Carmel's La Playa Hotel: Hotel is a Treat for the Senses
RenoAir Magazine

Picture-perfect Carmel clears the cobwebs and captivates the senses. A 2-hour drive south from San Francisco along Highway 101 leads to a world of aquamarine, white-crested waters amid a lush landscape of sculptured rock formations. Wisps of wildflowers, poppies and periwinkles further color the storybook cottages and seascape splendor of the California coast.

     Photo credit - RenoAir Magazine

Only a few blocks from this glorious vista sits the early-1900s Mediterranean-style La Playa Hotel. Known as the grande dame of Carmel, La Playa has 75 airy, pastel-colored rooms and five private cottages. This historic mansion offers comfortable elegance and a never-ending attention to detail: all-day concierge service, twice-daily maid service, valet and turn-down service, plush bathrobes, down pillows, and an outdoor swimming pool.

Originally built as a wedding gift for a member of the Ghiradelli chocolate family, La Playa greets its guest with warmth and style. The stately lobby, with a white marble fireplace surrounded by soft green and beige tones, contains an eclectic blend of contemporary paintings, antiques and custom hand-loomed area rugs.

My husband and I stayed in one of the five country-style cottages, which exuded a homey feeling. I particularly appreciated the convenience of private parking and the fully-equipped modern kitchen to prepare a nightly hot drink and snack. The cottages are extremely spacious and can sleep from one to three couples. Each cottage also has a flowered patio or deck area for further privacy. Only one block from the water, we were lulled to sleep by the soothing sounds of waves and a fresh ocean breeze.

Photo credit - RenoAir Magazine
Just a short walk from the cottage are the hotel's greatest assets: extensive gardens with approximately 1,100 varieties of flowers. It takes four conscientious gardeners to keep this award-winning garden setting in bloom year-round. Many a wedding is performed under the garden's gazebo, which is ensconced by a profusion of plants, pines and cypress trees.  

La Playa Hotel takes care of more than the visual senses. Its Terrace Grill Restaurant satisfies a variety of tastes with a wide array of menu choices for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We savored a generous dinner of lobster tamales, artichoke ravioli, and a buttery filet mignon, topped by a sumptuous dessert sampler of housemade pastries. Chef Bunyan Fortune is responsible for this artful menu. Formerly at Highlands Inn in Carmel, he's been at La Playa for seven years now, blending rich Monterey County produce and fresh seafood with classic European preparations.

"Food should be fun," Fortune says. "I enjoy the sense of playfulness in my dishes, coupled with healthful and wholesome ingredients. I try to appeal to the broad population of tourists and locals that visit the hotel by keeping a balance in the flavors and styles."

After a memorable meal, what does one do for nightlife in the quiet community of Carmel? There are several choices for music and entertainment in town, but we chose to take a five-minute drive to Clint Eastwood's Mission Ranch Inn, where Sonny E plays a lively piano and guests are encouraged to sing some nostalgic tunes at the crowded piano bar. Dinner guests can view rolling hills and roving sheep, along with a dynamic sunset. For another romantic and unusual dinner setting, we experienced Casanova, downtown on Fifth and Mission. Surrounded by Southern European décor, we took a culinary journey through Italy, Provence and Spain.

The best entertainment, however, is fully experiencing Carmel's natural beauty. Nothing can top the late-evening stroll that we took along a moonlit beachfront, listening to the seagulls and waves, and inhaling the brisk ocean air. The grand finale was returning to La Playa Hotel and the warmth of the fireplace that awaited us there.

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