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Ventana Big Sur: Inside the Reimagined Hideaway

Alila Ventana Big Sur is now more luxurious and more experientially supportive to guests than ever.

By Becca Hensley |  December 13 2021


Ventanas Big Sur
A hammock with a view in California / ©Ventana Big Sur

In Big Sur, a 90-mile sweep of cliff-edged terrain, California’s Highway 1 corkscrews along dramatic bluffs more like a portal to an otherworldly place than a famous journey for road trippers. Ever sheathed in diaphanous fog, the route exudes a mood of mystical possibilities. As its bluffs careen in a free fall to the churning blue sea on one side, the tranquil, slightly catawampus Santa Lucia Mountains on the other offer the solidity of earth’s gravitas. To steer between the two diverse landscapes inevitably quickens the heart, making this road trip route one of the world’s most sought after.

“Come to Big Sur and let your soul have some room to get outside its marrow,” penned poet Richard Brautigan, who often visited the area for inspiration. He’s not the only one. For decades — perhaps centuries — seekers, writers, and philosophers aplenty have ventured to this unspoiled section of the California Coast in a quest for enlightenment. Among a stretch awash with mostly cabins and camping sites, one glamorous haven stands alone: Alila Ventana Big Sur.

Recently re-envisioned to be inclusive, more luxurious and more experientially supportive to guests than ever, the hotel, currently managed by Hyatt, offers guests an invitation to rediscover themselves and to seek inner harmony. Intoned with the palpable wisdom of its vast, ancient redwood forest, the 59-suite resort occupies 160-acres of hilly, untrammeled nature, much of it with sea views.

[See also: The Top Luxury Wellness Suites Around the World]

Ventana big sur pool

One of two pools available to guests at Ventana Big Sur / ©Ventana Big Sur

It was built as a rough-hewn ranch among the redwood trees in the 1970s by film producer Larry Spector. He made it his hippie-era Hollywood hangout, meant to supply a place for his best friends to celebrate the sacred wisdom of nature.

Today, that bohemian spirit lives on, despite the resort’s inherent opulence. Still evoking that original cool cat, laidback vibe, Ventana Big Sur continues its mission to celebrate both the surrounding nature and the journey into self. Reopened in summer 2020 to be more lavish than ever, adults-only Alila Ventana Big Sur satisfies travelers’ yearnings inside and out.

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Sustainability

In keeping with Ventana’s homage to nature, the property fully embraces the responsibility to protect its setting. Eco-friendly operations include various green initiatives, such as property-wide recycling programs, the use of nature landscaping, an organic garden, composting, electric house vehicles, and complimentary water bottles for guests to be filled at property-wide refilling stations.

Stay

Ventana Big Sur suite

Only fifty-nine opulently rustic guestrooms, grand suites and villas dot the property / ©Ventana Big Sur

Melding into the surrounding woods, only fifty-nine opulently rustic guest rooms and grand suites/villas dot the property. Built from weathered cedar, each utterly unique, they summon the concept of cabin, but go far beyond with such spoiling amenities as deep soaking tubs, oversized leather chairs, either sea or forest views, and wood burning fireplaces (my bi-level suite had two).

Tiny, but mighty touches, further envelop guests into an alternative reality — perhaps that of the poet within. I loved the writing pens carved from fallen tree branches, the old-fashioned telephone for staying in touch with my personal concierge, the hand-chiseled walking sticks hanging on the wall to lure me outdoors, the binoculars for spotting wildlife, and the leather desk mats engraved with quotes from writers, such as Jack Kerouac, who relied on Big Sur to spur his imagination.

(Note: a separate part of the resort holds both forest-ensconced glamping tents and camping sites in honor of the Big Sur tradition. At this time, the camping guests are not allowed to share the main resort’s offerings.)

What’s included

Complimentary activities run the gamut from daily classes (yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation), lectures and hikes to Volvo house cars (available for use within a three-mile radius) to a library with excursion supplies on lend to enhance picnics, hikes and outings. On top of that, the room rate includes all meals and snacks, whether taken poolside, in the room or at the dining venues (more on that below).

Dining

Have breakfast and dinner with a view at Big Sur House / ©Ventana Big Sur

Dining at Ventana elevates the concept of inclusive hotel meals to another level. Both gastronomic and regional, fresh in that long-established Californian tradition, massively creative, the menu options vary from venue to venue, with in-room dining available all day at no extra charge. Have breakfast and dinner with a view at Big Sur House, a gorgeous, terrace-fringed restaurant that crowns the property. I ate as many meals here as possible, in part because to arrive meant a ritualistic, ruminative walk through the woods beneath the redwood trees.

Expect items, such as Squash Frittata (with roasted and pickled squash, garden greens, and cider mustard vinaigrette) in the morning and Twice Cooked Pork Belly for dinner (with Star Anise, Shaoxing, Tamari, Ginger, Apple Daikon Puree, Charred Broccolini Caraccioli) in the evening. Lunch, nibbled poolside in a dedicated chaise, can be munched in a series of small plates, such as charred carrot and poblano hummus or mole chicken wings. Big Sur Smokehouse, a bbq joint meant to recall those roadside diners of yore, situated at the resort’s entrance, will please carnivores for a meal or two, as well.

Don’t miss a chef-made picnic to fuel off-property activites — or dine al fresco in one of Ventana’s many romantic nooks. Note: Clever wine cellar offerings and savvy-made craft cocktails affordably priced, cost extra, though Ventana offers a complimentary happy hour outdoors most days.

[See also: Wine Country Luxury: Inside Four Seasons Resort Napa Valley]

Explore

Ventana Big Sur offers a range of activities, including stargazing / ©Ventana Big Sur

Translated from Spanish Ventana means window, an apt metaphor both for the startling surrounding panorama and for the glimpse into your soul that the resort hankers to provide. Many location-specific activities beckon, with seasonal adjustments, though some guests will prefer to lounge beside the two pools (one is clothing optional), the onsen-style soaking tubs and self-guided hikes around the grounds.

I was smitten by The Circle of Life, a natural ring of more-than-a-century-old redwood trees rising to the sky, deep in the woods. Like a chapel, the sanctum within the trees buzzes with healing energy, and to begin and end each day there was a trip highlight for me.

Ventana aspires to give guests an opportunity to experiment, to go somewhere they’ve never been on a metaphysical level, to consider new thoughts, Therefore, their programs comprise a range of provocative possibilities: astrology (I highly recommend it), painting classes, bike tours, stargazing, all-day hikes along the area’s top trails, wine tasting, whale watching outings and more. For motorheads, the resort’s newly introduced Classic Car, Classic Highway gives guests the unforgettable opportunity to take the wheel of a classic car (choose from a fleet of 40 including a Porsche Spyder and a classic Volkswagen van) to navigate the miracle of Highway 1’s iconic sights and hair-raising curves.

Relax

A spa treatment room with extraordinary views / ©Ventana Big Sur

Offering an Asian-inspired menu rich with energy-infused treatments, the graceful spa’s creme-de-la-creme treatment rooms lord over a prime spot in the pool area in jaw-dropping glamping tents. Pass through a drawn flap to discover a generous room, replete with two massage tables, a copper soaking tub, chairs for repose and an open wall with views toward the emerald forest. That might be a spa treatment in itself!  However, my actual massage, the Ventana Fusion Massage, executed with a medley of techniques, was a study in divinity.

Guestrooms from $1,500 per night. Contact reservations@ventanabigsur.com, +1 800 628 6500, ventanabigsur.com

[See also: The Most Anticipated Hotel Openings of 2022]

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