The recent renovation of Carmel Valley Ranch included the addition of a 10,500-square-foot spa, the restoration of hiking trails, the expansion of fitness and swimming facilities at the new River Ranch complex, and the creation of a fire pit where busy days wind down with s’mores under the stars. But even with all these whimsical, wonderful new activities, it’s one of the simplest pleasures that still grips guests: the rope swing.
“We put in a couple of rope swings up at the lodge and another down at the River Ranch, and it’s amazing how many people–adults and kids alike–can’t walk by it without at least sitting on it for a moment,” says Noah Rolland, the resort’s director of membership and programming. “Sometimes we’ll see the same person on it every day.”
The summer-camp-for-adults concept that guided the property’s redevelopment came from John Pritzker, who grew up working in his family’s Hyatt hotels. His San Francisco-based Geolo Capital purchased CarmelValley Ranch in 2009, and the 500-acre resort’s transformation wrapped up in late 2010.
The main lodge was expanded to include event, dining and recreational facilities, and the new Spa Aiyana treats guests to traditional therapies and custom-blended oils and lotions.The property’s 139 suites were redesigned and redecorated, and they spotlight the scenic Santa Lucia Mountain setting with outdoor patios and views of the valley. Ranging from 650 to 1,200 square feet, the rooms have fireplaces, cathedral ceilings and separate sitting and sleeping areas, plus flat-screen televisions, Blu-ray players and complimentary wireless internet. A book about summer camp is kept in every room, and guests are greeted with a box containing a field notebook, lavender, honey and other amenities that play up the property’s sense of place.
Welcoming as the rooms are, it’s the outdoor activities that really distinguish Carmel Valley Ranch.The par-70, 18-hole Pete Dye course features a fairly flat front nine, and a back nine that winds around oak trees and up into the foothills where wild turkeys and deer commonly cross the greens.
Tennis instruction and league matches take place on hard and clay courts located at the new River Ranch, which serves as a playful gathering point for active children and adults. In addition to a splash pool and junior Olympic pool, there is a playground and a kids’ activity center that offers a variety of programming. Adults enjoy a hot tub, bocce courts and a fitness center that will host more than 30 classes during the busiest times of year–including Pilates, yoga, spinning and TRX training.
Guided hikes and on-your-own adventures leave from here, too, following paths around the resort and linking up to more challenging trails in the adjacent 4,400-acre Garland Ranch Regional Park. Within the Carmel Valley Ranch boundaries, one trail leads to a hilltop platform used for outdoor yoga classes and corporate teambuilding activities.
Explorers also pass by the apiary, where guests can suit up and see beehives as they learn from the property’s beekeeper, John Russo. A new honey harvesting experience will launch later this year. Nearby, four acres of pinot noir vines are just taking root, and some 7,500 lavender plants grow in a dedicated garden. Once harvested, the lavender will be incorporated into spa products and bath amenities. An organic garden, managed by former Earthbound Farm grower Mark Marino, also supplies an increasing amount of the vegetables and herbs used by resort Chef Tim Wood.
Wood’s resume includes two years at Napa Valley’s Carneros Inn and eight years just down Carmel Valley Road at Bernardus Lodge, where he built strong relationships with local purveyors. In addition to providing fresh ingredients, those farmers and fishermen often assist Wood with diner education.
“Sometimes the fisherman will walk right up to the kitchen and people get to see the guy who caught the fish we’re about to eat,” he says. “We’ll talk about the importance of local sourcing and proper harvesting…it’s the same with the vegetables. We get all the way down to the root, no pun intended, of the food.”
Wood believes the landscape surrounding Carmel Valley Ranch compliments the clean flavors dished up at the resort’s restaurants.
“It’s a natural presentation in a beautiful environment,” he says. Rolland agrees, adding that the location captivates first-time guests, in particular. “They’ve been to Carmel before and they’ve been to Monterey before, but they don’t realize that six miles from the coast is this absolutely stunning valley that has 300 days of sunshine per year,” he says. “They’re totally caught by surprise.” Carmel Valley Ranch is located at One Old Ranch Road, off Carmel Valley Road near the Mid-Valley Shopping Center in Carmel Valley. For more information and reservations, please visit www.carmelvalleyranch.com or call 877 / 583-0052.