Rancho Valencia is an award winning, Relais & Chateaux luxury resort located in Rancho Santa Fe, a suburb of North San Diego, CA. The resort has garnered a reputation as one of the most highly-rated five-star resorts and spa destinations, not only in the U.S. but worldwide. The property is annually recognized as one of the top resorts on numerous distinguished award lists such as Forbes Five Star, Travel + Leisure, U.S. News, Conde Nast, AAA Five Diamond, and has the unique distinction of being the only Relais & Chateaux property in Southern California.Continue reading “Rancho Valencia | Rancho Santa Fe, CA”
While reading Travel and Leisure’s World’s Best List, I came across something that caught my attention. The #20 on this world’s best list is a 10 room inn located in Mendocino, CA ~ The Brewery Gulch Inn.
Being familiar with the small town of Mendocino, I was intrigued by this achievement and felt that I had to explore this quaint inn.
After arriving at the property, I chatted with the inn’s proprietor, Guy Pacurar, who shared his story with me of how he became the owner of the Brewery Gulch Inn (BGI).
He revealed how as a young boy he took annual trips with his family to a property in Palm Springs where the owner would BBQ dinner and the guests would mingle each night. The fond memories of those gatherings stayed with him, and as the years passed it became his desire to purchase an inn and create that same atmosphere for his guests. After looking at numerous properties across the U.S., Guy chose this inn located in the charming town of Mendocino.
Located about a mile south of historic downtown Mendocino, BGI is located on the East side of Hwy 1 perched on a bluff and offers views of Smuggler’s Cove and the Pacific Ocean.
The grounds are expansive and natural in habitat along with some colorful plantings, an herb garden and some quiet alcove areas. There are hiking trails throughout the property for fun exploration.
Numerous bird feeders throughout the property help to attract an extraordinary array of bird species that are located in this region such as Blue Jays, Woodpeckers, Hummingbirds, Osprey and so much more. It’s no wonder that several of the rooms at the inn are named after a bird.
The gem of the property is the back deck which faces the Pacific Ocean and is the perfect place to relax, enjoy a glass wine and watch a gorgeous sunset.
Main Inn/ Guest Rooms
As you enter the inn, there is a warm and welcoming feeling as though you are visiting a favorite relative’s house. A large wood-burning fireplace resides in the middle of the Great Room dividing the intimate reception desk and small gift shop area from the living and dining room.
Arts and Crafts style furniture in rich wood tones and chestnut leather seating create a comfortable gathering room for the guests.
Large, oversized doors open up from the living area to a large deck facing ocean views for a wonderful indoor/outdoor experience. A large bookcase houses a library of literature, an extensive DVD collection and numerous games for the guest’s enjoyment.
There are guest rooms off each side of the Great Room on the first floor, and a staircase takes you up to a second and third level to the remaining rooms. As I was walking up the stairs, there was an intimate feeling of being shown to “my bedroom” and not the impersonal feeling of being directed to a room at a hotel. As I entered the room, I was greeted with some sweet amenities (delicious sea salt caramels) and a bottle of wine.
I had the distinct pleasure of staying in one of the most requested rooms, the Osprey room. The Opsrey is a corner room located at one end of the second floor with three exterior walls with large windows so the room has a very light and airy feeling and offers serene views of the property along with views of Smuggler’s Cove and the Pacific Ocean.
I enjoyed the fact that there were no screens on the windows which offered a clear view of the gorgeous greenery of the trees and the property grounds. The weather was beautiful during my stay so I left my windows open letting the air flow through and allowing the sounds of the birds and the ocean to filter through the room.
The same was true for the large bathroom window over the soaking tub/shower which I was able to completely open and it almost provided the experience of taking a shower outdoors. And one of the best treats for me was waking up to the stillness of the morning engulfed in fog which was so peaceful and serene.
