Dennis, one of the Carmel Garden Inn’s new innkeepers and resident gardener, walks me around the garden to the left of the lobby. It’s wine and cheese hour, and my husband Ryan and I have just returned from a long walk around downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, popping in and out of art galleries and shops and looking at all the adorable turn-of-the-century cottages down by the beach. On our way back to our room, we run into Dennis, who asks us how I’m enjoying our stay so far and if I’d like to see some of the new flowers and plants he had planted in the garden. As an aspiring desert gardener somewhat obsessed with succulents (you should have seen my wedding flower arrangements!), I couldn’t wait to see what he’d done with them. After all, the newly planted garden was one of the main reasons we’d decided to stay at Carmel Garden; a few months ago, when I’d called to inquire about availability, Dennis told me all about his dreams to transform the backyard into a fragrant garden of potted flowers, ice plants, roses, hanging succulents, spiny cacti mixed with desert agaves and purple prickly pears, brightly colored fuchsias with pink tips, and soft air plants placed in nooks and crannies in the trees.
He tells me about many of the plants’ unique vascular systems, their flowering habits, their nutrition needs, and even their finicky preferences to water and light. As we walk back down the stairs to the lobby, he points out what will become the design on the Inn’s new logo, the elusive South American Brugmansia. The Brugmansia, or what we call the angel trumpet, is the gentlest of the flowers in the garden, attracting long-billed hummingbirds, pollinating butterflies, and critters who like to live under the heavy leaves. It’s a delicate plant with thick leaves and fat, think, opaque bulbs that look like they’re just about to burst into beautiful white flowers. In a few weeks, Dennis tells me, they will open and turn into gorgeous hanging bells, and the entire garden will be full of a magnificent fragrance that will attract all kinds of what he calls “curious human noses.” I lean down to try and smell the Brugmansia’s elusive scent, but its aroma is still trapped inside the petals.
This curious human nose wishes she could return in a few weeks.
Though I’ve always dreamed of coming here, this is my first time in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We’ve been traveling up the coast for a few days since our wedding, starting in San Diego and Santa Barbara (see my review of the Cheshire Cat) and stopping in Big Sur and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Though we’ve only been here a few hours, this place is starting to represent something very special to me, as I’m here in the afterglow of what might be one of the most important days of my life. I want to be fully present here, in this fertile, lush place, before taking the long drive back to our home in Arizona, where life will return to graduate school, teaching, and writing and where we will no longer be surrounded by salty ocean air and angel trumpets but instead with the dry desert winds and the wiry saguaros.
Since it’s still wine and cheese hour, Ryan and I spend a few more minutes in the garden before going inside to the lobby. On our way in, we meet another couple from California who is also traveling up the coast for their honeymoon, and we share stories of our weddings and swap stories about our lives. We pet their dog, Lucy, and talk about the places in Carmel we’re planning on visiting. Along the back wall are a nice selection of wines to choose from. Today, there’s a dry chardonnay from Tarrica Vineyards in Paso Robles and a sweet red zinfandel from Rosenblum, California. As we pour our glasses, Susan, another one of the innkeepers, comes out of the kitchen with a fresh tray of snacks and crackers. Today, she has prepared one of her newer dishes, a warm pink salmon dip with whole grain crackers, and a guest favorite, her delicately balanced and semi-sweet homemade beet dip with garlic and tahini. Though we’re on our way to walk along the streets until a place entices us to stop for dinner, we make sure to try everything (tip: it’s all delicious, especially that Lebanese-style beet dip). Where we do end for dinner—a brand new Mediterranean/North African boutique restaurant called Yafa—ends up being a perfect complement to the internationally-inspired appetizers at the Inn.
Though the entire restaurant seems to be full when we walk by, the owner, a Jordanian expat named Jacob, tells us that if we wouldn’t mind possibly sharing a table with another couple who’d made reservations in an hour, he could seat us now (since the rest of the restaurant was full of a large family party that didn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon). As we wait for our meals, Jacob, who is a large and boisterous man with a thick gray beard and heavy smile lines around his eyes, sits and talks with us, entertaining us with stories of growing up in Jordan and the Middle East, telling us about the beauty of the Dead Sea at midnight, his lovely wife and children, his emigration to the United States, his new home in Carmel, and his desire to share his country’s cuisine with his new home. He makes sure our plate of homemade hummus stays full until our meal comes, and he brings us a warm chocolate cake before we leave to celebrate our recent nuptials with us. He would have brought a real Jordanian dessert, he says, but they’d already run out of kanafeh (apparently it’s popular). Kanafeh, he tells us, is a Levantine cheesy pastry (similar to a cheesecake) soaked in sweet syrup and sugar, and one of his favorite foods in the entire world. We promise we’ll come back for it next time.
On our way back from dinner, we stop in the lobby, sift through the rack of DVDs and grab Casablanca from the shelf. After all, what better time to watch this black-and-white classic than on a chilly night in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a place that seems to radiate with romance? We head back to our room, open a bottle of champagne, turn up the heater, and curl up under the blankets for a cozy evening together.
The next three days were just as perfect as the first one.
During our stay, we stayed in the Iris room (which is indicated by the #8 plaque above the door). While each room is different, the Iris is a nice example of the kinds of rooms the Inn offers. What we loved most about the Iris is the wood-burning fireplace, the faint smell of pine-trees, the soft lamp lighting, the country-style furniture and wooden rocking chair, and the soft linens on the queen-sized bed. While the rooms are somewhat smaller than other bed and breakfasts I’ve stayed in, it never feels cramped or uncomfortable (despite my ridiculously unnecessary over-sized suitcase for a four-day trip). The room feels, instead, like coming home to a friend’s guest room–warm, cozy, and clean, just the way the innkeepers intended.
If and when you go, make sure to walk the half-mile down the hill from the Inn to the white sand beaches. Not only will you see the unusual wind-swept Monterrey pine trees, you’ll be across from famed golfer’s paradise Pebble Beach and can see the course across the water on a clear morning. Also, Carmel is one of the most dog-friendly places in the country, so you’ll see canines running up and down the beach all day (even the Inn has dog biscuits, fluffy dog beds, and warm blankets for all your fuzzy friends). At one end of the long stretch of beach you’ll find Frank Lloyd Wright’s house, an architectural marvel built right into the rocky coastline, and at the other, an awesome number of boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors, fresh bakeries, wine tasting rooms, and beautifully landscaped gardens, cottages, and tree-lined streets.
And yes, you’ll be among flowers.
Carmel Garden Inn: $150-$250/night (depending on season).
Carmel Garden Inn