood burning fireplace a seating area with big, comfortable leather arm chairs, some magazines for reading and an open walled bathroom, with a large, soaking style, tiled bathtub, two sinks and a glass walled shower, with Ventana Inn signature lavender bath gel, shampoo and conditioner and fragrant herbal bath salts. A luxurious, soft bathrobe was provided for my comfort.

In the middle of the night, I went out through the French doors to 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 basic 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 of the place more meaningful.

The Ventana Inn’s popular restaurant, The Restaurant at Ventana, had just been re- built and re-opened in late September 2009, which is when I visited, after an electrical fire completely destroyed it last year. This catastrophe came on the heels of the highly devastating Big Sur fire last year, which was started naturally by a lightening strike, and was a very terrible fire and wrecked havoc in the very dry and vulnerable Big Sur and Ventana Wilderness areas.

Executive Chef, Dory Ford, was new to the Restaurant at Ventana with the re-opening and came to the Inn from being executive chef at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 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 (Champagne Rose), Tomato Trio (Sauvignon Blanc), Butter Poached Maine Lobster (Chardonnay), Pan-Roasted Organic Sonoma Chicken Breast (Tondre), Wine and Cheese (20 year old Tuscany Port) and Chocolate and Caramel (Icewine). 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 is sweeping with 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 itself does not take full advantage of the incredible views of the sunset and more views to the west from the inside of the restaurant. I had to go outside in front, by the parking lot to see what I could of the sun finally descending into the west. 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 taking advantage of the views but that the insurance company, after the fire, would only allow them to rebuild exactly the way it was before. So the open kitchen is the western view, with the exception of some tables by the western windows, which overlook the patio and southern coastline in the distance. The restaurant is constructed of beautiful wood, with a comfortable feel and soft lighting throughout.

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, but I would like to say that both the Ventana Inn and the Post Ranch Inn have a very gracious and helpful staff. Ventana feels a little more “corporate”, in that it is part of a chain of hotels. It has a lot more rooms, very large restaurant and due to the higher capacity, a lot more guest responsibilities for the staff to deal with over the course of the day. Post Ranch Inn is locally owned, much smaller and feels more personal and intimate. Ventana’s twelve subtly designed wooden buildings blend in with the land and are set up more condo style, with a number of rooms in a row, contrasting with the more arty, distinctive, architecturally innovative and individual suite buildings and tree houses at Post Ranch Inn. Post Ranch Inn is much more expensive than Ventana Inn, by far, but Ventana is also high end by fine hotel standards, at anywhere from approximately $400.00 to $1,400.00 per night, per room, either for one or two adults, depending on high or low season, internet travel discount site reservation rates and individual room amenities, i.e., personal hot tub, etc., excluding taxes and an added $25.00 per night “resort fee”. Both Ventana and Post Ranch grow organic herbs and vegetables for use in their restaurants. They both utilize solar power and both feature dramatic and stunning outdoor sculptures throughout their properties. Wildlife is prolific on both properties.

Both the Ventana Inn and Spa and the Post Ranch Inn welcome guests to arrive early on check in day and stay during the day after checking out to enjoy the offered amenities.

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 and coffee and tea, somewhat like the continental breakfast one might find at a fine quality but 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, a hot breakfast buffet, with a changing variety of offerings like omelets, waffles, pancakes, fruit salads, potatoes and frittatas 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 refreshing, tree sheltered patio adjacent to the reception area and was amused by the pesky and wily crows and blue jays, jealously coveting the guests’ breakfasts, screaming at each other, vying for territory and brazenly diving down from the trees for unattended treats, right off the tables, while guests were dining. It is a lovely setting for outdoor dining but guard your food well if you decide to eat breakfast outside in this area!

Do 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