The Raven room mirrors the Osprey at the other end of the second floor and is a great choice as well. Due to the location of these two rooms, they would be my first choice when booking a stay here. Having said that though, all the rooms face out towards the ocean view, have en-suite bathrooms (some with jetted soaking tubs), Asprey bath amenities, fireplaces, flat screen tv’s and a sitting area.
The inn does have WiFi throughout the building, however, I did find it to be sporadic while trying to use it. I also did not have any cell service while I was in the building but if I stepped outside I received service – of course, that may vary from person to person depending on their carrier.
The rooms do not have refrigerators or coffee makers, however, there is a mini-refrigerator located in the common area on the second floor with some sodas and waters for all the guests. A beverage bar in the Great Room offers a Keurig coffee maker, teas and hot chocolate which are available 24/7, along with freshly brewed coffee at breakfast time.
In the true manner of an inn, and included in the price of your stay, is a full breakfast and a generous “Happy Hour” that serves more as a full dinner experience. The offering of fine food and wine is as much an integral part of the experience at BGI as the accommodations itself.
Breakfast is served from 8-10 am. You can choose to eat in the Great Room, the outside patio or in your guest room. You order off of a menu of various items such as delicious egg dishes, hearty bacon and sausages, pancakes, granola along with fruit and the daily fresh-baked pastry. It’s an amazing start to the day.
In the evenings, Happy Hour is from 5:30-6:30 pm. When your nose starts to tingle from the aroma floating throughout the inn, you know it’s time to make your way down to the Great Room.
The reception desk is converted into a bar offering wines from the nearby wineries and locally brewed beers. I love this concept, not only in the sense of supporting the local community, but also as a visitor to the area, I want to experience what is local to the region. On one of the evenings, Handley Cellars an Anderson Valley winery, was pouring their wine.
During Happy Hour, there is also a generous buffet-style “dinner” served each night. Chef Peg Davis, does an amazing job using local ingredients in the farm-to-table concept and the meals rival any first-class restaurant.
Some of the dishes offered during my stay were Goat Cheese Tartlettes, Bacon Wrapped Figs, Golden Polenta Cakes, Boneless Chicken and Mild Herbed Italian Sausage with Chocolate dipped Strawberries for dessert…and that was just the first night I was there! The meal was delicious.
The following day, I considered going to a restaurant for dinner but in the end, I knew that something amazing would be served and I wanted to relax and experience all the inn had to offer (the photo is of the next night’s meal that was just as delicious).
A funny thing would happen in the early evening, it’s not uncommon for it to be a quiet environment in the public spaces during the day; but when the clock strikes 5:30 pm, the Great Room fills up with the inn guests and every table gets taken. Only fifteen minutes earlier, you would never have realized that all these people were staying at the inn. It’s that feeling of your mom calling you to dinner and everyone rushes down to gather around the table. In this case, although you may not know these people, I can guarantee you that by the end of the meal you have made some new friends.
After dinner, most everyone lingered around in the living room. I chatted and shared many laughs with several interesting people during dinner and throughout the evening, as other guests played games, read magazines or socialized with each other. By the end of the second night, the inn was feeling very “homey” to me and I felt that everyone there had become, at the very least, a friendly acquaintance. Overall the experience really exudes a family gathering atmosphere that leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy.
As my last evening ended, I began to understand the feeling Guy must have experienced in Palm Springs all those years ago…and I thought how satisfying it must be for him that he has truly recreated the experience of his youth for the guests of his own inn.
If you have not been to the Mendocino area, don’t hesitate another moment to make your way to this stunning region of Northern California.
In my personal opinion, I have always believed that this is one of the most beautiful coastlines I have ever seen. Not to mention the fact that the charming historic town of Mendocino offers quaint shops, restaurants and museums, with a twist of sophistication influenced from the San Francisco Bay Area. The town is still made up of original buildings from the mid-1800’s, it’s truly the town that time forgot ~ in the best way possible.
The charm of Mendocino is frequently compared to the towns in the northeastern state of Maine and has lured many production companies to film around this area. The iconic TV show Murder She Wrote was fictitiously based on the East Coast but the exterior shots that aired each week for 12 seasons was actually filmed in Mendocino.
