The sea is an ever present force when you drive the pacific coast highway in Monterey, California. It’s not just the views of the sea as you drive up the coast, but the very coast itself that has been shaped and honed by the mighty Pacific Ocean that makes such a breathtaking impact. The final stretch of the road in to Carmel-By-The-Sea takes longer than it should, not just because the winding road takes the decision to drive more slowly out of your hands, but because the views are just so stunning that you will be tempted to pull over at every available stopping point to breath in the splendour of the awesome views.
When you do eventually arrive in town you will be hit with what we can only describe as story book perfection. Of course Carmel-By-The-Sea has been lucky enough to have one of the most famous civil servants in America with former Mayor, Clint Eastwood, but the reason the standards remain so high seems to be that each and every resident takes a huge pride in the beauty of their town.
We stayed right by Mr. Eastwood’s old office at City Hall in the beautiful L’Auberge Carmel. Originally built in 1929, this hotel has such a historic, European, old-world charm that once inside it is easy to forget that you are actually on the west coast of America. There is an overall feeling of relaxed luxury here that starts when you enter the stone hallway to reception, and continues as you cross the beautifully appointed roof terrace to your room. The overall standard of service here is extremely high with staff going above the call of duty to ensure your stay is perfect. A stay here puts you in one of the best locations in town and just a five minute walk from Carmel’s famous beach.
Nothing is too much effort for the staff here and they all truly go the extra mile to make your time there as special as possible. In addition to the rave reviews we had heard about the hotel, we also couldn’t wait to experience what has become a destination restaurant for the Pacific coast, The Aubergine. With Executive Chef Justin Cogley recently named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef 2013, we were pretty excited to eat here. A choice between a Four Course Menu and a Tasting Menu is not the only difficult decision you’ll have to make with so many gorgeous treats on offer. We highly recommend the tasting menu paired with the sommeliers wine picks.
Abalone, also know as sea snail, has long been a speciality on this part of the coast. For years these little sea creatures were readily available for picking with more than enough to go around but as demand increased, pickings fell away and they now have to be procured from local Abalone farms. Justin’s method of preparation is famous in the region drawing guest from far and wide and earning him accolades along the way making The Aubergine a destination in it’s own right. The critics and fans are all correct. This was the most divine experience from the perfectly cooked flesh to the flower broth made from sea weed gathered right on the Carmel beach.
Carmel-by-the-sea could be called “chocolate box”, “dramatic”, “historical”, “shoppers paradise”, “high end” and a host of other adjectives what don’t do it justice. It is unique on the west coast and it revels in its uniqueness.
There is an abundance of art galleries, boutiques, hotels, shops, fine restaurants and whimsically styled homes to admire, at the other end of the scale (and the town) is one of the most beautiful beaches with waves that crash so hard swimming is not recommended. A walk along this stretch at sunset or first thing in the morning (or anytime really) is an experience not to be missed.
This raw beauty has attracted artist to Carmel for years and the town is now home to some of the finest art establishments and music festivals in Monterey county including the world-renowned Carmel Bach Festival brings visitors from around the globe to experience over two weeks of music by Johann Sebastian Bach and other Baroque composers. The Monterey Symphony was founded in Carmel-by-the-Sea and performs regularly at the Sunset Cultural Center. If you’re more interested in modern music, you’re still in the right place with jazz performances taking place at restaurants and venues throughout the town.
Simply walking around the streets here is an experience for anyone with a passing interest in architecture with a huge range of styles and sizes on view from the Walker Residence, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright to the many fantasy cottages built by the legendary Hugh Comstock, as well as those designed by architects Julia Morgan, Charles S. Greene and Bernard Maybeck.
Carmel is small but walking shoes are essential as you will cover lots of ground on foot simply taking in the views and atmosphere. Arriving back at L’Auberge after a tiring day is when you fully appreciate what a great hotel you are staying in. If a soak in your oversize tub is not enough to wash away the stresses of the day, snuggling up in your white fluffy robe to enjoy the milk and warm cookies delivered every evening should get you back on track.
Monterey is a short drive away and if you only get a chance to do one thing here, take a stroll down Cannery Row and visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This is certainly one of the best aquariums in the world where you can get up close with sea otters, sharks, deep sea fish of all kinds and an amazing jellyfish area. We even found our old friends the Abalone.
On the short drive between Carmel and Monterey take in the beautiful 17 mile drive through the legendary Pebble Beach or if you’re a golfer make some time to play one of the four fabled courses there.