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Weekend Getaway: Bernardus Lodge and Spa

Famed Carmel Valley boutique hotel reopens with a fresh new vibe.

Courtesy of Bernardus Lodge & Spa

When one of your favorite hotels shuts down for a four-month renovation, you can get a little nervous—because that’s a long time to be closed for business, making changes at a place you liked quite well just as it was. That’s what I was thinking when my family drove down to Carmel Valley this spring to check out the recently renovated Bernardus Lodge and Spa.

As soon as we pulled up the gravel drive, and I saw a new, and quite large, glass-and-steel chandelier over the outdoor stairs leading to the lobby, I knew the changes at Bernardus were indeed major. The chandelier signaled a modern vibe—hip, even—in what had been a cozy and rustic hotel. Because Bernardus always had such a homey, comfortable feel, staying there always reminded me of visiting friends—my very well-to-do friends with a winery, an exceptional chef, their own spa, a croquet court, and a swimming pool.

Courtesy of Bernardus Lodge & Spa

The new Bernardus is almost unrecognizable, except for the bones of the structure. Numerous walls have been removed, either to become windows or to open up rooms, so there is more light and a livelier ambiance with fresh energy. The bar and restaurant used to be enclosed, boxy rooms: Now you can see from one to the other, and on out to the patios on either side. Both also sport new communal tables, encouraging a lively, let’s-mingle atmosphere.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the very warm and personal welcome with a glass of Bernardus sauv blanc that let me know I would still feel right at home. It also reassured me that the focus of this boutique hotel continues to be on food and wine.

Courtesy of Bernardus Lodge & Spa

The main restaurant, formerly Marinus, is now called Lucia Restaurant and Bar, named for the Santa Lucia Mountains that surround the Carmel Valley. But Bernardus’ outstanding chef, Cal Stamenov, is still on board, and his focus continues to be on locally grown produce, but now the vegetables are increasingly taking center stage. For dinner, my seared ahi tuna nestled on a Tuscan-inspired bread salad with grilled squash flowers on the side.

What is really new on the menu are the options. You can order Chef Cal’s five-course tasting menu—or pizzas. (And if you are in the Carmel/Monterey area, you should definitely go.)

The glass-and-steel motif that greeted our arrival carries though the resort, with fantastic chandeliers in all the main rooms, including the spa, and over a new outdoor fire pit that is also a fountain. Los Angeles-based architectural/design firm ARYA Group, Inc. did the multi-million dollar renovations. They are famous for doing celebrity homes, the most recent being Robert Downey Jr.'s.

The spacious guest rooms have the same new chic, modern look, with over-the-top amenities, including complementary Bernardus wine. Woodside Hotels, which also operates Lafayette Park Hotel, is Bernardus’ new management company.

While the indoors are all so stylishly updated for the Silicon Valley, San Francisco and East Bay crowd, the outdoors is still my favorite place to be, with the centerpiece lawn for bocce and croquet, a large outdoor fireplace for snuggling after dinner, numerous other fire pits, and two patios for outdoor dining. Days here are almost always sunny, so it’s a nice break, if you’ve been sightseeing around the typically chilly Monterey or Carmel. A hot tub now joins the pool in the spa courtyard.

Also new are live-music offerings with musicians stationed in various locations, including at the grand piano in the lobby, which was a delightful place to sit with our last glass of wine after dinner. We skipped the morning group hike to Garland State Park, a mile away, and explored on our own, weaving along trails that wound through a surprising variety of terrain. We didn’t have time to hike to the top, but plan to return to finish that trip. And certainly, we’ll stay at our favorite—new and improved—Carmel Valley hotel.

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