Hotel Review
Bernardus Lodge-Italy in Carmel Valley? You bet!

By Kathy Chin Leong


Complimentary wine tasting, a complete CD library, croquet, bocce ball and tennis and swimming pool, exercise gym, on-site spa, outdoor stone firepit and two restaurants, and views of the Santa Lucia Mountains… You tell me - what’s not to like?

Living in the Bay Area my entire life, I had never ventured to the verdant Carmel Valley until now. And a visit to the Carmel Valley’s Bernardus Lodge is definitely a good reason to experience the region.

The drive from our home in Sunnyvale was only about an hour and a half, and on this weekend in April on Hwy 1, God blessed us with the kind of sun-filled, glistening morning you only see in dog-eared guidebooks and travel brochures.

Since I cannot afford to go to Tuscany, I’m thankful places like the Bernardus Lodge exist to evoke the Tuscan experience. When you walk through the manicured grounds, your senses are captivated with its palette of earthy colors used for the exterior, generous use of stone flooring, larger than life fresh floral arrangements in the lobby, its vineyard and gardens, wrought-iron gates, flowing fountains, and its vine-covered arches.

THE ROOM
Here at the Bernardus, there are 57 guest rooms, each with a balcony or patio and a gracious view. This 6-year-old resort is one of the newest in the valley, and thus you will be treated to spiffy furnishings, solid paint jobs, and fresh, clean rugs. In this business, hotels that are over 10 years old that haven’t been remodelled start showing their age.

We stayed in Number 52, a 525-quare foot sumptuous upstairs suite called the Premium Santa Lucia ($345 at low season and $525 at the high) graced by a limestone fireplace, couch sitting area, monstrous marble bathroom with a soaking tub and separate shower.

There was plenty of room to spread our newspapers around and enjoy our bottle of wine in the fireplace living room .

DETAILS
Locally hand-crafted lavender mint soap with bath salts and lavender oil in the bathroom to the wooden bowl of seasonal fruit in every guest room is a wonderful touch for the weary traveler. It did not feel like a hotel room. I felt as if I was being treated as a VIP in a very upscale B&B.

If you are a foodie lover such as I, you will be pleased to see that the Bernardus Lodge equips each room with a bottle of its own labelled Bernardus wine, bottled water, and sodas, cheeses and crackers for no extra charge.

However, everyone is charged a $20 resort fee on top of the room charge. Among many hotels, that "resort fee" seems typical these days, running between $10 to $20 for the entire length of the stay.

With a muted beige colors for the wall, milky white bed linens, and straw-colored carpet, the tone and feel for the room is one of cloudlike serenity. Magazines on the side table include Wine Critic and Spa Magazine. Every bed is crowned with a feather bed and down comforters. If this place doesn’t make you surrender to calmness, nothing will.

The electronics are basic: phone, TV, clock/radio, CD player are unobstrusive objects designed for communication and entertainment. My husband Frank and I skipped dinner and spent the evening munching on goodies we bought from home and enjoying listening to six CDs in their entirety as we read magazines and books at our leisure. It has been years since we, as busy parents, have had time to do anything that extravagant!

SERVICES
The lobby offers an eclectic CD collection of jazz, opera, modern, classical, and various solo artists. All the attendants there, from the concierge to the check-in staff, are supportive when it comes to guest comfort. When I wanted to check out those whopping six CDs, the front desk was happy to oblige. The staff was gracious and friendly when I asked if I could bring some of the lobby magazines up to my room.

If you forget your tennis racquet or want to play some croquet or bocce ball, you can borrow equipment. The hospitality staff will even give you a printout on rules for croquet or bocce ball. There’s a certain level of respect and trust Berardus staff gives to guests, and it’s a refreshing change from some hotels that want to nickel and dime their visitors for every service and amenity possible.

SPORTS
If you enjoy a rousing match of tennis and swimming, you’ve come to the right place. Although there are only two courts, you can play as long as you like, given that you’re reasonable to those waiting. The courts are clean and well cared for. Fairly straight nets (not droopy and frayed), even courts (no cracks, slopes, or fissures), and nice border plantings make this an inviting place to smash some volleys on your opponent.

The pool is lap length, and we spied attractive lounging tented cabanas that offer shade when the heat comes down too hard. The outdoor kitchen comes alive in the summer months so you can order a simple meal or drink while poolside.

SPA & WORKOUT ROOM
The 5,300-square-foot spa with 8 treatment rooms is a luxurious place for meditation, reading, and yes, for spa treatments as well. With an indoor fireplace at the center of the co-ed lounge area walled "the warming room," the spa invites guests to be still and sip some complimentary cucumber water or hot or iced tea. The warming room is indeed warm at 80 degrees, and no one feels strange walking around in their provided-for spa slippers and accompanying green robes.

Experienced therapists greet you for your desired service: massage, pedicure, facial… you name it. For couples, there is a unique Vineyard Room with side-by-side tables for massage, a private shower and outdoor soaking tub.
Guests without a spa treatment scheduled can come an enjoy the spa pool and lounge area, a real plus for hotel clients.

Adjacent to the spa is the workout room with televisions, weights and machines. It is a modest size, filled with floor to ceiling windows, a water cooler, mats, and towels. I’d say about 5 people would be able to complete a workout there comfortably. There is little space to place a mat for floor exercises.

RESTAURANT
On-site are two excellent restaurants. The Marinus restaurant is an upscale, formal dining establishment with delicacies ranging from $33 to $50. It features an array of foods from yellowfin tuna to filet mignon. Although we didn’t eat there, the folks at the Mobil rating guide did, and they gave it four stars.

The casual Wickets restaurant for outdoor and indoor dining is still pricey at $15 to $28 for a main entree. But remember, you are in Carmel Valley, the land o’ money. Our lunch for two that featured a main course, salad, and dessert ran over $80. However, the quality in every bite is superb, so if you are tight in the pocketbook for dinner, having lunch is equally satisfying. The wild mushroom risotto, in particular, is worth swooning over. I suggest eating outdoors on a nice day near the firepit.

OVERALL IMPRESSION
Overstressed? Need a break from the usual? Slow your pace, raise a glass of vino here at the Tuscany-themed Bernardus Lodge, and toast the good life. Service is friendly and efficient, rooms are gorgeous, clean and up-to-date, grounds impeccable, spa unforgettable. As I said before, "What’s not to like?"

****
Noteworthy Info:

Bernardus Lodge
6115 Carmel Valley Road
Carmel Valley
831/658-3400

Rates: $275 for a garden room to $1,870 for a 2-bedroom suite.
Click on: www.bernardus.com for details and reservations.

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