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Elk Cove Inn

A Refuge for the Old-Fashioned Romantic

Weekends away from the city are too often tailored for the harried professionals. You know the kind: they like their patches of scenery and relaxation with plenty of wireless towers and other such amenities. It keeps ‘em connected to the dismal reminder that, despite the occasional celebratory lull, the 9-5 world never stops spinning.

I’ve never understood the logic of the half-hearted getaway, though. After all, if you don’t know how to relax, a little wine-tasting and a brisk Swedish massage aren’t likely to keep you from checking messages on your Blackberry every few minutes or irking your companion with your endless to-do list. And as much as I love the chi-chi boutique resorts and day-long inebriation jaunts that liberally sprinkle places like Napa or Sonoma, they’re seldom enough to keep the anxiety of industry at bay.

Wagering a guess that there are loads of you out there who feel the same, I’m about to let you in on a little secret: there is, indeed, a place where you can momentarily shelve your stresses, breathe deep some blessed “there’s no one around for miles” air, and take comfort in the fact that your mobile phones are completely useless here. It’s a little cul-de-sac tucked just off Highway One, and they call it Elk Cove Inn.

Located 15 miles south of Mendocino, Elk Cove isn’t exactly a hop, skip, or jump away from city life, but a sinuous drive through mammoth redwood forests, 360-degree vistas of churning ocean, and gorgeous windswept promontories make it way more exquisite than your typical wine country stopover. Indeed, the beauty of Elk Cove’s surroundings is nearly overwhelming. This bucolic hamlet is the kind of place that inspires epic, standing-on-a-precipice paeans to nature, which hardcore urbanites might be hard-pressed to make elsewhere.

The cliffside inn, located in the diminutive town of Elk, is the perfect respite from life’s many demands. It was originally opened in 1883 as an executive retreat for a local lumber company but became a bed and breakfast inn in 1968. Since then, it’s passed through lots of different hands but now belongs to proprietor David Lieberman, a former Silicon Valley professional who traded in smoggy commutes for rustic perfection. Lieberman’s changes to the time-honored establishment include a full-service European day spa, an on-site organic restaurant, and plenty of deluxe appointments that complement the inn’s quaint charm -- including delectable care packages for guests, and cloud-soft 400-plus thread-count linens.

Lieberman, who acquired Elk Cove in 2001, asserts that it’s the view that keeps people coming back -- after all, who can resist enormous windows that overlook ocean grottoes and acres of pristine land? Unsurprisingly, Elk Cove is also one of those places rife with synchronicities and unbelievably romantic stories. Just ask Lieberman to regale you with a few, or read all about it in the guest journals that fill each room by the volume.

Of course, the gracious hospitality of the staff probably also has a lot to do with the masses of repeat visitors. “When I think of the typical B&B, I think of a room in someone’s house -- we’re an inn rather than a B&B,” Lieberman recently told me. “But frankly, the concept of the small inn, decorated in lace and Victorian furnishings, is getting kind of old. All the same, the modern, sleek environments of boutique resorts can feel a bit cold and impersonal. So what we’re doing here is retaining the charm and patina of the inn’s history but at the same time making sure we deliver five-star service and anticipate all our guests’ needs whenever possible.”

Certainly, Elk Cove is far enough off the beaten path and quaint enough, surrounded as it is by historic buildings and groves of ancient redwoods, to draw visitors who turn up their noses at the typical mass-produced luxury of boutique resorts. But at the same time, there are plenty of fixings to please even the most finical connoisseur. For instance, there’s ‘ZEBO, the inn’s sinfully good organic restaurant, which features tasty heapings of American and Pacific Rim cuisine.

The menu, devised by Chef Jeremy Baumgartner, is supplemented by house-made pasta and desserts, as well as wines that are selected from nearby vineyards in Mendocino and the Anderson Valley. ‘ZEBO is both intimate and unpretentious; you can lounge around in your pj’s and sup by candelight as you gaze at the majestic Pacific out picture windows. Complimentary multi-course breakfasts are also the perfect way to start your day before horseback riding, ocean kayaking, or, if you prefer, simply sitting in the gazebo that overlooks Elk Cove’s private beach, which is ideal for evening bonfires and champagne.

The 15 accommodations that strew the estate aren’t too shabby either. They include four cottages, four luxury suites, and seven rooms in the mansion that harbors the restaurant, bar and front office area. What strikes me about the cottage I’m staying in (appropriately called “Surfsong”) is the stunning attention to detail. Plush down comforters, kitten-soft linens, redwood wainscoting, open-beam cathedral ceilings, and luminous colors all add to the coziness and intimacy of the place.

The old-fashioned romance, which hearkens back to the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 1900s, is supplemented by the fact that there are no televisions, stereos, or telephones to distract lovers from each other -- or the view. As my boyfriend and I snuggle by the fireplace and dig into our complimentary care package, which includes homemade cookies and a bottle of luscious white wine, it’s hard not to marvel at the inn’s proximity to the ocean, unlike other seaside retreats that require 10-minute hikes to the neighboring beach.

The next treat we’re in for is Elk Cove’s spa, an authentic European-style establishment that operates seven days a week and is nestled in its own private sanctuary on the site. Aside from being one of the only spas in the entire area, it’s fully equipped with a team of dedicated massage therapists and aestheticians responsible for developing all the treatments. While the treatment menu is modest -- ranging from hot stone therapy to sea salt scrubs -- it’s administered by a bevy of talented hands. After a soothing couples massage, we retire to the spa’s impressive bath facilities, which include an aromatherapy steam shower, sauna, and Jacuzzi bath. If getting your aching joints kneaded and drinking in an elixir of essential oils through your pores isn’t enough, the couples package also includes a romantic meal of fruits, cheeses, and herbal tea that we gobbled up in the adjoining room, overlooking an ocean sunset.

You’d think the spa treatment or a candlelit dinner would be the apogee of a romantic weekend, but in fact, Elk Cove is the kind of place that was made for continual enchantment. Whether you’re sipping Pernod and eating truffles in the comfort of your cottage, reading poetry and drinking wine on the gazebo, or hanging out with the estate’s friendly cat on a garden bench, the entire experience is ridiculously idyllic. (You can even weep over film noir and romantic classics in the mansion’s cozy lounge.) In fact, while neighboring outdoor activities abound, it’s hardly necessary to leave the sanctuary of your immediate surroundings. After all, if you have the basics down -- good food, good wine, beauty, and love -- why exert yourself on unnecessary outings?

So, workaholics: I challenge you: If you’re ready to expand your definition of the weekend getaway and to forget, at least for a couple days, the deadlines looming imminently above you, by all means, put down your laptops and cell phones. Announce to friends, family and co-workers, without any guilt, that you’re going to be unreachable for a while. Whisk your neglected paramour away to the wind-swept, sun-drenched haven that is Elk Cove Inn. And if you get a chance, stay in Surfsong Cottage -- the view is truly unbeatable.

Elk Cove Inn
6300 Highway One S.
PO Box 367
Elk, CA 95432