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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There were a few holes of golf upon which to work on your stroke…
…and even a life-sized chess board.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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. 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.