The first time I turned off Carmel Valley Road and headed up the drive to Bernardus Lodge, a luxury resort near Monterey Bay, I was sure I’d made a wrong turn and somehow ended up in Napa Valley. To the right, the property’s vineyards overlooked the valley below. I could see lush green in every direction as I parked, and the entrance rivaled any resort’s I’ve visited in northern wine country.

Not to mention the food. My visit had been arranged by Visit Monterey, and I didn’t quite understand why they had sent me and my husband to Carmel Valley for lunch until I tasted that first bite—a seasonal salad of grilled peaches, pea shoots, beets, and goat cheese. The food was so fresh and wonderfully prepared that if someone invited me to dine there again today, I’d board the first plane I could.

Bernardus Lodge

Bernardus Lodge is located in beautiful Carmel Valley. Photo by Teresa Bitler

So, when Cooper Tire invited me to test their new Cooper Zeon RS3-G1 tires at Mazda Raceway in nearby Laguna Secca, I jumped at the chance, in part to cross “drive a race car” off my bucket list, but also because our media group would be staying at Bernardus Lodge.

Upscale and Elegant Bernardus Lodge

On my second visit to Bernardus Lodge, I again felt like I had somehow ended up in Napa. Those same pinot and chardonnay grape vines greeted me on the drive to the entrance. At the front desk, which was literally a desk with comfortable leather chairs, I received a glass of Bernardus Chardonnay to sip while I checked in.

The lobby area matched what you’d find at a Napa resort, too. Intricate chandeliers hung over French oak floors while, in vases on nearly every table and desk, fresh flowers added a pop of bright color.

Bernardus Lodge

Bernardus Lodge has its own vineyard, organic garden, olive grove and 73 guest rooms. Photo by Teresa Bitler

As I followed the bellman to my room, I noted the patio where Jerry and I had enjoyed lunch a few months earlier. Friends, wine glasses in hand, congregated around a nearby fire pit, and a family played croquet on the lawn. Based on my experience so far, I knew I was going to have a hard time leaving in two days.

Special Touches at Bernardus Lodge

My room exceeded my expectations—and I had pretty high expectations. Located at the far end of the croquet lawn, it featured a sitting area, limestone fireplace, and French doors opening to a private garden patio. I had planned to pour a glass of Bernardus wine from the room’s complimentary wine bar and relax on the patio but, unfortunately, never got the chance.

Bernardus Lodge

Rooms feature heated marble bathroom floors, garden patios (or balconies), and complimentary wine and snacks. Photo by Teresa Bitler

I also didn’t have as much time to spend in what ranks as one of the best hotel bathrooms ever I’ve encountered as I would have liked. The floors were not only marble but heated marble, and the shower featured a handle with a temperature indicator so you could precisely control the water temperature. I’m usually not a bath person, but the large, oval tub was tempting, especially after a day at the racetrack.

Special touches set the 73 rooms at Bernardus Lodge apart from most other resort rooms. In addition to the heated bathroom floors and complimentary wine bar, my room had Italian linens on the featherbed, adjustable reading lights on either side of the headboard, and complimentary snacks in the butler’s pantry.

The Grounds at Bernardus Lodge

I had just enough spare time before dinner the first evening to explore the property. On my way to the organic garden, I passed quite a few of Bernardus Lodge’s 3,000 lavender plants interspersed between roses, wild grasses, and other greenery.

Bernardus Lodge

The path leading to the organic garden. Photo by Teresa Bitler

On my previous visit, I was able to tour the organic garden with Chef Cal Stamenov, who pointed out his favorite herbs, some of the 30 types of vegetables grown there and the bee garden that played a role in Bernardus’ honey production. This time, I simply enjoyed the beauty of the space with its colorful planters, rose garden, vine-covered walkway and lawn perfect for weddings.

Besides the gardens and vineyard, Bernardus Lodge boasts an olive orchard, 4-star spa, tennis courts, fitness center, swimming pool and adults-only Jacuzzi.

Dining at Lucia Restaurant and Bar

Named for the Santa Lucia Range, Lucia Restaurant & Bar is the resort’s only dining option. It’s also the only 4-star Forbes-rated restaurant in the area and has hosted many famous guests, including Leonardo DiCaprio. As a result, reservations are strongly recommended.

Bernardus Lodge

The seasonal salads feature fresh produce from the organic garden and the chef's home garden. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Lucia is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menus are seasonal and can change daily depending on what’s available from local vendors and in the organic garden. In addition to the onsite garden, Stamenov uses produce from his personal garden, which includes more than 150 fruit trees and heirloom vegetables. He also gathers eggs from his heirloom chickens.

Specialties at Lucia include Stamenov’s seasonal salads, foie gras four ways, Wagyu beef and brick oven pizzas. To accompany your meal, order a bottle of wine from the 15,000-bottle wine cellar or a craft cocktail from the bar.

In the Monterey Area

Bernardus Lodge makes a great base for exploring the Monterey area. You can hike in Carmel Valley, shop in neighboring Carmel-by-the-Sea, horseback ride on the beach or cruise the 17 Mile Drive. More than 25 nearby tasting rooms give you the opportunity to sip local wines, and at Quail Lodge just a few miles west of Bernardus Lodge, you can drive off-road at the Land Rover Experience, one of only four Land Rover off-road driving schools in North America.

Bernardus Lodge

While staying at Bernardus Lodge, you can off-road at the nearby Land Rover Experience, visit Monterey Bay and sample wines at local wineries. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Just 20 minutes from the resort, Monterey offers plenty to do. Visit the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, explore historic Cannery Row or step back in time at Monterey State Historic Park.

Of course, I’d recommend driving race cars the next time Lucas Oil School of Racing brings its training program to Laguna Seca or, at the very least, watching a race.

Bernardus Lodge

Sign up if Lucas School of Racing is at Laguna Seca during your stay. You won't regret it. Photo by Teresa Bitler.

A stay at Bernardus Lodge and Spa should also be tops in your Monterey area planning. Discover more about Monterey from our Wander writers.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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