Sweet Spot: Carmel Valley’s Bernardus Lodge is a Hive of Activity

by Jeanne Cooper | San Francisco Magazine | Photography: Courtesy of Bernardus Lodge

There’s a buzz around Bernardus Lodge & Spa in bucolic Carmel Valley, and it’s not just because Bay Area executives have discovered the casually elegant resort provides a discreet oasis for off-site conclaves. Several large hives of honeybees also now busy themselves at the 28-acre property, lavishly planted with grapevines, fruit trees, lavender and succulents, with the fruits of their labor first harvested last fall.

The honey has since found its way into cocktails, dishes and spa treatments—a sweet foretaste of this year’s 20th anniversary celebrations for the 83-room resort, founded by vintner and race car driver Bernardus “Ben” Pon. Although Pon sold the lodge in 2013 to concentrate on his acclaimed Santa Lucia Highlands wines, his founding executive chef, Cal Stamenov, continues the commitment to highlighting regional bounty in understatedly sumptuous style, while the new management has expanded Pon’s vision of offering luxurious residential accommodations with the kind of hospitality you’d extend to a friend.

The 12 villa suites that debuted in 2016 epitomize this sensibility, from the well-stocked complimentary minibar (craft beer and artisanal soda, gourmet cheese and chocolates, and two half-bottles of Bernardus wine) to the hammam-size shower suite with copper soaking tub, large closets, plush seating and three fireplaces (two indoors, one on the large deck). The Frette linens on the four-poster bed and oversize flat-screen TVs make it all too easy to cocoon, but the adults-only, infinity-edge whirlpool on a secluded hillock nearby induced my friend and I to leave for a bit, as did Stamenov’s seasonal menu at rustic-chic Lucia restaurant, which also offers a lively lounge and, spring through fall, terrace seating.

All adults have access to the basking pool and eucalyptus steam room in the tranquil spa, while families will enjoy the large sun-showered main pool. Guests can also indulge in the resort’s new butler services for bocce, decadent baths, family movie nights or yoga, but exploring the surrounding region should be on your itinerary as well. A mile west lies the entrance to Garland Ranch Regional Park, where steep hillside trails pass through oak savannas and lead to breath-catching views of the ocean some 10 miles away. For an easier stroll, take the 1.4-mile Lupine Loop near the visitors center, which ambles through a meadow brightened in spring by California poppy, lupine and other colorful wildflowers.

Feeling a need for speed, though, I took advantage instead of one of Bernardus’ complimentary Mercedes SL550 convertibles, which, along with a 450 GL SUV, may be booked on a first-come, first-served basis for up to four hours. The gentle curves and rolling hills of scenic Carmel Valley Road, particularly east of Carmel Valley Village, seem designed for a top-down test-drive. Engine enthusiasts will also want to plan a pit stop in the village at Moto Talbott Museum, home to more than 150 gleaming vintage motorcycles and dirt bikes from around the world, including sexy red Ducati and Aermacchi models from Italy. Founder and former racer Robb Talbott sold his landmark Talbott Vineyards in 2015 to finance the expansion and exhibition of his fascinating collection.

A designated driver wouldn’t hurt for a visit to the simple yet welcoming tasting room of the museum’s neighbor, Bernardus Winery. Lodge guests can ask the concierge to book a complimentary VIP tasting (normally $55) of the winery’s smaller-production, vineyard-designated wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands, paired with a thoughtfully arrayed plate of artisan cheese and charcuterie. With a week’s advance notice, you can also book an educational tour of Ingrid’s Vineyard—the acres of pinot noir and chardonnay vines near the lodge entrance. Two must-try vintages: the 2015 Rosella’s pinot noir ($80), an intense, dark and fruity wine; and the 2013 Signature Marinus ($125), a refined, rich and spicy Bordeaux-style blend. It’s clear they’ll only improve with age—just as Bernardus Lodge has. Luxury rooms from $495, villa suites from $715, 415 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley