The cabins and cottages at Post Ranch Inn are strung along a rocky-ridged slip of Californian cliff. These recycled-redwood rooms offer total seclusion and nothing but soaring condors, starry nights, breathtaking views and a wood-burning fire for company. The only reason to venture out from your peaks-and-Pacific isolation will be for some divine dining at Sierra Mar or a soothing treatment in the spa.
Double rooms from £1462.85 ($1,823), including tax at 10.5 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of $2.00 per room per night on check-out and an additional local city tax of 1.95% per room per night on check-out.
Rates include breakfast and valet parking.
For the time being (due to Covid-19) the hotel is only open to hotel guests, and will only accept credit card payments (no cash). Guests should also note that to the south of the hotel the Pacific Coast Highway is closed; the hotel can be reached via a different route (see directions here) and those using a GPS should be given the proper route.
At the hotel
Spa, gym, free WiFi in the rooms and library. In rooms: iPod dock, handmade Post Ranch Inn bath products, bottled water and two half-bottles of wine.
Our favourite rooms
Pfeiffer is a cocoon of redwood with a secluded setting at the end of the cabins. Other humans will be hard to come by – all you can see is sparkling ocean, wild flowers and trees. We love the triple veranda, and the re-used redwood lining the walls in Ross.
There are three heated infinity pools in the grounds – one lined with sea-weathered jade, a stainless steel one, and a lap pool by reception.
The spa makes all of its own products using Big Sur’s flowers, picked from the high meadows on the estate. Book in for a ‘duet massage’ and let four hands see to your aches and pains, or be brave and risk a soul-retrieving shaman session.
A journal so you scribble some verse – this land’s-end location is sure to make you come over all poetic.
Book your spa treatments by phone six weeks in advance to have your prime pick of pampering.
Leave them at home - this hotel is only open to adults ages 18 and up.
The inn takes eco-lux seriously, from the Lexus Hybrids standing by to get you around and array of solar panels minimising energy use. The grounds are home to native drought-resistant flora, and the local fauna are proudly protected, from Western Pond Turtles and California Condors to the Red-Legged Frog and endangered Smith's Blue Butterfly.
As close to the window as you can get, or by the banquette in the centre by night.
Match the views out of the window with a shot of ocean blue, aquamarine or turquoise.
Sierra Mar is a ranch-style restaurant with sweeping views of the mountains, cliffs and ocean, its wooden-beamed interior edged with enormous windows to showcase the sights. The acclaimed chef adds new dishes to the menu daily, whipping up Californian fare with some French and Mediterranean influences – look out for the trio of scallops, roast rabbit and Alaskan halibut.
There’s a bar in the restaurant. Be sure to try the lavender martini, made fresh from the organic garden.
Breakfast is 8am–10.30am, lunch is 12.15pm–3pm and dinner is served up 5.30pm–8.45pm. The bar is open noon–3.15pm and 5.30pm–8.45pm.
You can order in room service between 12.15pm–8.45pm, choosing from the daily dinner menu or the room service one (encompassing pizzas, salads and burgers).
Monterey has the closest airport – it’s 30 miles away from the hotel. United Airlines (www.united.com) fly from San Francisco to Monterey; American Eagle (www.aa.com) will get you there from Los Angeles.
The Amtrak-served station in Salinas is 45 miles away (www.amtrak.com). Get here from Napa, San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
From Carmel, the drive should take an hour. The cliff-edge route down Highway 1 is one of the world's greatest road trips, so hire a car and stop regularly for the many photo opportunities. You’ll find the hotel 330 miles north of Los Angeles and 150 miles south of San Francisco. From Highway 101, exit onto Jolon Road/Fort Hunter Liggett, just after the Bradley exit, and stay on this road for 26 miles. You’ll come to a sign, where you'll turn left into Fort Hunter Liggett. Then, follow signs for Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, which you’ll stay on for 25 miles. At Highway 1, turn right and drive north for roughly 45 minutes, and the hotel will be on your left.
Highway 1 south of the hotel is currently closed at Mud Creek, therefore guests cannot continue south along Highway 1 past Post Ranch to Hearst Castle, Santa Barbara or LA. Guests can drive up Highway 101 north from LA to Salinas (or vice-versa if going south), and then over to Monterey and then come down south on Highway 1. The alternate route would be taking Nacimiento-Fergusson Road from the 101 to the 1, and then north to on Highway 1. However, this road can be quite dangerous and not necessarily recommended.
Worth getting out of bed for
It’s all about the coast here, but reaching any of the beaches will require some form of hike – so pack your boots and pick up some information on walks from the hotel. Cruise down the single-lane Highway 1, one of the country’s most dramatic drives. You can go fishing once you get a permit. Hearst Castle – once home to newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, aka Mr Citizen Kane – is an hour away by car.
Across the road, Ventana Inn is a cosy cabin with wood-lined interiors, roaring fires and an award-winning wine list. Further down the highway, you’ll find Deetjen’s, a rustic ranch filled with 1950s clutter, serving hearty Mexican-inspired plate-loads at breakfast and dinner.
Head to Nepenthe for the locals’ favourite views of the coastline and some classic American fare (+1 831 667 2345). For various treats cooked in a wood-fired oven, try Big Sur Bakery (+1 831 667 0520; www.bigsurbakery.com).
