Ventana Inn: A Sense of Calm in Big Sur
From any direction, the drive to Big Sur is at once stunning and stressful, awe-inspiring and nauseating. Hairpin turns seem to punctuate every panorama, and as Highway 1 dips toward the Pacific and soars skyward, your stomach bounces along with it.
But when you leave the winding road for another, steeper, shorter street that runs up the side of Big Sur's highest hill to the Ventana Inn & Spa, a sense of calm sweeps over you. Perhaps it's the pungent scent of cedar that pervades the resort, or maybe it's the glass of wine you're given at check-in. Either way, the relaxation begins as soon as you arrive on the property.
Ventana has been that way since writer Lawrence Spector founded the resort in 1975 with funds earned from the film "Easy Rider." Early frequenters of the inn included Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw; more recently, Ventana has counted Anthony Hopkins and Oprah Winfrey among its visitors. All along, it's been a place for those who want to see – but not necessarily be seen.
And there's a lot to see. Though Ventana's 60 rooms and suites mostly resemble humble cabins on the outside, their interiors contain a mix of rustic and modern luxuries sure to please any vacationer. Each room comes with a view of valley, mountain, ocean, or all of the above. A private balcony or patio is also standard, as are real wood-burning fireplaces, heated stone floors, Egyptian cotton sheets, terry cloth robes, and of course, a flat-screen television. Many suites also boast private hot tubs.
If you're lucky enough to arrive on a clear night, be sure to step out for a quick stargazing session. Big Sur's remote location and dearth of glowing neon make it an ideal spot for amateur astronomers. If you feel hemmed in by your private patio, mosey on down to one of the resort's two pools (just remember that one of them is clothing-optional).
Don't be surprised to find yourself awoken at dawn by a woodpecker who has mistaken your roof for a tree. Think of it as bucolic wakeup call, and a reminder to take advantage of Ventana's abundant activities. Start with a light dose of yoga and follow it up with a free continental breakfast in the lobby of the main building. Then meet up with a guide for a one-hour tour through the 243-acre mountainside property. Hearty hikers can opt for a 3-hour tour, complete with a picnic lunch, for an additional fee.
Dining options are scant but scintillating. Ventana itself boasts a terrific dining room; shuttles run to the nearby hipster hotspot Nepenthe and the endlessly elegant Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn. Dine at all three and you'll have captured the essence of Big Sur: a beatnik's paradise 1200 feet above the Pacific with all the sophistication and creature comforts of home – and then some.