The Big Sur resort

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Ventana Big Sur
All images: Alila Ventana Big Sur

Return to nature: how the redwood forests of Big Sur promote mindful travel

14 March 2024 • Written by Belle Rice

Return to nature in the redwood forests of Big Sur, where mindful travel is the name of the game, says Belle Rice...

The winding drive south along the curving, rocky roads of Highway One into Alila’s expansive Big Sur property is almost worth the trip alone. Crossing the Bixby Bridge above the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean and along stretching beach roads with dramatically thunderous horizons, the road gently curves inland to narrow lanes that splice through a dense forest of redwoods.

Reaching this brilliantly secluded hotel that offers a unique way to get away from it all, guests approach a picturesque red lodge at the hotel gates, before driving up an impeccably maintained driveway to reach the main property. Spread over 64 hectares, Ventana Big Sur – to use its official name – has 59 guest rooms and suites, each with its own private deck to take in the views of the forest, fields or coastline. 

Suites are spacious and designed with interiors that resemble beautifully maintained log cabins; think roaring fires, in-room record players with a library of music to choose from, and a range of individual amenities ranging from hot tubs to outdoor showers. For larger parties or a truly special couples experience, guests can check into the Big Sur Villa, or the Cottage and Coast Houses which each offer a freestanding hideaway stay, tucked away from the main buildings.

The name Ventana (Spanish for window) lies behind the inspiration for the hotel’s design: large glass casements are everywhere both in and outdoors, allowing you to overlook the redwoods and scenic coastline at every turn, from The Sur House restaurant and bar with its high ceilings, wooden beams and vast skylights, not to mention its light-strewn outdoor patio heated by fire pits where you can experience drop-dead views overlooking the beach – to the infinity-edged hot tub that offers a dream-like sunset perch onto the forests below.

As much as the hotel offers these incredible windows onto its own secluded world, water plays a huge part in its wellness offering too. In addition to the hot tub, the Meadow Pool has private cabanas, aromatherapy cooling towels and a sauna to relax in. Meanwhile, the (clothing optional) Mountain Pool is located higher up the hill among the trees for a more secluded experience. 

Guests can also immerse themselves in a Japanese onsen-inspired bathhouse, where the water is heated to a toasty 40°c year-round before or after a spa treatment. And what a setting it is for a spa: in addition to classic treatment rooms, private cabanas overlooking the forest feature giant iron bathtubs and massage beds where you can unwind with nothing to disturb you other than the soundtrack of the woods below.

Unlike other wellness-focused getaways though, this is not just about the spa. While you could happily while away the days enjoying the revitalizing Zenith treatment, a purifying facial or enjoying the fresh, locally farmed ingredients on offer at the restaurant, guests are encouraged to get to know the surroundings too. 

In addition to a roster of daily activities that combine to create a holistic sense of well-being – including Slow Flow Yoga, forest bathing, watercolour classes and botanical cocktail making – Ventana offers a choice of outdoor activities for all manner (and abilities) of adventurers. And when the outstanding natural beauty of Big Sur beckons, you go. 

Whether it’s into the woods or down to the beach, there’s an endless array of things to do. The affable Chris Riley, the hotel’s hike leader and beekeeper extraordinaire, organises excursions through the forest, up the hills and along the coastline for guests to experience the area’s natural habitat. 

From guided Forager’s Hike tours of the flora and fauna found on the property to more strenuous treks to the peaks above the hotel where you can see stretches of coast for miles, as a born and bred local he has an in-depth knowledge of the land that leaves you assured you’re in safe hands, no matter how far you venture.

When the sun starts to set, head into the woods to practise your axe-throwing with Happy Hatchet Hour. It’s not as life-threatening as it may sound, and there’s something extremely special to be found in the experience of trying for a bullseye in the dusky forest light, aperitif in hand.

And that’s the beauty of Ventana; while its peaceful surroundings offer the ultimate in relaxation, there’s so much on offer that you truly find yourself switching off. Who has time to write an email or scroll your smartphone when you can hike the coast ridge road trails, where deep redwood country turns in to dusty desert tracks overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or there’s a floating meditation to enjoy? There are televisions in every room, but the likelihood of them being switched on in these surroundings is next to zero.

Credit: Grant Ritchie on UnSplash

After dinner, evenings are spent in front of the fireplace with the record player on and a selection of board games and books, or in the hotel’s games room, where a large pool table and a table full of s’mores are on offer so guests can while away the darker hours without any need for electronic entertainment. Really, the only time you’ll even think about your phone is to take photos – to capture the most photogenic scenery Big Sur has to offer, from sunrise to sunset.

First published in the February 2024 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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