California, US: Ventana Resort, Big Sur might just be California's coolest getaway

The California region of Big Sur has long since held an almost mythical reputation. Partly, it's the sheer majesty of the place, the meandering highway snaking between plunging cliffs and the roar of the Pacific, but it's also the bohemian culture this splendour cultivated, with everyone  from Hunter S. Thompson to Jack Kerouac calling the region home at some stage.

Arriving at the gates of Ventana Resort, you'd be forgiven for thinking any such connections were long since gone but the original hotel was actually founded by producer Lawrence A. Spector, on profits made from seminal road movie Easy Rider. During the '70s it became a favourite among artists and movie stars, with the likes of Steve McQueen a regular guest.

Today, it's a place that oozes tasteful sophistication. You notice the second you arrive. No sooner have we pulled up than a valet is making short work of parking our car while a private concierge takes care of the check-in process.

Our room – complete with magically appeared luggage – is astounding. Bigger than most San Francisco apartments, it comes with an indulgent sunken bath tub, king-size bed and sweeping balcony with outdoor shower and hammock overlooking the redwood forest.

Set among 160 acres of lush headland meadows, the 59-room resort was devised by Big Sur artist and designer Kipp Stewart. It's a seamless blend of modernity and nature, with many of the guest rooms fashioned from weathered cedar to lend an almost Scandinavian air of understated refinement.

Ventana Big Sur, an Alila Resort, has only been re-opened since late 2017 following a six-month closure to undergo a $US18 million renovation. Chief among the improvements were a freshen up of all rooms and suites, a re-imagined Social House and restaurant, outdoor fireside seating and the unveiling of a new glamping site with 15 safari-style tents in a 20-acre forest canyon. During summer, the site even has an Airstream caravan that doubles as  a bar and serves moreish barbecue food.

Part of the challenge with residing at such salubrious digs is allowing yourself to switch modes. For the first few hours I'm still in a city mindset, pacing about and fiddling with my laptop, but Ventana has been cleverly devised to cure such ills.

Some of it is down to the layout. Everything is somehow symbiotically spread out and easily walkable at the same time. It never feels crowded. The two main pools, The Meadow Pool and Mountain Pool (clothing optional), are at opposite sides of the property with the latter boasting a stylish Japanese bath house tacked on the side.

Being far too British and repressed to get naked in front of strangers, I opt to spend most of my time at The Meadow where a poolside bartender whips up crisp cocktails between an infinity hot tub and manicured lawn with deck chairs facing a perpetual fog bank above the horizon.

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A stay at Ventana is about doing as little or as much as you want. Though the region boasts some of the finest scenery and hiking trails in the state and the onsite concierge can arrange any conceivable activity from outdoor photography workshops to an afternoon with a master falconer – an absolute must if time permits – most of the guests seem happy just to unwind in the surrounds.

Come evening we gather in the Social House for complimentary wine and cheese, swapping stories in bath robes and boardies, playing board games or perusing the extensive collection of coffee table books. It's that kind of place, somewhere to relax and enjoy good company rather than somewhere to "be seen".

As upmarket as it is, Ventana manages to effortlessly strike that elusive blend of class without excessive pretence. It's a place fit for a king. Or a Steve McQueen.

TRIP NOTES

Guy Wilkinson was a guest of Ventana Big Sur - an Alila Resort

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traveller.com.au/usa

FLY

Qantas flies direct from Sydney to San Francisco, up to six times a week. See qantas.com

STAY

Ventana, Big Sur is located on Highway 1,  about 65 kilometres south of San Francisco and abut 480 kilometres  north of Los Angeles. The Monterey Peninsula Airport is  about 60 kilometres north in Monterey. Rooms start at $US675. See ventanabigsur.com

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