I recognized that grunt. Definitely female, and somewhat NC-17.
I was sitting by my blissful lonesome at the near-isolated lap pool of Rancho Valencia, a luxury resort in Rancho Santa Fe, where the glamour arrives discreetly packaged, and the colour-scheme was of an edifying tangerine and a Moorish blue. I began, suddenly, to hear many-decibel vocalizations.
Just over the wall, and somewhere past the proud swaying palms I detected a merciless loop of pneumatic drills. The grunts also accompanied the distinct ponk-ponk of tennis balls.
Could it be? The racquet and the racket of a Sharapova? After all, the courtside action is nothing to sneeze at here, and the pro-level facility is widely considered to be among the best in Southern California.
An attendant – as much of a whiz at unobtrusively folding towels around this gleaming basin hidden inside the grounds as he was at humouring guests – set me straight when I snooped about the player’s identity. ‘Oh, she's there everyday,’ he told me, smiling.
Ok, so it turned out this mystery tennis star wasn’t the magnificent Maria. But it’s not unusual to spy an A-list guest or two hiding behind dark sunglasses here. And it's not just the tennis fiends grunting with pleasure at this village-like compound, set amid the horse farms and the citrus groves 25 miles north of downtown San Diego.
For those on a steadier diet of sloth, or perhaps just the tiniest round of non-gruelling croquet before a lobster salad at the Pony Room – a little den of a restaurant – there's more. Emphatically so.
Basking in its recent 30-million-dollar renovation, this retreat consists of 53 home-away-home casitas. And though it is a Relais & Châteaux-rated sanctuary, it is, all things considered, more Relaxed & Châteaux than it is Relais & Chi-Chi.
I settled in all too comfortably in the split-level villa-style Agave Suite. It was light-flooded and filled with so many distinct details – cathedral ceilings, a fireplace, hand-painted Mexican tiling, a private patio with fragrant gardens, steam showers, soak tubs, wrought-iron chandeliers and very happy-making linens. You get the pic why I could never leave, right?
Waking up here is an anticipated event. After all, what better motivator is there for springing out of bed than to collect the carafe of freshly squeezed orange juice, made right on property, at one's door? All just part of the morning routine.
Designed with the lingering escape in mind, this is the spot where I'd run away to recuperate if I was a first wife banished by the arrival of a second trophy-ier wife. Likewise: if I was a scion of a captain of industry, and I needed a place to come and mull my options to either stay in the family business or summon up the courage to say no to daddy.
Walking around the olive grove on the property – all the herbs for the kitchen are grown on-site, and there are also six honeybee hives – it hit me, too, that this might be a good place to come and write a two-act play. Peace. Serenity. And a more likely retreat scenario for yours truly.
The jilted first wife, the confused scion, and the aspiring playwright could all use this opportunity to think and plot while taking advantage of a does-the-trick spa. Most delicious on the menu was the Harmonizing Scalp Massage, a tingling treatment with organic Mediterranean myrtle, juniper, jojoba, avocado, and oils.
Of course, if not content to just lounge, there are more than 75 health and fitness classes offered each week. Madonna's butt-kicking dream come true, I tell you. The kind of place where a gal named Misty – as a printed sked, left daily in the suite, informs – leads a 9:00-9:50 a.m. sweat-shop, so to speak, entitled Chair Pilates Level 2.
Whether or not you work up a sweat, a person has to eat. And well-heeled guests (a younger crowd that one might expect) and local denizens-at-large, even the odd genius (Bill Gates famously lived at the Rancho Valencia while his house was being built) – are often spotted at the main restaurant, Veladora.
Admiring the million-dollar Damien Hirst butterfly objet that stands at attention when you enter the sleek room, I chose to have lunch at Veladora most days, and also to get a good telescope of the crowd. Such as the two overly polite women - typical BFFNs (Best Friends For Now) – as well as a Zooey Deschanel type on a date with a Bradley Copper type.
Evenings my preferred spot was the aforementioned Pony Room. A distinguished hideout, indeed, where all the wooden barstools have feet shaped like cattle hoofs, and a spot-hitting burger.
I learned that Jenny Craig (yes of the weight loss and nutrition empire), likes to drop-by sometimes, her own horse-stables being across the street from Rancho Valencia. And, having spotted the stables as well as her Hermitage-sized estate – and her private race-track – it was clear that pounds-dropping is where it's at, and that I may well be in the wrong business.
‘What does Jenny Craig have here?’ I asked a regular beside me at the bar.
‘Oh, she indulges,’ Mr Regular told me.
Well, grunt, grunt to that, I thought as I tucked into my expertly-grilled burger. And got to pondering the bigger question at hand: what role whould I play on my return visit (oh yes, I'll be back) to this fantasy retreat? The jilted first wife, the confused scion or the aspiring playwright, the weight-loss guru… the possibilites are endless.