Photography by Yuri Krasov
Heading to Stonepine Estate and Equestrian Center on a calm sunny afternoon, I planned so many things to do in Carmel Valley – one of the most precious jewels of Northern California!
Point Lobos State Reserve nearby, with its wild ocean coast framed by cypress and pine, where one can simultaneously see silvery seals resting on the rocks and grazing deer on a cliff covered with wild flowers, was at the top of my list.
Carmel Valley Village, with local wine tasting rooms, art galleries, and a wonderful bakery, was another place not to be missed.
Then, since a 2-night stay seemed like a lot of time, I was contemplating a pleasure ride along 17-Mile Drive, and just an hour or two at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
All my plans were doomed though, not due to the lack of time, but simply because once entering the Stonepine grounds it was very hard to imagine leaving this incredible historic retreat, and not spending every available minute enjoying its beautiful nature, serenity, and meditative solitude.
Built by the Crocker banking family in 1929, the castle-like house is still decorated with Italian marble columns and fireplaces, French wood paneling and tapestries, and period furniture and art pieces. It is surrounded by manicured green lawns, landscaped gardens leading to a blue swimming pool, a tiny pond with a waterfall and a tea house, and farther away, there are 400 acres of rolling hills, oak groves, grassy knolls, and soft ground tracks around the equestrian arena of the oldest operating thoroughbred ranch west of the Mississippi.
Stonepine’s current owners, Gordon and Noel Hentschel, travel industry entrepreneurs who purchased the estate in 1983, opened its doors to American and international visitors and created the premier private resort – a U.S. “Purple Shield” member of the Paris-based Relais & Châteaux.
Known as a stellar location for business affairs as well as affairs of the heart, the estate offers period-decorated suites in Chateau Noel and freestanding houses and cottages on the grounds for rental or special events, corporate meetings and weddings.
European-trained staff, Carmel Valley wine tours, area golf, and reservations at local restaurants are available to the guests as well as in-room massages, riding lessons and horseback trails.
For our wedding anniversary, my husband and I took advantage of one of the three Stonepine vacation packages. Ours was aptly called, theEstate Experience. It included two nights in one of the luxurious accommodations; wine, cheese, and chocolate-dipped strawberries upon arrival; breakfast each morning; fireside dinner at the chateau; massage for two, and afternoon tea at the chateau library, loggia, or the waterfall pavilion.
We drove our favorite California Highway One, followed the signs to Stonepine, took a side road, hidden in the lush forest, and soon arrived by a masterful statue of a charging stallion next to the gate marked “CN” for Chateau Noel. The moment it opened in front of us, I knew that there was no other place on Earth where I’d rather be spending my special day.
The air was warm, fragrant, and filled with incessant chirping of happy birds. The forest was calm and majestic. The cream-colored house with a tile roof looked like a fairy tale castle. