“Elegant, intimate hotel with superb restaurant, just 4 blocks from the beach in classy Carmel”
Rooms are arranged over 2 levels around a light- and flower-filled brick courtyard; lavender grows in profusion. The European feel is enhanced by a central fountain, wooden painted doors and gabled windows, and a sun and moon sculpture on the far white wall. A few tables and chairs are sheltered by umbrellas for warm days, and patio heaters for less clement weather.
All rooms have thick walls with coved ceilings, and original features such as period doorknobs; there's a nice sense of heritage at play. Textile colours are rich reds or bottle green; walls are muted - the effect is classy. Both Standard Courtyard Queen and Courtyard King room categories look into the enclosed courtyard - Standard Courtyard Queen rooms have queensized beds whereas Courtyard Kings have kings. We stayed in a top-of-the-range Premium Peek Ocean View King room, which had a king bed plus ocean glimpses or 'peek views' through the Monterey Cypress trees.
Bathrooms are spacious and luxurious with rain showers, marble vanities and bowl sinks, bathrobes, underfloor heating, and complimentary toiletries including own-label shampoo, conditioner, soaps, Q-tips and cotton wool. A couple of the Standard Courtyard Queen and all the larger rooms have separate soaking bathtubs.
All rooms have down bedding and good-quality linens - I slept blissfully - as well as LCD TVs and tables for in-room dining. CD players and DVD players are available on request. You also get an iPod dock, safe, umbrella, torch, iron and board, and an alarm clock/radio.
All meals are taken in the intimate restaurant (just 12 tables), Aubergine. A real treat for me was to be taken into the kitchen to meet chef de cuisine Justin Cogley, who is passionate about inventive, light Californian dishes composed of local and seasonal ingredients.
There's a choice of 3 dishes for each of the 4 courses presented in the set price dinner menu, with an optional additional cheese course. I loved my salad starter of fresh young vegetables (including the cutest baby turnips and carrots) on a bed of miso; my fish course of ocean trout came with mustard seed and smoked roe, and this was followed by the most divine pork belly done 3 ways. My dessert was a light and frothy confection of tangerine and cream cheese ice cream.
You could also go for the ambitious spontaneous chef's tasting menu of 8 courses inspired by 16 ingredients, which could include lobster, Wagyu beef, chocolate, huckleberry, sea urchin and snap pea. The sommelier has created wine pairings for each course for both menus.
Private dining for up to 12 is available in the basement's wine cellar, which houses 4,500 bottles mostly from Monterey County, California and France. You can also dine in the alfresco courtyard on request. Note that children under 14 are not allowed in the restaurant, but families of up to 8 people can dine in the little bar area which can partially be curtained off.
Breakfast is a light affair rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet. Coffee, tea and freshly squeezed orange juice accompany a fruit compote and yoghurt confection, with two eggs any style (we chose coddled egg). You also get a selection of artisanal toast and croissants.
We had to leave before lunch but there is a bistro lunch menu Friday to Sunday. Carmel has a wealth of eateries to choose from, should you want a change of scene. Cantinetta Luca is a family style Italian trattoria, which is moderately priced and has a wood-burning pizza oven. Next door is Grazings, an elegant Californian Coastal bar and restaurant. Casanova's is a romantic rustic Italian restaurant, while Fresh Cream serves traditional French fare.
Families are very welcome at L'Auberge Carmel and will enjoy the close proximity to the beach. Baby cots and extra beds are available on request. However, both the hotel and Carmel itself are geared more towards couples and romance, and the restaurant isn't suitable for families. There are heaps of eateries nearby which are though.
Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)
Room 15 (a Standard Courtyard Queen) together with room 16 (another Standard Courtyard Queen), which is above 15, are thought best for families. Or family parties could ask for Room 20 (a Premium Peek Ocean View King) and Room 22 (another Standard Courtyard Queen) next door
Older kids will love exploring Point Lobos and Big Sur. Younger ones will be enchanted by the Monterey Aquarium. The beach is just down the road.