There is so much to do within the vicinity of the inn that BGI offers the option of utilizing their Pre-Arrival Concierge services to help you plan your time effectively. Activities such as kayaking, horseback riding, hiking, whale-watching or relaxing with an in-room massage are readily available and the staff at BGI will help you plan it all.
One of the great aspects I noticed about Guy is that he seems to really know the surrounding area well and has made strong connections within the community. The bonds that he has made with community members seems to enhance and offer the BGI guest a more personalized experience while visiting the shops, restaurants and wineries in the surrounding area. On the weekend I was visiting, the town was having its annual Mushroom Festival and Guy had entered a soup cook-off…never did hear if he won or not…but it’s this type of involvement that makes him endearing.
I spent some time in Elk, a tiny town that if you blink as you drive through you will miss it…but don’t blink because it’s worth the view. I didn’t stop in Boonville but it is obvious that this is an up and coming little town making itself over into a trendy area.
A huge draw to this region now are the Anderson Valley wineries. Driving north from the San Francisco Bay Area, the drive alone is enchanting as you pass llama farms and wind your way through the beautiful redwoods on Hwy 128, then as you approach the wineries, the landscape opens up to lush vineyards and rustic barns used as tasting rooms. If you are a wine lover, this is a great way to spend a day.
For me, the allure of quaint properties is about the warmth and personal engagement offered that engenders a deep sense of comfort and wellbeing in your soul. If there is anything I have learned in my years of exploring luxury travel, it’s that true luxury is constituted by the emotional connection of your experience and not necessarily by who has the fanciest silk linens.
The Brewery Gulch Inn offers a very personal experience and manages to make you feel like family in the process of serving you the finest in food, wine and accommodations that the area has to offer…and the stunning beauty of the Mendocino coastline is certainly an added perk that not just any place can offer.
Coming back to Mendocino made me realize that I need to spend way more time in this area with all there is to do here.
The Estates by the Elderberries is a compilation of a first class restaurant, Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant; a luxury 10-room hotel, Chateau du Sureau; a private villa, Villa Sureau along with the most recent addition of Spa du Sureau.
This enchanting nine-acre property, is the creative vision of Erna Kubin-Clanin. Originally from Austria, Erna has a bit of a fairytale story of her own when she set sail across the Atlantic Ocean on the SS Bremen to start a new life in America, bringing with her a determination to share her love of the majestic beauty and romance of her beloved homeland…and this is exactly what she has accomplished.
For years, I was curious about and wanted to visit this highly acclaimed chateau located in a remote area somewhere in the vicinity of Yosemite, and yet somehow just hadn’t made my way there. After once again seeing this Relais & Chateaux property awarded a Forbes Five Star Rating, AAA 5 Diamond award, and being listed as one of the top hotels in the United States on several industry lists, I decided I had to make it a priority to visit it in person.
An unassuming turn off of Highway 41 brought me to the gated entrance of what would be the beginning of my fairytale story ~ for a weekend at least.
Something magical happened from the moment I drove through the gilded gates and began to approach the chateau. I felt as though I was immediately transported back in time as I was greeted by a Houseman and Lady’s Maid in formal attire awaiting my arrival. It felt quite pampering and decadent.
This property has a very personal feeling of visiting a family estate rather than staying at a hotel. You are welcomed and treated as though you are the most important guest in the house.
The grounds are gorgeously manicured with colorful plantings and a natural landscape, scattered statuaries, and a pool. As you meander around the walkways and head towards the private villa, you will come across a whimsical area showcasing a pond and a gazebo along with some playful activities such as swings, a bocce ball court and a life-size chessboard.
Mind you, none of this is by happenstance. Every little detail of the entire estate has been carefully and meticulously designed and executed by Erna herself.
