A California Escape Fit for a King

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Many of you asked in my poll awhile back what sort of projects I’m working on these days. It’s not that I mind talking about them—that’s not it at all–it’s just that I don’t find the work part of my job all that interesting. It’s just a job, you know? It’s a lot of days and nights, sitting in front of the computer in my robe from sun up to sun down, doing Internet research, shooting off e-mails, making phone calls (only when I absolutely have to—I shy away from the phone if possible), and writing, writing and writing some more. I’ve still been plugging away at magazine and newspaper articles when I can land them (which is getting increasingly more difficult as any travel writer will tell you), but I’ve also taken on some cool new gigs like occasional contract work for Visit California and—probably the most fun job I’ve ever done—writing cards and questions for a handful of new editions of Trivial Pursuit.

stonepine, carmel, california

But, as usual, the biggest thing on my plate right now comes around once a year: the Frommer’s updates. Now if you’re thinking, “but Kristin, I recall you just blabbing on about how little time you have to update a hefty book not that long ago,” you’d be correct. The 2011 editions of Frommer’s California, San Francisco and Los Angeles only just hit bookstores this past month after I turned in my portions back in the spring, and it’s already time to get started on the 2012 versions. Even crazier is that the first one is due Dec. 15, which if my calendar is accurate, means that I have roughly five weeks to tackle this monster. Eep! But it’s not all work and no play. Update time means, when time allows, an excuse to check out some corners of California I haven’t visited in awhile, such as lovely Carmel Valley and its wide open spaces.

stonepine, carmel, california

So one rainy weekend a few weeks ago, SVV and I did just that: escaped the flooded Bay Area for the quiet mountains and valleys of Carmel. Only this weekend was different from our other travels around the state, as we were staying in a CASTLE. Or it looked like one. I guess, technically, the only true castle we have in our neck of the woods is Hearst, but the turrets and medieval-like facade of Stonepine Estate Resort sure made me feel like I was sleeping in a castle in the English countryside circa 18th century. I thought I might have even seen Jane Austen’s ghost roaming the corridors after the lights went out.

stonepine, carmel, california

The truth is that Stonepine, a registered Historic Hotel of America, is meant to evoke the feel of traveling back to the bygone era of Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. It was built during the 1920s as the home of a notable California banking family and the foremost thoroughbred breeding farm west of the Mississippi. Only in recent months has the estate begun welcoming guests to sleep in its 20 chambers. In fact, the weekend SVV and I invaded the castle, there were only two other guests occupying one of the other rooms on the other side of the hall. Talk about feeling like true royalty.

stonepine, carmel, california

After fighting San Francisco and San Jose traffic—a two-hour trip quickly turned into five when you factor in bumper-to-bumper cars, bathroom breaks, and stops for gas and In-n-Out—we got in late the first night under a veil of darkness, then rose early the next morning for a big breakfast.

stonepine, carmel, california

After we were sufficiently full, we took a self-guided tour of the premises. This place is huge—all 330 acres of it—with ample things to do. We’re just a family of two, but I imagine if you have kids, it’s the perfect retreat, as they’re not likely going to get bored during a weekend at Stonepine.

stonepine, carmel, california

There were a few holes of golf upon which to work on your stroke…

stonepine, carmel, california

…and even a life-sized chess board.

stonepine, carmel, california

Soon after, it was time to head down the windy road to the horse stables—taking heed to look both ways for crossing carriages, of course.

stonepine, carmel, california

While we waited for the ride before us to get back, we worked on our horseshoe throwing. I never thought a game as simple as horseshoes would be up my alley—I mean, baseball bores me, and this was significantly less action-packed—but I was getting into it and threw a near ringer just before we were summoned to the stables.

stonepine, carmel, california

Now, when I worked in Arizona, I rode horses every day. But the last time I’d been on one was way back in early 2006 when SVV and I took a tour of Denmark during our school break. That didn’t end so favorably, as the horses were extremely temperamental and the woman who owned them not only just let us go off on our own but didn’t tell us they both shied from the beach. So when we got near the coast, you can imagine what happened: We were both thrown off. That didn’t happen this time. Our ride with resident horsewoman Athena was truly a leisurely one.

stonepine, carmel, california

Over the river trickling stream and through the woods open fields and vineyards we went, circling the property and getting some stellar views of the entire valley.

