Stonepine Estate: The Grand Dame of Carmel Valley
The doors of the famed Stonepine Estate and equestrian center in California's Carmel Valley are now open to the public full-time. The resort has remained open for private weddings and special events but is now again welcoming vacationers. A luxury resort with the feel of an exclusive private home -- which it once was -- has long catered to the rich and famous and clearly has written the textbook on how to serve up the pampered resort experience.
Beautiful grounds of this size -- 330 acres -- ensure guests' privacy and seclusion, which is probably why so many celebrities have been drawn here through the decades. It's a Gatsby-esqe experience with society soirees, picturesque and meandering gardens, waterfalls, immaculately kept grounds, world-class equestrian facilities and a European flair where people still dress for dinner and wouldn't dream of answering their Blackberrys during cocktails.
Stonepine Estate provided the accommodations and some meals to the writer.
Gallery: Stonepine Estates
The recently redone Blacksmith Shop bar near the Paddock House lodging provides a western riding feel, but the rest of the estate is just that: An estate marked by elegance reminiscent of a bygone era. Antiques and thick rich carpets fill each room; two Rolls Royces stand ready at the approach; and the original charm of the estate remains intact -- right down to the secret wall in the wood paneled library that pushes open to what was once the speakeasy and is now a suite of rooms.
The 20 accommodations are split among the main lodge, named Chateau Noel after owner Gordon Hentschel's wife Noel, and private cottages that contain apartment suites. While meals are served in the cottages if a guest so chooses, the main dining room is in Chateau Noel. On a recent resort-hosted visit, the staff also arranged for a romantic dinner to be served in front of the outdoor fireplace at the Chateau with views of the expansive lawns. The Chateau's library and a cozy table at the resort's newly constructed Waterfall Pavilion are also used to accommodate guests seeking greater privacy.
in 1983 the Hentschels bought the property -- what was then called the Double H Ranch --from the children of Henry Potter and Helen-Crocker-Russell of the San Francisco banking family. They renamed it Stonepine Estate after the towering 80-foot Italian stone pines, planted as 18-inch saplings by the Russells more than 50 years earlier.
Tinseltown nuptials that have been staged at the resort include those of Harry Hamlin and Nicollette Sheridan; Dennis Franz and Joanie Zeck; and Andre Agassi and Brook Shields. When the tennis star and actress wed here in 1997, Kenny G composed a clarinet tribute in honor of the occasion. Society weddings may have even upstaged the celebrity extravaganzas, with Seagram's Edgar Bronfman's family holding their son's special day here, as did Teresa Heinz's daughter.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have hosted private conferences at Stonepine and Bob Hope celebrated his birthday here. Stonepine has been host to Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carey, Nicole Kidman and the Rolling Stones. How private is it? ABC News and Diane Sawyer secretly sequestered the infamous Mafia hitman, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano here for five days and nobody knew.
But beautiful grounds and rolling hills aside, the secret ingredient of the resort's success is the Stonepine staff -- well-schooled in European-style hospitality and charged with just one mission: Make sure that each guest feels like he's the only one. In a world where the customer is frequently forgotten in favor of the bottom line, Stonepine's service is likely surpassed by none.
During our stay, a welcome basket greeted us as our anniversary surprise. The two masseurs who came to the Briar Rose Cottage to deliver the couple's massage that was part of the Stonepine Experience package wished us a "happy anniversary" as well. Athena, who oversees the estate's equestrian operation, hand-picked the horses on our three-mile trail ride and graciously "introduced" us to the retired thoroughbreds she is retraining to become family horses as part of the TROTT program.
We saw a bobcat, three snoozing deer, and a family of raccoons during our two-night stay, were awakened by chirping birds and entertained by the antics of squirrels racing on the fence rails. While there is plenty to do for the more actively inclined -- horseback riding, hiking, archery, and pool -- we found the sheer beauty of the resort trumped any ambitions we had to do more than simply be there in the moment. I believe that unfamiliar feeling was called relaxing.
Room rates ranges from $300 to $3,000.