Celebrity inn

En­joy a sun­set like no other or take your wed­ding vows at this bou­tique hide­away where even celebri­ties head to.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TRAVEL - By ALLEN PIER­LEONI

A COOL­ING fog rolled in that af­ter­noon, fol­lowed by a late- night storm that steamed in off the Pa­cific. For hours the sky boomed and flashed as a wa­ter­fall of rain drenched the rocky shore­line and heav­ily forested hills of this coastal stretch known as the Gate­way to Big Sur.

Ear­lier that day, hu­mid­ity and a blaz­ing white sun made things un­sea­son­ably warm as we turned off High­way 1 and up a steep drive­way to the Carmel High­lands Inn, which is re­ally two ad­join­ing prop­er­ties un­der one um­brella – a Hy­att ho­tel and a time­share “res­i­dence club”. The inn is 6km from Carmel and a short hike from Point Lo­bos State Na­tional Re­serve. Non- guests are in­vited to stop by for a look- see, a bite and a bike rental.

The charm­ingly retro inn opened in 1917 and rented “cab­ins in the Monterey pine for­est”. At the time, owner J. Frank Deven­dorf told The Monterey Her­ald that his inn “com­bined the rus­tic qual­i­ties of its set­ting, yet of­fered trav­ellers all the lux­ury that the progress of the new cen­tury could of­fer”.

Af­ter var­i­ous own­er­ships and sev­eral ex­pan­sions, the 48- room ho­tel be­came a Hy­att prop­erty in 1995. A year ago, it and the ad­join­ing time­share – 94 con­do­mini­ums that are rented as avail­able – were pur­chased by In­ter­val Leisure Group of Mi­ami. It has a long- term li­cens­ing agree­ment to run the ho­tel un­der the Hy­att brand.

The build­ings form a well- land­scaped 4.4ha oa­sis that has long re­sisted the trend among many older ho­tels to “sani­tise” much of their char­ac­ter in the name of mod­erni­sa­tion. Still, some of the struc­tures have looked dated for a while. To keep up, the con­dos were “gen­tly re­mod­elled” two years ago, with grander up­dates in the works for the ho­tel, said man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Mel Bettcher.

“We’re plan­ning ren­o­va­tions of the ho­tel rooms, the restau­rants and the lobby area, but ab­so­lutely we’re look­ing to pre­serve our rus­tic coastal feel and en­hance what we’ve been build­ing on for the past 10 years,” Bettcher said. The pro­ject is sched­uled for com­ple­tion in the first quar­ter this year.

The High­lands Inn has been a spe­cial desti­na­tion for gen­er­a­tions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans, and for the celebri­ties- of- the- day who have stayed and played here over the decades – Ansel Adams, El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, Mar­lon Brando, Ju­lia Child, Robert Red­ford, Steven Tyler and Christina Aguil­era among them.

One of the ho­tel’s pri­mary draws has long been as a wed­ding and hon­ey­moon desti­na­tion. A wed­ding chapel was part of the grounds from the 1950s through the 1980s ( when brunch was US$ 5), and the brass bell that hung in its spire is now an at­trac­tion in the lobby. “( Hun­dreds of ) cou­ples young and old came to the ro­man­tic re­treat to ex­change and re­new their wed­ding vows,” reads the plaque.

Th­ese days, the ho­tel hosts about 60 for­mal cer­e­monies a year, and their at­ten­dant re­hearsals, din­ners and re­cep­tions. The “I do’s” lit­er­ally take place on an out­door deck- gazebo that – like ev­ery­thing else here – over­looks the Pa­cific in dra­matic fash­ion. Dur­ing our visit, a ju­bi­lant wed­ding re­cep­tion for 120 guests briefly brought to mind some of the more amus­ing scenes from Vince Vaughn’s Wed­ding Crash­ers.

A less- stress­ful and more eco­nom­i­cal op­tion to a full- on wed­ding is the mid­week Elope­ment Pack­age for eight to a dozen guests, which in­cludes “ro­man­tic evening turn- down ser­vice with rose petals, a chilled bot­tle of cham­pagne and choco­late- cov­ered straw­ber­ries”.

Wed­dings aside, the inn’s big­gest at­trac­tions are its prime lo­ca­tion, hid­den on a hill­side above twist­ing High­way 1, and its rep­u­ta­tion for ex­clu­siv­ity as a “bou­tique hide­away.” An un­der­ly­ing but per­va­sive sense of pri­vacy and dis­cre­tion are in­cluded in the room rates, which are ad­justed sea­son­ally. Ho­tel rooms go for US$ 350 ( RM1,530) to US$ 900 ( RM3,940) a night, and con­dos range from US$ 500 ( RM2,187) to US$ 1,500 ( RM6,560). Part of what that buys are un­sur­passed vis­tas from din­ing rooms and decks of sun­sets and ocean views, stands of coastal cy­press and rocky coast­line. As cater­ing co­or­di­na­tor Yuri Orel­lana put it dur­ing a tour, “The sun­sets are like no other.”

The good news for vis­i­tors to the Mon­ter­rey Penin­sula is you needn’t be a ho­tel guest to sam­ple some of the ameni­ties, in­clud­ing the restau­rants, and ex­plore the lush grounds, where trails and stone stair­ways me­an­der through cy­press and colour- splashed bougainvil­lea. We strolled past walls of na­tive stone sup­port­ing bal­conies that look over the ocean on one side and up at the foothills of the Santa Lu­cia Moun­tains on the other.

In­side the high- ceil­ing main lodge are the in­ti­mate Sun­set Lounge ( small plates and drinks) and the sprawl­ing wood- and- stone Fire­side Lounge, where lo­cal bands show up to play on Fri­day and Satur­day nights. One evening, the space was packed with ex­u­ber­ant cou­ples show­ing off the finer points of West Coast swing.

The show­case restau­rant, the four- star Pa­cific’s Edge, was in­cluded on USA To­day’s list of the na­tion’s top 10 restau­rants with a view. Its wine cel­lar holds 3,400 bot­tles. We shared wild mushroom- stuffed ravi­oli and a chunk of grilled wild salmon, the flesh juicy, the skin as crisp as a cracker. – The Sacre­mento Bee/ Tribune News Ser­vice

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