In 1984, after running a restaurant in Yosemite Park for many years, Erna procured her current property and opened her fine-dining restaurant, Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant. I had the distinct pleasure of hearing the story directly from Erna about how the restaurant was slowly making a name for itself; however because of its remote location, it wasn’t until a few years later after a visit from the acclaimed food critic, Craig Claiborne, and his amazing review of the restaurant that was published in the New York Times (see review here), that the restaurant was exposed nationally and became a sought-after destination.
After years of successfully drawing a high-end clientele to the restaurant, Erna acknowledged the need to build accommodations to house the guests who were visiting this remote area.
With sheer determination, Erna took it upon herself to design every aspect of her vision for a European chateau and hired builder, Gary Browns, to execute it ~ and in May 1991, Chateau du Sureau was born.
Erna celebrated the opening in style with the guest list including the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Robert Mondavi, Anthony Hopkins and Barbra Streisand, just to name a few. Rumor has it that later Villa Sureau was built to accommodate some of the discerning guests who frequent the hotel.
Chateau and Guest Rooms
The main 9,000 sq. ft. chateau offers 10 guest rooms, a common living room, a kitchen with a dining room and the surprise element of a small chapel in keeping with European traditions.
To say that Erna’s personal touch is everywhere would be an understatement – no detail has been left undone. Erna personally scoured local and European antique auction houses and has chosen each piece of furniture and accessory that adorns the estate. Many of the antiques have been shipped over from Europe creating the authenticity that would only be acceptable by Erna’s standards. And although the chateau is filled with beautiful antiques where you might think you would feel apprehensive about touching or sitting on anything, I found all the furnishings to be very sturdy and comfortable, creating a very inviting environment.
Each of the ten guest rooms are uniquely designed and offer furnishings and distinctive touches that you might expect when staying at someone’s personal home. In keeping with Erna’s culinary connection, the rooms are all named after herbs such as Rosemary, Mint, and Chamomile. Many of the rooms are furnished with beautiful canopy beds, colorful tapestries, and dainty writing desks.
I stayed in #7, the Saffron room, which had an authentic circa 1830’s Ebony wood with ivory inlay furniture set and a beautiful floor to ceiling tapestry. When I initially walked in the room, I was struck by the fresh scent of crisp, clean linens. Some freshly baked cookies were placed on the side table of the bed, that somehow just felt like a loving gesture.
All the rooms have an excellent sound system that is hidden in and can be controlled from the armoire which filters lovely music throughout your room. WiFi is available in the rooms and throughout the property. The rooms do not have televisions but if you can’t live without one, the staff will gladly supply a small flat screen TV in the room for you…but really, take a break and just enjoy the beauty and serenity around you!
Each room has an en-suite bathroom supplied with L’Occitane amenities and plush robes to wear. Although I did not see all the rooms, I was certainly enamored with the ones I did see.
A few of my favorites were The Mint (#9) that has an exterior entrance off the back patio of the chateau and a beautiful canopy bed; and the room I stayed in, the Saffron (#7) because the room was spacious and had a nice view of the gardens on one side along with a small balcony that faces the sunset on the other side. However the next time I visit, I want to stay in the beautiful Elderberry room (see here for updated post on the Elderberry room) that faces out the front of the chateau as the room has a small balcony facing the beautiful redwoods and I want to sleep in the gorgeous canopy bed.
There were so many charming touches that I found so enchanting such as shortly after my arrival, I was greeted by one of the lovely chambermaids who brought a wonderful tray of tea and finger foods; the keys to the room are actually a key, not a plastic card and each has a personal tassel attached that identifies your key when you place it in the box for the night service staff to freshen up your room while you are at dinner; the sweets placed upon the bed at night with a personal note ~ all such charming touches.
I was told by a staff member that “Ms. Erna”, as she is affectionately called by the staff, oversees everything in the house first hand. I experienced this as there was a wedding being held at the property during my stay and Erna was directly in the midst of all the action, making sure every detail was being executed on point.