stonepine, carmel, california

There was no bucking, no pace faster than a speed walk, and I chatted up Athena while SVV and his asthmathic horse Happy lagged waaaay behind.

stonepine, carmel, california

Our hour ride was soon over and we returned to the main grounds, where they had prepared a picnic for two for us in the Cutting Garden. Following that, I dragged SVV out onto the tennis court—I played NCAA tennis back in the day and am always looking for a willing partner—then retreated to our room once the rain clouds rolled in. It was time for our massages anyway!

stonepine, carmel, california

Post-massage, there was a cocktails and wine hour with the only other two guests there, then each couple was served dinner in a private setting. We were on the Loge outside, under the cover of the patio, as the rain beat down like an African drum display all around us.

stonepine, carmel, california

While we planned to spend at least one night wandering around Carmel-by-the-Sea, we wound up never leaving the estate. There was just too much to do: games of shuffleboard, a swimming pool, mountain biking, hiking. We didn’t even find time for a lot of them either, like a trip to the Greenhouse, where guests can learn horticulture and even pot a few plants on their own; a movie in the Screening Room; a trip down through the Wine Cellar; and a look around the Carriage Room, which house antique carriages.Β And we missed out on the Friday night cocktail party at the Blacksmith Shop, a Western-themed saloon, complete with jukebox up in the loft. We spend so much time rushing about, never stopping to just chill out, never staying anywhere for more than a night, so it was nice to be at one place for 48 hours and not leave. We never did see former mayor of Carmel Clint Eastwood—my goal each trip down to the area—but my love for this confined pocket of California remains strong all the same.

COMMENTS
  • November 10, 2010

    Oh I loved Carmel! I will put this down on my list to check out next time we head west πŸ™‚

  • November 10, 2010

    Oh MAN. This looks incredible! I’m feeling like this could be a promising mini-honeymoon lead! What do you think?

  • November 10, 2010

    Thanks for writing about this place! I love, love, love California and wish I had more time (and money) to explore it. Maybe you’ll be in my neck of the woods soon? The offer still stands – I will take the day off and show you around if you have time.

  • November 10, 2010

    Gosh, this is ABSOLUTELY. GORGEOUS. So romantic and perfect and I LOVE hearing about your projects, you’re superwoman.

  • November 10, 2010
    k

    Oooh, writing trivial pursuit questions!! That sounds so awesome! I love games!

  • November 10, 2010

    I’m dying to play chess on that chessboard. It’s all my dorky, puzzle-loving dreams come to life!

  • November 10, 2010

    Sounds like the absolute perfect weekend getaway!!!!!!

  • November 10, 2010

    Does look like a nice place to stay, and stay very busy. At least Frommers means a more steady paycheck than freelance. My hat’s off to you. I really like your way with words. Unfortunately, with dialup I don’ t always get to see all the pics.

    Hell I sit in my sweats all day at the computer writing, writing and rewriting during the winter, and never get paid for it. Must be doing something wrong, or right….. πŸ˜‰

  • November 10, 2010

    Looks absolutely lovely! Thanks for sharing.

    ps. i want to drive that car.

  • November 10, 2010

    Trivial pursuit cards?! That’s so cool! Also, I’m the same way about emails vs. phone calls. Though I’m starting to warm up to the idea of Skype calls because then I don’t have to actually *hold* a phone, and it’s easier. The rest of your photos are gorgeous πŸ™‚

  • November 10, 2010

    Why oh why didn’t I have the good sense to be born into a prominent banking family?! Biggest mistake I ever made.

  • November 10, 2010

    Life sized chess board! I thought those only existed in the movies! Way cool.

  • November 11, 2010
    Sid

    I love the way you capture photos – esp the car and chess board.

  • November 11, 2010

    Ooh Carmel, yay! We stopped there on our way down to LA, just after we’d seen you for brunch and we loved it! We didn’t see Clint Eastwood either or Doris Day, but we found the most beautiful beach and lots of English style cottages. Next time we’ll check out the Estate, it looks fabulous!
    Oh and we also visited the ‘official’ California Hearst Castle the next day, and wow that place is fabulous! I would have loved to have been a guest there in the roaring 20s!

  • November 11, 2010

    WHY haven’t I been to Cali in over a decade??

  • November 11, 2010

    Looks like a lovely, lazy place to spend a day. And the way it’s tucked away in the armpit of the mountain looks cozy.

  • November 11, 2010

    I love getting a preview πŸ™‚

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