As soon as I arrived at the Ventana Inn and Spa, I knew this hotel would be unlike any I have stayed in before. Big Sur, with its dramatic seaside cliffs and towering Redwoods, may be one of the most beautiful places in California, and the Ventana is one of its most beautiful properties.
Perched high above Highway 1, the hotel is tucked back into the hills of Big Sur, and I knew it would be surrounded by the beautiful nature that has lured travelers to this part of California for years. But I didn’t expect that within a few seconds of pulling into the winding drive, I’d have to stop for deer.
As it turns out, the resort is home to several deer, as well as some turkeys, foxes, even a few cougars and mountain lions. The hotel is set on 240 acres inside the nearly 240,000 acre Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest, 1200 feet above the Pacific, and provides habitat for these and other animals, as well as dozens of varieties of trees and plants.
Rooms are spread throughout several buildings and have various configurations and amenities (such as private outdoor hot tubs in some rooms). My room was in the Madrone building, towards the back of the property, a three-minute walk from the lobby. It overlooked one of the two pools, and was close to the small fitness room, where daily yoga, tai chi, and pilates classes are held. It was on the second floor, and while the private deck didn’t have a hot tub, it did have two patio chairs, a lovely swinging hammock, and a view of the ocean in the distance.
My room was quite large, with a King four-poster bed, sitting area, fireplace, wetbar, and a large bathroom with walk-in shower, deep soaking tub, large closet, vanity with double sink, and accordion doors that opened to the master.
On the property, there’s a small fitness room, a spa, two pools, each with adjoining Japanese baths (one pool is clothing optional), a library with games, books, and DVDs for guest use, and various firepits, hammocks, and secluded nooks perfect for reading a book or staring at the ocean, alone or with a loved one. The features, along with spectacular service, make it easy to forget the outside world and focus on your companion.
The onsite restaurant offers complimentary breakfast (and a hearty one at that – including coffee, tea, juice, scrambled eggs, quiche, pastries, hard-boiled eggs, granola, fruit, yogurt, toast, bagels and english muffins) as well as breakfast entrees like omelettes and eggs Benedict for an additional cost. Lunch and dinner (prix fix and a la carte) are also available, as well as a full bar.
The restaurant is a short walk from the rooms (about 10 minutes) along a wooded path, but for those who don’t want to walk, the resort will happily transport you in a van or golf cart. I enjoyed my daily walks to breakfast; one morning I saw more deer and another I stumbled upon a family of large turkeys scrounging in the brush for food.
The hotel also offers room service and a complimentary shuttle anywhere within four miles, which covers several restaurants, a bakery, and the Big Sur Taphouse, so it’s easy to go out to dinner without worrying about the drive.
The Ventana takes full advantage of its spectacular position along the coast. The buildings blend seamlessly into their surroundings and guests have ample opportunity to explore the appeal of Big Sur. Each morning, a local guide leads one-hour nature walks around the property, pointing out animal tracks and the area’s indigenous plants and flowers. Longer hikes in the surrounding area can be arranged for a fee.
In addition to the complimentary shuttles (both on and off property), breakfast, and nature walks, there’s free wifi and a complimentary wine and cheese hour each day.
In our three days on the property, my husband and I feel into a lovely relaxed rhythm: coffee on our deck in the morning as we watched the fog burn off, a leisurely walk along the nature path to breakfast, a hike (on or off the property) afterwards, lunch somewhere nearby, an afternoon spent in our hammock or by the pool, and sunset either by the fire at wine and cheese hour in the library or with an ocean view at the restaurant.
We alternated dinners between the property’s restaurant and more casual fare from town. At night, we took advantage of the pool’s late closing hours (2am) to swim and soak in the Japanese baths under the stars. By the time we had to leave (check-out is a blissfully late 1pm), we felt more relaxed than we had in years.
Rooms don’t come cheap, at around $700 per night (and up, plus a $35 per night resort fee), but for the many perks, the gorgeous views and the excellent service, the Ventana is the perfect place to slow, down, unwind, and reconnect against the beautiful backdrop of Big Sur. You can make reservations online with the hotel or you can compare rates at Hotels.com and Priceline.