It is quite obvious, that this is a labor of love for this woman ~ she puts her heart and soul completely into this endeavor. And it’s all very apparent in the meticulous cleanliness of the rooms, the fresh flowers placed throughout the chateau, the way the staff is presented and the excellent service they provide, the quality of the food and all of the small details that make a stay here so special. In speaking with Erna, she stated it’s not always easy but I get the feeling that if she couldn’t keep this up to her standard of excellence, then she would probably rather not do it at all because this is the only way she knows how to represent herself.
As you have probably gathered by now, Erna’s love of culinary delights is a huge part of the experience here. In European style, the hotel offers a regular or full-board package that includes a full dining experience at Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant.
The dinner is an event in itself. In keeping with the personal touches, the menu is customized with your name. My dinner was almost a three hour affair, enjoying one delicious course after another. And although dinner would normally be held in the restaurant, I ate in the quaint chateau dining room due to the onsite wedding and had a lovely time conversing with another couple having dinner there as well.
The menu is a pre-fixe menu each night but I found the chef to be quite flexible in making exceptions to the menu. The kitchen is more than willing to accommodate your needs and taste.
I didn’t take advantage of it, but I was told that the chateau’s kitchen (separate from the restaurant) is open 24 hours and the staff will do their best to accommodate your request.
A delightful breakfast is included each morning, and I am not joking when I say that I was awakened in the morning by the alluring aroma of homemade baked goods as they danced their way through the floorboards and enveloped my room arousing my senses. It was heavenly! I made my way downstairs and enjoyed my breakfast on the outdoor patio with tables set with colorful French linens. In general, a delightful egg dish is served each morning along with fresh fruits and a cereal bar.
As a side note, if you find yourself in downtown Oakhurst, I ate lunch at the Southgate Brewery Company and it was delicious. They microbrew their own beer along with root beer as a non-alcoholic option and make some yummy homemade potato chips along with many other creative dishes.
For the more discerning traveler that might appreciate a little more privacy and decadence, the Villa is a perfect choice. The Villa is 2,000 sq. ft. and consists of two bedrooms, and a common sitting area. It is beautifully decorated with a very decadent feel and the closest experience that I could ever imagine to feeling like royalty. It is my understanding that the Villa can be rented in its entirety or by the room, if available.
A small gate and sign acknowledge that it’s the private Villa and it’s location in a wooded part of the property offers some privacy from other guests. Once you walk beyond the gate, the property opens up to the large, impressive structure along with a lawn area with a small pond and private hot tub. It’s all quite impressive and would be a lovely way to spend a honeymoon or special occasion!
The most recent addition to the property is Spa du Sureau. I’ll be quite honest in saying that I would never have expected a spa at this small property and I was very impressed with the quality of it.
As you enter this building, you step into a very serene and calming environment where you immediately start to feel your stress melt away. The staff is very professional, there is a sitting room, treatment rooms and a steam room. Just another way Erna has managed to provide a superior experience to her guests.
It’s clear to me that Ms. Erna was meant to share the beauty of her world with all of us. This is a woman who clearly had a vision and knew exactly how she wanted to execute it. I find it impressive that Erna has managed to “brand” herself on this nine acre property in tying her restaurant, chateau, villa and spa together to provide a complete experience for the guest.
I love the fact that she even created her own “crest” that is seen throughout the property located on the exterior of the chateau, on plates, on towels ~ it makes a strong statement. A little tidbit I learned, if you are not royalty, the armor in the crest must be tilted to the side.
Another fact I learned during my visit is that the hotel closes down for a few weeks in January for maintenance ~ carpet cleaning, painting, repairs, etc. I found that to be quite impressive and I think it speaks volumes to the standard of quality of this owner and property.
When I started this online magazine this is exactly the type of property I was hoping to share with my readers ~ a luxurious, unique and distinctive property, that exceeds the guests’ expectations and offers a complete sensory experience.
One little thing….shhh…nobody tell Erna that this perfect, little fantasy world she has created in the forest of Yosemite can possibly be real. Let’s just ride it out with her as long as we can ~ nothing wrong with escaping reality from time to time! Well done, Ms. Erna, well done!