On a weekend escape to Carmel Valley, I spent my birthday in a Benz, then walked to wine tastings
I drink on only three occasions: When I’m in wine country, when it’s my birthday and when it’s not my birthday. With that special date looming, I had lots of motivation to sample vino a few months ago during a weekend stay in Carmel Valley. I like this woodsy, laid-back community at the edge of the Santa Lucia Mountains. It’s just a dozen miles inland from Carmel, its famous cousin, but it’s a world apart. No fog, no crowds, less expensive tasting rooms. And many of its excellent lodges and sunny wineries are dog-friendly, so Piper the Princess Pup could join me.
The tab for our overnight stay: $325 for a birthday splurge room at cushy Bernardus Lodge & Spa and about $135 for meals.
My fave in the wine country: staying in accommodations tucked in among vineyards. Bernardus Lodge & Spa fits the bill in Carmel Valley. This rambling low-rise hotel, surrounded by 28 acres of gardens, orchards, lavender and vineyards, is a picturesque place to de-stress. The lodge recently added villas and suites, but still has only 73 guest rooms and cottages spread out on the grounds. You’ll find a fine-dining restaurant, a spa and some cool touches in the rooms, such as outdoor rain showers. A big bonus: Guests get complimentary use of a Mercedes-Benz convertible, so we took a spin on Pebble Beach’s spectacular 17-Mile Drive, then dined in Carmel. A terrific way to celebrate a birthday.
La Balena, which serves rustic Tuscan fare, is a popular trattoria-syle cafe in Carmel with an ever-changing, locally sourced menu. We didn’t make reservations but got lucky and didn’t have to wait long for a table. My osso buco, tomato-braised pork shank with polenta ($33), was tender and delicious. Don’t chance it; make a reservation and ask for the garden room.
I intended to spend the day wandering from tasting room to tasting room, but I found a colorful diversion at Moto Talbott Motorcycle Museum. The 170-bike collection, owned by former wine and necktie magnate Robb Talbott, includes choppers, race bikes, flat track bikes and vintage motorcycle art. I don’t know anything about motorcycles, but it was fun to take a look.
THE LESSON LEARNED
Carmel Valley is packed with wineries — 37 at last count — and Carmel Valley Village is tiny, so you can easily make your way from one tasting room to another on foot. Most are pet-friendly, which meant Piper could tag along and enjoy the easygoing community vibe. Flights of wine cost $10 to $20, a relative bargain. Buy a Cellar Pass for $50, which gets you tastings at eight wineries, for an even-better bargain.
Bernardus Lodge & Spa, 415 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, Calif.; (831) 658-3400. Wheelchair-accessible rooms.
La Balena, Junipero, between 5th and 6th, Carmel, Calif.; (831) 250-6295. Wheelchair accessible in outdoor seating.
Moto Talbott Motorcycle Museum, 4 E. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, Calif.; (831) 659-5410. Admission $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and military.
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