Travel: The enduring romance of the ‘Highlands'

DINING IN Pacific’s Edge Restaurant comes with majestic views of Point Lobos.

DINING IN Pacific’s Edge Restaurant comes  with majestic views of Point Lobos.  (photo credit: GEORGE MEDOVOY)
DINING IN Pacific’s Edge Restaurant comes with majestic views of Point Lobos.
(photo credit: GEORGE MEDOVOY)
CARMEL, California – The memory of the Hyatt Carmel Highlands has stayed with us all these years since our first visit to the romantic hotel 35 years ago.
Perched on a hillside overlooking California’s magnificent Big Sur coastline, it’s the perfect getaway: crashing waves, pristine solitude, the charming village of Carmel just 6 km. down the road and, of course, all those memorable meals at Pacific’s Edge Restaurant.
Beginning this year and set for completion in the second quarter of 2016, the inn will undergo major renovations, including upgrades to Pacific’s Edge Restaurant with refreshed decor and a new 40-seat, 111-square-meter outdoor patio. The heated open-air space will allow guests to enjoy al fresco dining and dramatic ocean vistas.
Pacific’s Edge will also merge with California Market, the inn’s casual bistro, to become one restaurant with a new menu.
Meanwhile, the hotel’s 50-page wine list will be updated with more emphasis on Monterey County vintages. The impressive collection of wines is clearly visible right off the dining area.
“We are thrilled to offer our patrons these improvements,” said Mel Bettcher, Hyatt Carmel Highlands managing director.
While the hotel has changed hands over the years, some things always remain the same, like the first signs of morning light in stunning shades of red over the calm sea.
Long the object of fascination for its idyllic location, the hotel has been known as a haven for artists, movie stars and discerning travelers since it opened its doors in 1917 above Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
That was when highways were being expanded and more and more people were able to travel greater distances with greater ease. The inn’s builders, entrepreneurs J. Franklin Devendorf and Frank Powers, promoted comfortable stays and wonderful meals at their new hotel.
Today, the Hyatt property features a variety of suites, ocean view, and garden view rooms set among beautifully-manicured, interlacing pathways. The hotel also offers Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant guestrooms.
The restaurant, bar and lounge are located in the main lodge with its impressive fireplace.
Our ocean view townhouse suite came with a wonderful view of the sea, seen through the big picture window or from chairs on the deck, a large comfortable bed, a fully-equipped kitchen with stainless steel appliances, living room area with sofa bed, large soaking tub with Jacuzzi, extra-large large shower, flatscreen TV and a real fireplace you could fill with wood stored outside the suite.
Recreational facilities include an outdoor heated swimming pool and three outdoor garden spas; a fitness facility; world-renowned golf courses like Pebble Beach 8 km. away; tennis at Mission Tennis Ranch, 8 km. away; horseback riding; hiking; and kayaking.
This is an area where you can also tour locales where famous movie scenes were shot or visit local wineries. Another possibility is hopping onto one of the inn’s mountain bikes to go exploring with a staff-prepared picnic.
Upon arriving, we had drinks in the Sunset Lounge, timing it just right for a spectacular sunset. Thursdays and Saturdays are music nights, while Friday evening is dance night with everything from big band, jazz and reggae to Latin.
Come morning, the California Market Restaurant welcomed us with a choice of the redwood deck and ocean views or indoors next to the pot-bellied stove. We took an inside table, though there were folks outside under overhead heaters.
Breakfast made me think of years past, when a waiter would come around with a covered tray of warm pastries slung over his shoulders. When the hotel celebrates its 100th birthday in 2017, what a nice touch that would be to reinstate.
The tender pancakes topped with bananas and raspberries and the fluffy cinnamon French toast topped with berries and pecans on this particular morning were just lovely.
According to chef Chad Minton, the idea is for the restaurant’s menu to reflect not only the extraordinary sea food indigenous to the area, but also the many other important food resources of Monterey County served “as simply and with as much integrity...
as possible,” and with attention to local Italian, Mexican and Spanish flavor traditions.
For a number of years, the hotel’s main building was the site of the popular Masters of Food and Wine, which drew renowned chefs.
With its eye on tradition, Pacific’s Edge displays a brass bell at its entrance – the same bell that once hung in the spire above the wedding chapel before it was removed for property renovations. The inn still remains a popular venue for weddings.
Any visit here should include nearby Carmel, the charming village evoking a feel of Scotland. Shops line Ocean Avenue, the village’s “main street,” and if you yearn for the sea, Ocean Avenue can lead you down to the beach.
On this particular visit, Carmel is where we found the office of Big Sur Vineyards, owned by Lenora Carey and her husband, Richard Gebhardt, who were drawn to the Big Sur coast from the San Francisco Bay area.
“Surrounded by artisan farmers, beekeepers and cheese producers,” she said, “we were excited to see what might grow best in our soils. Over time, a few varietals of Chardonnay and Pinot noir showed great promise.
“It seems our place has the right elements – its proximity to the ocean, summer heat during the day, and cool nights.”
Today, Big Sur Vineyards produces lovely wines under the guiding hand of adventurous young winemaker Ryan Kobza. These include Big Sur Red, a Rhone-style blend of Grenache, Syrah and Petite Syrah; Chardonnay; Pinot Noir; and Pinot Noir Reserve. The winery anticipates coming out with a Rose next Valentine’s Day.
The winery’s labels are emblematic of the Big Sur coastline: the famed Bixby Bridge on Route 1; the Soberanes Sea Arch; the California condor in flight over the sea; and the lovely monarch butterfly, which you can see in the eucalyptus trees on a visit to Andrew Molera State Park near the Big Sur River.
Big Sur’s romantic isolation was chronicled by the writer Henry Miller in Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. The Henry Miller Memorial Library is located on Route 1, marking the 18 years that the iconoclastic writer lived on the coast.
Being at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands reminded me of the day my wife and I met Miller at a party many years ago and, grasping my fingers, he announced in his sonorous tone: “You have very interesting hands.”
The writer’s own hands were drawn to water coloring, an aspect of his life he chronicled in his book, To Paint Is to Love Again.
Miller held exhibits around the world, including the Jerusalem Artists House in 1958.
Beyond exploring Route 1 during a stay at the hotel, it’s nice to take the 17-Mile Drive, which dates back to horse-drawn carriage days.
A high point of the drive, which circles Pebble Beach and the Del Monte Forest, is the Lone Cypress perched on a rocky outcropping over the water. I don’t know how many times I’ve photographed this tree, but it held out great appeal again this time.
Back at the hotel, we headed for Pacific’s Edge for a dinner of Chilean sea bass. By now the views of the ocean had disappeared into the night, but the outlines of several pines illuminated by outdoor lights reflected Big Sur’s timeless attraction.
The author writes about travel, food and wine at