“Exquisitely positioned and utterly romantic lodge on a ridge overlooking the Pacific: one of California's top hotels”
All 39 rooms and suites - named for pioneer families in Big Sur - share a chic-rustic design, billed as 'organic architecture', in keeping with the wild beauty of the Big Sur coast. We loved the harmonious aesthetic of warm redwood and Bubinga wooden walls, polished concrete floors and sculptures (both wall and freestanding). Each room has a deliciously comfortable kingsized bed, a wood-burning fireplace (wood, kindling and fire-irons are provided), and sitting area with rattan chairs or leather sofa and armchairs.
From walking sticks to binoculars for birding and whale-watching, bathrobes, private massage tables and a digital music system, they've thought of everything. There's also a wet bar with ice bucket, and stacks of complimentary goodies (crisps, wine, coffee, juice, snacks) in the mini fridge - a nice touch. You get a half-bottle of local wine and signature water bottle to take away. There are no televisions - you won't miss it in such a setting.
The luxurious bathrooms are of grey slate and rugged granite, and have spa tubs as well as showers - top suites have twin sinks. Plenty of thick towels, refillable organic toiletries and a hairdryer are provided.
All rooms have private decks with loungers or chairs which face either the ocean or towards the mountains (there are automatic blinds in Cliff House, Peak House and Pacific Suites which block out most morning light). The 5 Ocean Houses, whose roofs are covered in wildflowers, have walls of glass overlooking the sea, and, uniquely, their fireplaces are two-sided so one can enjoy the flames from the bathtub. Cliff House has a deck seemingly suspended over the cliffs and an enclosed garden courtyard. Pacific Suites, where we stayed, are in 2-storey buildings with a curved ocean-front wall that maximises that magnificent vista. Coast House suites have a similar but smaller layout.
Mountain Suites are inspired by the redwoods and face the Santa Lucia Peaks and Ventana Wilderness. The 7 triangular Tree House rooms, built on stilts within hundred-year-old gnarled oaks, peer through trees to the ridges beyond. Butterfly Rooms have the same views and are so-called for the shape of the building with its outstretched wings.
The more expensive categories, which begin with the Peak House, have a custom-made infinity hot tub on the decks and are more spacious. For me, the ultimate Post Ranch Inn experience was birding from my hot tub overlooking the Pacific.
Meals are taken in the Sierra Mar restaurant, which is tucked, Hobbit-like, into the top of the ridge. It has an organic veg and herb garden - some grown on its roof. Floor-to-ceiling windows showcase the beauty of the Pacific.
Breakfast is a sumptuous buffet, and you are encouraged to go back for third helpings - well, that's my story anyhow. Choose from fresh fruit such as strawberry and mango, yoghurt, granola and oatmeal, home-baked breads, rolls and bagels. The latter can be fixed up with smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, red onion and tomato. The hot dishes were sausages, garden frittata with housemade salsa and potatoes with provencale vegetables. You can have eggs and pancakes with a choice of fillings - my mushroom omelette was delicious. Beverages include fresh OJ, pink grapefruit and cranberry juices, tea, coffee and iced water.
Executive Chef John Cox presides over a partially open kitchen (I was mesmerised by the chefs' deft movements) and prides himself on his daily seasonal and local menu of Californian with French, Asian and Mediterranean influenced fare - enquire about the occasional cooking classes on offer. The lunch menu begins with sharing plates such as house made antipasti, oysters, crab cakes or mushroom and goat cheese crostini. Entrees could include sustainable salmon, pork loin chop, butternut squash agnolotti; desserts are comfy - banana sundae, apple galette and creme brulee.
The prix fixe 4-course dinner menu is where the skills really shine. I agonised in choosing, going for the cauliflower tasting (an inspired trio of bisque, ceviche and gratin) to begin, lobster bisque to follow (divine), Berkshire pork tasting (roast loin, cassoulet and confit of pork belly) and then rice pudding with poached pear. All dishes are exquisitely presented. An eight-course Taste of Big Sur menu, interpreting the Big Sur area through food, is also available.
There's also a bar serving seasonal cocktails (try the Soul Flower in spring) as well as the classics. There are over 13,000 bottles in the wine cellar.
For eating out, buy a picnic and cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway for a quintessentially Californian day trip. If you can be bothered to leave this idyll for newer pastures in the evening, across the Highway is upscale Ventana, which also focuses on California Central Coast fine dining. The more affordable Big Sur Roadhouse serves Californian-Latin American cuisine. Nepenthe Restaurant is in the former home of Orson Welles and is 800ft above the Pacific with fabulous views.