t 1:25am on a ridge 1200 feet above the Pacific, the warm air smells like chocolate. The stars are hyper-bright, practically popping out of the glowy black sky, and seem to form a cozy domeof protection. Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn is the kind of place where a mystical communing with nature just seems to happen. At sunrise, a layer of pink sky forms over the clouds, and the realization that the oceanside guest room is situated above the clouds, and almost floating above the sea, sets in.
The room itself is worth savoring. Many elements in the room are made of recycled materials, including farmed Redwood. A small abstract, rust-colored steel sculpture by artist Gregory Hawthorne sits on top of a Bubinga wood cabinet, which hides an in-room stereo system with digital music offerings.
The redwood walls of the room curve. The king-sized bed is raised high, and dressed with organic cotton sheets and an organic duvet. Underneath the bed, a compartment opens to pull out a massage table and meditation pillows. Small wooden triangular tables next to the bed hold bottles of Fiji water.
There is no clock in the room. There isn’t a television. A refrigerator is filled with complimentary snacks: wine, goat cheese in a beautiful dish, nuts with dried fruit, iced green tea, an organic chocolate bar, (plus an irreverent-seeming Snickers bar), salt-and-pepper Kettle chips, chocolate chip cookies, grapes, sodas, and milk for morning coffee. A slate-faced woodburning fireplace sits below a wall-mounted Hawthorne piece. A loveseat and a curved wood table are angled in front of the fireplace.
The shape of the undulating room draws the eye from the subtle glow of the fire out through the sliding-glass doors to the wildflowers and stones on the patio outside and to the view of sky and sea.
Soaring Starkey is the event planner at the Post Ranch Inn and a selftaught expert of the history of the Inn. She is also one of the “adopted as an adult” daughters of owners Bill and Luci Post. Starkey says the colors, shapes and materials used to build the rooms were inspired by nature and were intended to fit into the land.
“The architect, Mickey Muennig, felt that if you see the landscape first, and the architecture second, then he succeeded,” Starkey says. “The roundness of the houses are like redwood trunks. The colors blend with the trees. The design is informed by nature.”
The bathroom in the room is a microcosm of the elements from the world outside: earth, fire, water and wind. Raja slate covers the walls, a glowing candle sits on the edge of the jetted tub, water is recycled and used in the gardens down the hill, and a window to the sea lets in fresh air. Plush organic towels, sea salts, organic lavender soap and aloe vera sunscreen are offered in woven baskets. Single, bright pink Gerber daisies float in tiny vases. Due to the curves of the room and privacy walls made of wood and stone, one can be completely private in the room and bath while still having an unobstructed view outside.
“You may not understand why, but you get the feeling of calming down,” Starkey says.“We hold a sacred space for you, and you feel it at an energy level. It’s something that’s hard to put into words. People get it.”
There are currently 30 guest rooms on the property and 10 more are being built now, due to be completed this summer.
Some of the current rooms have grass-covered roofs, some are completely circular, some are shaped like butterflies, while others are built on stilts in the trees.
“There are triangles, circles and squares to choose from,” Starkey says. “It’s whichever people prefer. Luci Post calls the treehouse room the ‘queen for a day’ room. She says you can lie in the bed and feel nature all around you.’”
\The newer structures will include two rooms with decks that are cantilevered over the ocean. All of the new rooms will have private outdoor hot tubs. The redesign also includes a remodel of the Inn’s famous Sierra Mar restaurant. With all the luxuries right in the room, a mountainview spa just a few yards away from the rooms, and nature all around, it’s no wonder that people tend to float by each other on the paths with a blissful expression, a glass of wine, and a quiet nod of acknowledgment.
“People don’t leave their rooms a lot,” says General Manager Dan Priano. “They don’t engage with others much. They typically come to get away.”
To travel around the 98-acre Post Ranch property guests have several options. There are three miles of trails and walking paths past secret meadows, oceanfront basking pools, an infinity swimming pool, and a yurt; there are hybrid Lexuses that almost silently transport guests between their rooms and the dining area. And there are other ways.
Billy Post, almost 87, leads nature hikes on a Segway personal transporter outfitted with offroad tires. On the walks, the founder of the Inn shares his personal history and the stories of his ancestors who owned the land.
“Billy talks about anything that comes to his mind,” Priano says. “The architecture, the history, the flora, the fauna. To relive the story of traveling down [what is now] Highway One to get to town is incredible.”
Billy Post’s family also once owned the land across the highway from Post Ranch, where Ventana Inn and Spa now sits. “Thank God for Bill’s great-grandfather,” Luci Post says. “He came from Connecticut and homesteaded the land.”
“I often wonder what my grandfather and great-grandfather would think of it today,” Billy says.
In 1860, Billy Post’s great-grandfather claimed 160 acres of land in Big Sur at the age of thirty. Billy says his great-grandmother was an Oholone Indian. His paternal
grandmother, he says, was half Cherokee. The land was a working ranch for decades, until in 1945, Billy’s parents opened up a small restaurant and inn.
Billy worked the land as a young child, rising at 4am to do chores and giving up sports to milk cows, stock firewood, gather eggs and drive teams of horses. He also did much of the construction in the 1980s to turn the ranch into the current Post Ranch Inn.
“I did all the tractor work and the excavating and drilling,” he admits.
“I would come and visit him and he would only take a half an hour break each day to eat a sandwich on a log,” Starkey says.
The working ranch vibe still permeates the place, with Billy wearing a cowboy hat most days. “We keep it as informal as we can,” Billy says. “You don’t have to wear suits and we keep it quiet. We have dignitaries here and you don’t even know they’re visiting.”
The Inn is consistently rated highly by travel magazines. Travel and Leisure voted Post Ranch Inn the number one hotel in California for 2007.
“We get a lot of good ratings,” Billy says casually. “We get number two or number three in the world.”
“It’s a one-of-a-kind place,” Luci says. “A lot of people come from Chicago or New York and they never get out to the country and they keep saying it’s heaven here.”
It’s a place that gives credit to its previous occupants, with photographs and histories of the inhabitants and neighbors written by Starkey and Billy and chronicled in the book, “The Post Ranch”.
“Bill was born and raised here,” Luci says. “He knows and loves every inch of the land.”
Priano says that when people arrive at the Inn, they are often “buzzing” from the demands of their everyday life, but after a few days on the property, they calm down. The Inn has a shaman who leads private and group sessions in the property’s yurt. Priano says working with the shaman, or taking a meditation or yoga class helps people “unplug” and get into the rhythm of the place.
There are also complimentary star gazing sessions for guests, picnic lunches, gourmet dinners of delicacies such as caviar, butternut squash ravioli, and roast guinea hen, and reflective moments of sitting on the deck of a guest room looking out at the mountains and the sea.
“Everyone takes away something different,” Priano says. “There’s a very healing aspect to it. It’s very magical.”
For more information on the Post Ranch Inn, or to order the book, call 831/667-2200 or go to www.postranchinn.com.