A Taster's Journey is a newsletter on food, wine and travel. After 15 years of studying, tasting, teaching, and selling wine, I created this newsletter to not only share my passion about wine, but of food and travel as well. Each month I hope to share wines that I am drinking, food that is in season, restaurants that I have enjoyed, and places I have traveled. Enjoy!"

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Big Sur and The Post Ranch Inn

August 19th, 2004

Big Sur Coastline

Big Sur Coastline

I am constantly amazed by the ocean. This massive body of water harnesses incredible amounts of energy. I find it fascinating to watch waves form seemingly out of nowhere, at times reaching heights of over ten feet. They then unleash their power and come crashing onto shore, sounding almost like thunder. Although the ocean may appear violent, as waves break onto the sand, it is rather tame compared to those that explode onto rocky coasts. Black jagged rocks rise 20 feet out of the sand, and the waves crack up against these spires spraying seawater in every direction. The gnarly rock cliffs provide an awe-inspiring backdrop to the fearsome ocean, and it happens to be one of the most beautiful scenes in nature…welcome to Big Sur.

Along the California coast, just south of the Monterey peninsula, is the area best known as Big Sur. It’s a combination of beaches, mountains, and hundreds of acres of National Park that encompasses some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The shoreline is extremely rough, a real contrast to those flat, wide open beaches of southern California. In Big Sur, the mountains seem to rise right from the sea. These craggy cliffs form a dramatic segue to the Pacific Ocean. Along this coastline are a few inlets with spectacular small beaches. These tiny enclaves are never crowded because they can only be reached on foot – yet this remoteness only adds to their beauty. Big Sur is a nature lover’s paradise; a magnificent collection of mountains, canyons, beaches, waterfalls, and all types of wildlife and plants.

Experiencing Big Sur can be achieved on anyone’s budget. There are many campgrounds and RV parks for those wanting to get closest to nature. Quaint bed & breakfasts are available for those that prefer charming accommodations. And for a true mind-blowing experience, I recommend the Post Ranch Inn – perhaps my favorite resort in the entire world.

The Post Ranch Inn is understated elegance that cohabitates with the environment. It is a luxury resort with about 30 rooms, which were built with wood exteriors to blend into the surrounding redwoods and evergreens. Several rooms are built as tree houses, but I assure you they are a little more elegant than the tree houses we played in as children. Inside, the rooms are constructed of natural woods, stone floors, and large glass windows and doors. The rooms that face the ocean are designed so that you see no other rooms on the property – it is just you, a few deer, the cliffs, and the ocean. There is also a small stone terrace outside with a couple of Adirondack chairs. The furnishings in the room are simple, sleek, and of top quality. The marble bathroom is luxurious and warm with a huge slate tub. Each room has a large stone fireplace that roars on those chilly nights. Although there is a full spa at the resort, you may want to take full advantage of the fireplace and have a nightly massage in your room.

A Deer Grazing

A Deer Grazing

Besides a top-notch spa, Post Ranch has a few other enriching activities: morning yoga, guided nature walks with extensive discussions on the local plant life, and stargazing with the resident astronomer. The grounds are stunning; sculpture and reflecting ponds dot the landscape. There is also an infinity pool perched on the edge of a cliff with an unobstructed view of this awesome coastline. Hot tubs are also available, a nice amenity to soothe your aching muscles.

The Post Ranch Inn is a superb resort, and their restaurant, Sierra Mar, will delight any culinary aficionado. Their chef Craig von Foerster has been with Sierra Mar since 1994, and in 2003 the restaurant received the highest rating from Zagat for cuisine in California. The restaurant serves a 4-course prix fixed meal of organic/seasonal fare. A sample meal might include California red abalone with tomato-basil brown butter sauce to start; followed by a wild mushroom soup with nutmeg crème fraise; an entrée of pan roasted pheasant breast with potato puree and foie gras gravy; and for dessert a chocolate napoleon with espresso sauce.

Yucca Plant

Yucca Plant

The wine list is every bit as impressive as the food. The cellar has 22, 000 bottles with over 4, 000 selections. Wine connoisseurs will be in heaven. Everything is so good, it is hard not to over-imbibe. But the good news is that you don’t need to feel guilty, just get out and enjoy the outdoors in the morning.

The Ventana Wilderness of Big Sur straddles the Santa Lucia Mountains providing hundreds of miles of marked hiking trails for every level hiker. Sharp-crested ridges separate V-shaped valleys providing miles of spectacular scenery. These hikes vary greatly, from strenuous mountaintop treks to a leisurely stroll trough the redwoods just enjoying the fresh air. Vertical walled canyons and streams provide beautiful points of interest along the hikes. And if you have interest in the flora, you will see everything from cactus to wildflowers. Big Sur is also home to abundant wildlife. Bald eagles and condors are two truly majestic birds that call these mountains home.

The short hike to Pfiffer Falls is particularly rewarding, and it is easy enough for all to enjoy. It is only 1.4 miles round-trip over rather flat terrain. The trail meanders through a redwood grove and ends at a 60 foot waterfall. My favorite trek in Big Sur however, was on horseback. A guide takes you through a redwood forest, in which trees soar 50 feet into the air. The light is filtered by these skyscrapers providing a very serene ambiance. It was interesting to see evidence of several forest fires on our journey, and learn how this can actually help the forest by clearing out the existing brush and providing fertile soil for new plants. After a couple of miles the landscape changes, we exit the redwoods and enter a mix of sage brush and wild grasses, none reaching a height of over 4 feet. The sun is now blaring, you can smell the sea air, and hear the circling seagulls. Finally we reach the crest of a hill, and see a long sand beach 20 feet below us. Wow! The horses follow a path down to the beach and then prance along the water’s edge. The ride was so unbelievable because it encompassed so much diversity: the redwoods, diverse foliage, wildlife, and the ocean.

The Sun Sets on Big Sur

The Sun Sets on Big Sur

Although the hiking and horseback riding are tremendous, a must adventure is driving your car north on Highway One. It is a two lane road with hairpin turns that winds along the coastline offering dramatic views around every bend. Twenty six miles north of Big Sur Valley is the city of Carmel, which is just a few miles from Pebble Beach and the famous “17 mile drive”. Pebble Beach may be the most spectacular golf course in the country, and is a must for anyone that enjoys playing a round. 17 mile drive is breathtaking, with my favorite site being the famed Lone Cypress, perhaps the most popular tree ever painted. The scenery along this route is beautiful, and the wildlife on the rocks in the ocean is abundant: pelicans, sea otters, seals, and sea lions. After this drive, Carmel offers a nice change of pace. It is a picturesque town filled with boutiques, craft shops, many exquisite art galleries, and a wide selection of fine restaurants.

Big Sur is a sensational vacation destination because it offers a bit of something for everyone. It will offer you endless hours of the most intoxicating landscape imaginable. I have tried to capture the beauty of Big Sur in pictures, but the only way to fully appreciate all it has to offer is to visit in person. Perhaps it will become your favorite place too!

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