Cal­i­for­nia heal­ing James Innes-smith

Hot tubs, guided hikes, mas­sage, yoga and the lay­ing on of hot rocks: a tired and stressed James Innes-smith checks into Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn to soothe his jan­gled nerves

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

The iconic Pa­cific Coast High­way may be one of the world’s most pop­u­lar road trips but apart from a few lum­ber­ing RVS and the oc­ca­sional gleam­ing con­vert­ible, the road to Big Sur is mer­ci­fully free of traf­fic. With its friendly vibe, lit­er­ary con­nec­tions (Henry Miller and Jack Ker­ouac both spent time here) and rus­tic home­steads, Big Sur has plenty to of­fer the fraz­zled city dweller.

For that Cal­i­for­nia feel­ing you re­ally need an open-top. A friend has kindly lent me his 1975 Mus­tang con­vert­ible but there are plenty of places to rent your fan­tasy get­away car.

I’m on my way to the award-win­ning Post Ranch Inn for a much-needed spa break. At the en­trance to the com­plex just out­side Big Sur, a smiley at­ten­dant asks for my car keys and ush­ers me to a wait­ing golf buggy. This is very much an eco-friendly spa so grubby old in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines are kept well out of sight.

The re­sort it­self is perched atop a nar­row stretch of dra­matic coast­line with stun­ning views across the Pa­cific Ocean. The 39 gue­strooms have been built into the land­scape, clev­erly com­ple­ment­ing the soft cur­va­ture of the coast­line. The grassy roofs act as a per­fect cam­ou­flage. For those of an ar­bo­real bent, the tri­an­gu­lar-shaped tree houses al­low you to doze amongst dense fo­liage high above the for­est floor. My self-con­tained den is po­si­tioned on the edge of the red­wood for­est with far-reach­ing views of the misty beaches be­low (all rooms have ocean or mountain views). This is a place to re­lax and re­con­nect with na­ture so there are no TVS or flashy giz­mos and the cab­ins have a rus­tic, un­der­stated charm. A homely bag of logs is hand-de­liv­ered to your door ev­ery morn­ing and they will even build you a fire so all you need to do is strike a match.

I could hap­pily have spent three days in my pri­vate hot tub gazing up at the night sky through the thought­fully in­stalled glass ceil­ing. The nearby

in­fin­ity pool is equally invit­ing and per­fectly po­si­tioned for sun­sets and ea­gle watch­ing. But I’m not here just to gaze at the spec­tac­u­lar vis­tas. The past few months have been par­tic­u­larly try­ing and my aching mus­cles and joints are in dire need of at­ten­tion.

The ex­ten­sive spa menu may seem a lit­tle daunt­ing at first but the at­ten­tive staff are happy to help. ‘Soar­ing’, an old-school hippy with grey­ing, waistlength hair and a cheery, laid-back at­ti­tude (her mother was of Na­tive Amer­i­can her­itage) has sug­gested a brisk guided hike through the Santa Lu­cia Moun­tains. The air up here is di­vinely pure and the golden late-af­ter­noon sun has turned the mountain peaks a rich, rus­set brown. The stress of city life soon be­gins to dis­solve. Back at the spa, Soar­ing has rec­om­mended I try a Duet Mas­sage, where you get four hands for the price of two. Af­ter an hour of per­fectly chore­ographed pum­melling, my lower back pain has all but van­ished. I feel about 10lbs lighter and more re­laxed than I can re­mem­ber. As a re­ward, I treat my­self to an hour of Sa­cred Touch, which in­cludes some easy yoga pos­tures, a spot of guided med­i­ta­tion and a very pleas­ing foot mas­sage. Some of the spa treat­ments are a bit out-there and ap­pear to hark back to hip­pier times when this stretch of coast­line was a haven for hairy dropouts. I’m a bit of a scep­tic when it comes to cer­tain al­ter­na­tive treat­ments, es­pe­cially ones in­volv­ing gems and crys­tals. I’m even less con­vinced by the Vi­bra­tional Res­o­nance ses­sion dur­ing which a ‘healer’ dan­gles tun­ing forks over var­i­ous parts of my anatomy. The hour-long treat­ment is sup­posed to in­spire ‘har­monic res­o­nance’ but af­ter twenty min­utes, the whin­ing hum of forks be­ing ran­domly tuned in my ear be­gins to grate.

