It is just before dusk as we climb the steep hill to Post Ranch Inn. ‘Look! Look!’ I gasp, pointing to a bright crimson escarpment in front of us. The setting sun’s reflection has turned the mountains opposite, a beautiful electric puce. With a glass of cold chardonnay in hand and after (very few) reception formalities, we are transported to our room courtesy of one of the hotel’s very own executive eco-friendly Lexus Hybrids.
Bauhaus meets Middle Earth here. Forest-coloured redwood and Corten steel has been fashioned into 40 stilt-riding mini houses all designed around geometric shapes, and all in perfect harmony with 150 acres of natural forest and lime green pastures. It can’t have been an easy brief for architect Mickey Muennig. He was given the task of building 40 condo-like hotel rooms, all sensitive to the Big Sur’s craggy cliffs. Muennig apparently climbed trees and high ladders himself in order to cite the best views, affect the maximum privacy and save the redwoods’ roots from concrete. The result is outstanding.
As we drive down the path that leads to our room, the Pacific Ocean glittering to one side, and the grand old redwood dames towering on the other, it is clear why this hotel is considered, by many, to be one of the best in the world. Pfeiffer is our coastal room. (All are named after the pioneers that shaped the land over 150 years ago.)
Once inside, it is clear that the clever design extends to the remarkable interiors. A circular space around the lavish Royal Pedic bed is made cosier by warm redwood walls panels and seascape-hued soft furnishings. Grey and rust-flecked Indian Raja slate lines the deep Jacuzzi bath and the pre-stacked fireplace in our bedroom all breathe ‘calming’, ‘homely’, ‘organic’, ‘inviting’... But the money shot is to be found beyond. From the 30-foot verandah, we get a 180-degree uninterrupted view of the ocean.
It may be tiredness from the long drive, or maybe Mr Smith has something in his eye but I swear I can see him welling up as we stand staring out to sea. A scarlet ribbon of sunset is streaking the sky to the west and the ocean hovering below us is just majestic. There is no perceptible evidence of humanity. No building is visible to the eye; just conifers and berry bushes below, some condors swooping, and, 1,200-foot below, moss-green rocks are audibly being lapped by crashing waves. Beyond the horizon’s horizon, 10,000 miles away, is Australia, I imagine. But from where we are standing, it is just us and the largest expanse of ocean I’ve ever seen.
Possibly aware that I’ve spied some emotion in him, Mr Smith goes inside to play with our room’s gadgets: wall-mounted one-touch digital radio, surroundsound hidden speakers, WiFi, electric shutters… but mercifully, no TV. For me, the sunset view from my tub is all I need.
At some stage, it becomes time for dinner, so, guided by environmentally supportive lanterns along the cliff path, we make our way to the hotel’s renowned Sierra Mar restaurant, two minutes' walk. Pretty much every table is taken which, for a Tuesday night, is testament to the superb menu that Craig von Foerster has created. The term 'fine dining' seems a little disingenuous as we marvel in silence at the amuses bouches of crab mousse, lobster and caviar, starters of scallops with lobster and a deconstructed Beef Wellington. At $95 the four-course menu is great value, especially when between each course there’s a chef’s special dish. Thankfully there is enough room for a huckleberry sorbet which trumps even Mr Smith’s chocolate and citrus tart.
Although it would be easy to pass your time at Post Ranch floating in the infinity pool staring out to sea, there are many activities and outdoor pursuits. One is Mindful Meditation which fits well with the Big Sur’s hippie roots. After a peaceful night’s sleep, we spend our pre-breakfast hour stretching and rolling in an attempt to stop our minds whirring. I can’t help thinking about food though so it is back to Sierra Mar to gorge on the most remarkable breakfast buffet imaginable. Even talk from the maître d’ about a pod of whales spotted on their way from Mexico to Alaska can’t distract me. Origami’d fresh fruit tempts alongside courgette frittata, buttermilk waffles, sausages, eggs Benedict with avocado and fresh juices – all fuel for our next adventure, the Esalen Centre, a true Californian get-in-touch-with-your-navel retreat centre, further down the coast.
Esalen is closed to the general public, but our stay at the Post Ranch Inn gets us a day pass to the nudist pools and massage bays. A master in abstract environmental design, it sits atop glistening waves, fed by local sulphurous hot springs. Mini pools lined with tiles and shells tempt outside, while silent and quiet hot tubs are on offer inside. The shower area looks out to the ocean through floor-to-ceiling sliding glass. Unlike our fellow bathers, we are a little self-conscious and keep our swimsuits on and our dignity intact as we lower ourselves into the hot sulphuric water, averting our gaze where appropriate. On the way out, Mr Smith looks slightly bemused when I explain that it is improper to take photos of the nudists. He manages to work his zoom lens for, in his words, ‘a little keepsake’.
Deetjens is a quirky candle-lit restaurant we’ve had recommended, and it’s the only possible thing to keep us from heading back to Post Ranch Inn. Here, a jovial Mr Smith delights at kitsch ornaments and trimmings. Still, we end up making a rather hasty departure. The food is great, but romance is definitely in the air... And then, the next morning comes all too soon. We are in no hurry to leave this incredible hotel; but our farewell swim in the infinity pool has to wait. Mr Smith has apparently left his shorts back in the Esalen changing rooms. An excuse, no doubt, to return to the nudist hotspot.
As we pack our bags, it is clear that the Post Ranch effect has taken hold of Mr Smith. He turns to me, open faced, and says, ‘Mrs Smith, this has been one of the best hotels, ever.’ I can almost see that zoom-lens shot in his thought bubble.