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Bernardus Lodge

Feel Better at This Northern California Getaway

As summer, with its occasional bouts of sunshine-accompanied merriment and outdoor cookouts, gives way to a lovely Bay Area fall, with its russet hues and invariably toasty weather, Iím reminded of the appeal of the impending months. These days, the prospect of September is a little more exciting, perhaps because Iím no longer a student dreading the onset of another banal school year.

For many people, the turning of the seasons is synonymous with the harvest that we cultivate within -- an incentive to look inward as the year slowly settles into its recurring cocoon of cool darkness. Whether youíre celebrating the shift of seasons in the wine country of Carmel Valley, or undergoing a Labor Day weekend detox at a meditative haunt tucked into the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, autumnal Nirvana certainly awaits you somewhere. This is the first in a series of stories exploring the many tantalizing retreats throughout central and northern California where you can slow down and enjoy the remainder of your year.

Bernardus Lodge

To put it frankly, Bernardus Lodge is an epicureís paradise. This luxurious boutique resort was founded in 1999 by Bernardus Pon, a viticulture expert and self-described bon vivant who took it upon himself to create a slew of offerings for the sybaritic traveler. The idea, according to Bernardusí Director of Sales and Marketing, Sue Dreyer, is that a lodger can obtain a well-rounded cultural experience at the resort, including rigorous wine and culinary education seminars.

What sets Bernardus apart from other generic boutique resorts is not just the fine quality of services and amenities -- but the fact that they have everything a weekend globetrotter would need for maximum comfort: 10 acres of wine-producing grapes harvested by the Bernardus Winery and Vineyard; 15 acres of lavender; a garden plump with organically grown herbs and produce; two on-site al fresco restaurants, including the award-winning Marinus; and a 5,300 square foot spa with seasonal treats like the Vineyard Romance Experience. Did I also mention that they make their own soaps, jams, and honey?

Upon arriving at the resort, Iím greeted with a glass of wine while I relax in the cozy main area lounge -- gazing out the window at the stunning vista of rolling green hills that make up the Santa Lucia Mountains. The resort itself is sprawling yet intimate -- a quiet Tuscan-style village teeming with 57 suites, warm terracotta and adobe, stately fountains, manicured lawns, bumblebees buzzing around flower pots and lavender, and tidy croquet lawns. Given that this is the kind of place where I could probably sit outside all day and revel in doing, well, not much of anything, Iím delighted with the spacious suite Iím housed in: a charming alcove with vaulted ceilings, a built-in wine grotto, and an enormous private deck with sweeping views of the gardens below.

In general terms, it wouldnít be necessary to extend rest, relaxation and rejuvenation beyond my private deck -- but of course, thereís the Spa. An enormous facility that includes a meditation garden, 24-hour gym, beauty salon, eucalyptus steam rooms, and a variety of seasonal treats, itís one of the reasons I was drawn to Bernardus in the first place. You can opt to unwind indoors, in an earthy, serene waiting area with sloped roofs and skylights or you can relax with some herbal tea or cucumber water outside on a lounge chair, by the spaís open-air warming pool.

I am fortunate to experience the Vineyard Romance Experience, a leisurely treatment that includes a pampering lavender and grape seed exfoliation and an outdoor lavender grape seed bath. Itís so romantic that itís almost ludicrous -- a wood-fringed, deep-soaking tub filled with rose petals and effervescent bubbles. After adding in the tea soak with antioxidants, and 25 minutes of privacy underneath a radiant blue sky, Iím ready to jettison all the other day spa trips I have planned and make Bernardus my regular haven.

After completing the treatment with a full body warm grape seed oil massage, Iím (almost) ready to doze off to sweet dreams. As the sky gradually darkens at this Edenic hideaway, I feel the way I think Adam and Eve might have, sadly considering that I only have little more than an evening left to enjoy the delicacies that Bernardus holds out to all who pass through. However, the day is still young, and there are too many things left to do: such as taking a walk through Bernardusí two-acre landscaped garden; hanging out with the flock of llamas that live out by my suite; playing a game of croquet with the kids in the suite next door; and nibbling some Maine lobster at Marinus for dinner. I guess Iíll indulge while I still can.