It is just before dusk as we climb the steep hill to Post Ranch Inn. ‘Look! Look!’ I gasp, pointing to a bright crimson escarpment in front of us. The setting sun’s reflection has turned the mountains opposite, a beautiful electric puce. With a glass of cold chardonnay in hand and after (very few) reception formalities, we are transported to our room courtesy of one of the hotel’s very own executive eco-friendly Lexus Hybrids.
Bauhaus meets Middle Earth here. Forest-coloured redwood and Corten steel has been fashioned into 40 stilt-riding mini houses all designed around geometric shapes, and all in perfect harmony with 150 acres of natural forest and lime green pastures. It can’t have been an easy brief for architect Mickey Muennig. He was given the task of building 40 condo-like hotel rooms, all sensitive to the Big Sur’s craggy cliffs. Muennig apparently climbed trees and high ladders himself in order to cite the best views, affect the maximum privacy and save the redwoods’ roots from concrete. The result is outstanding.
As we drive down the path that leads to our room, the Pacific Ocean glittering to one side, and the grand old redwood dames towering on the other, it is clear why this hotel is considered, by many, to be one of the best in the world. Pfeiffer is our coastal room. (All are named after the pioneers that shaped the land over 150 years ago.)
Once inside, it is clear that the clever design extends to the remarkable interiors. A circular space around the lavish Royal Pedic bed is made cosier by warm redwood walls panels and seascape-hued soft furnishings. Grey and rust-flecked Indian Raja slate lines the deep Jacuzzi bath and the pre-stacked fireplace in our bedroom all breathe ‘calming’, ‘homely’, ‘organic’, ‘inviting’... But the money shot is to be found beyond. From the 30-foot verandah, we get a 180-degree uninterrupted view of the ocean.
It may be tiredness from the long drive, or maybe Mr Smith has something in his eye but I swear I can see him welling up as we stand staring out to sea. A scarlet ribbon of sunset is streaking the sky to the west and the ocean hovering below us is just majestic. There is no perceptible evidence of humanity. No building is visible to the eye; just conifers and berry bushes below, some condors swooping, and, 1,200-foot below, moss-green rocks are audibly being lapped by crashing waves. Beyond the horizon’s horizon, 10,000 miles away, is Australia, I imagine. But from where we are standing, it is just us and the largest expanse of ocean I’ve ever seen.
Possibly aware that I’ve spied some emotion in him, Mr Smith goes inside to play with our room’s gadgets: wall-mounted one-touch digital radio, surroundsound hidden speakers, WiFi, electric shutters… but mercifully, no TV. For me, the sunset view from my tub is all I need.
At some stage, it becomes time for dinner, so, guided by environmentally supportive lanterns along the cliff path, we make our way to the hotel’s renowned Sierra Mar restaurant, two minutes' walk. Pretty much every table is taken which, for a Tuesday night, is testament to the superb menu that Craig von Foerster has created. The term 'fine dining' seems a little disingenuous as we marvel in silence at the amuses bouches of crab mousse, lobster and caviar, starters of scallops with lobster and a deconstructed Beef Wellington. At $95 the four-course menu is great value, especially when between each course there’s a chef’s special dish. Thankfully there is enough room for a huckleberry sorbet which trumps even Mr Smith’s chocolate and citrus tart.
Although it would be easy to pass your time at Post Ranch floating in the infinity pool staring out to sea, there are many activities and outdoor pursuits. One is Mindful Meditation which fits well with the Big Sur’s hippie roots. After a peaceful night’s sleep, we spend our pre-breakfast hour stretching and rolling in an attempt to stop our minds whirring. I can’t help thinking about food though so it is back to Sierra Mar to gorge on the most remarkable breakfast buffet imaginable. Even talk from the maître d’ about a pod of whales spotted on their way from Mexico to Alaska can’t distract me. Origami’d fresh fruit tempts alongside courgette frittata, buttermilk waffles, sausages, eggs Benedict with avocado and fresh juices – all fuel for our next adventure, the Esalen Centre, a true Californian get-in-touch-with-your-navel retreat centre, further down the coast.
Esalen is closed to the general public, but our stay at the Post Ranch Inn gets us a day pass to the nudist pools and massage bays. A master in abstract environmental design, it sits atop glistening waves, fed by local sulphurous hot springs. Mini pools lined with tiles and shells tempt outside, while silent and quiet hot tubs are on offer inside. The shower area looks out to the ocean through floor-to-ceiling sliding glass. Unlike our fellow bathers, we are a little self-conscious and keep our swimsuits on and our dignity intact as we lower ourselves into the hot sulphuric water, averting our gaze where appropriate. On the way out, Mr Smith looks slightly bemused when I explain that it is improper to take photos of the nudists. He manages to work his zoom lens for, in his words, ‘a little keepsake’.
Deetjens is a quirky candle-lit restaurant we’ve had recommended, and it’s the only possible thing to keep us from heading back to Post Ranch Inn. Here, a jovial Mr Smith delights at kitsch ornaments and trimmings. Still, we end up making a rather hasty departure. The food is great, but romance is definitely in the air... And then, the next morning comes all too soon. We are in no hurry to leave this incredible hotel; but our farewell swim in the infinity pool has to wait. Mr Smith has apparently left his shorts back in the Esalen changing rooms. An excuse, no doubt, to return to the nudist hotspot.
As we pack our bags, it is clear that the Post Ranch effect has taken hold of Mr Smith. He turns to me, open faced, and says, ‘Mrs Smith, this has been one of the best hotels, ever.’ I can almost see that zoom-lens shot in his thought bubble.