The Big Sur Jade Stone Ther­apy ses­sion is much more al­lur­ing and in­cludes the lay­ing on of hot rocks gath­ered from a nearby beach. The heat from the stones per­me­ates deep into the knot­ted mus­cle tis­sue at the base of my spine and helps to loosen aching joints.

Like many men, I have shown scant re­gard for fa­cial well­be­ing over the years and con­sider mois­turiser an ex­clu­sively fem­i­nine ap­pli­ca­tion. But ac­cord­ing to the fa­cial-treat­ment ex­pert my parched, flaky skin is cry­ing out for re­hy­dra­tion. She rec­om­mends the Co­conut Par­adise Fa­cial, which smells as good as it sounds. The com­bi­na­tion of vir­gin co­conut oil, co­conut milk and lo­cal honey cer­tainly feels in­vig­o­rat­ing and by the end of the half-hour ses­sion, my cheeks have gone from used sand­pa­per to freshly pow­dered baby’s bot­tom. I’m told that with reg­u­lar use this par­tic­u­lar co­conut con­coc­tion can im­prove skin’s elas­tic­ity and re­duce the ap­pear­ance of fine lines. But I have it on good author­ity that no cream on earth has the power to erad­i­cate those tell­tale signs of age­ing.

All this healthy liv­ing gives you an ap­petite so make sure you book a ta­ble at the daz­zling Sierra Mar restau­rant, perched pre­car­i­ously on a steep in­cline over­look­ing the ocean. The food is ex­cep­tional but the 180-de­gree vista is par­tic­u­larly gob­s­mack­ing, es­pe­cially around sun­set when the en­tire can­dlelit ed­i­fice ap­pears to be float­ing above the fiery ocean. The four-course taster menu in­cludes lo­cally caught Morro Bay oys­ters and a sen­sa­tional hunk of black­ened cod. Don’t miss the honey-glazed ricotta frit­ters that dis­solve as soon as they hit your mouth.

If the re­lent­less pace of mod­ern life is get­ting you down then the Post Ranch Inn and spa is the per­fect an­ti­dote. Af­ter a cou­ple of days, my nerves were no­tice­ably less jan­gly. Time is more forgiving here too but be warned, the Post Ranch Inn is about as close to par­adise as you’ll find any­where on earth so drag­ging your­self away can be trau­matic.

Rather than head­ing straight back to the hul­la­baloo of city life I rec­om­mend a tour of Cal­i­for­nia’s myr­iad other spa re­treats. Self-im­provers should con­tinue up the coast to the Esalen In­sti­tute where Six­ties coun­ter­cul­ture found a per­ma­nent home. This charm­ing but slightly potty re­treat still at­tracts an al­ter­na­tive crowd, of­fer­ing more than 500 work­shops yearly in ar­eas such as per­sonal growth, med­i­ta­tion, mas­sage, ecol­ogy, spir­i­tu­al­ity and or­ganic food.

From here it’s an hour or so drive in­land to the thriv­ing spa re­sort of Ojai, where stressed-out movie ex­ecs and screen­writ­ers come to un­wind. The lux­u­ri­ous Ojai Val­ley Inn and Spa is known for its ex­clu­sive Kuyam treat­ment, which com­bines the ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects of mud, dry heat, in­hala­tion ther­apy and guided med­i­ta­tion. Kuyam means ‘a place to rest to­gether’ in the lan­guage of the Chu­mash peo­ple who once in­hab­ited the land around Ojai.

So if it’s Kuyam you’re af­ter, coastal Cal­i­for­nia re­mains the laid-back cap­i­tal of the world. Just leave your bag­gage at the door.

‘Af­ter twenty min­utes the whin­ing hum of forks be­ing tuned in my ear be­gins to grate’

All that healthy liv­ing gives you a big ap­petite: the Sierra Mar Restau­rant has gob­s­mack­ing views and menu

The Post Ranch Inn in­fin­ity pool, per­fect for sun­set- and ea­gle-watch­ing

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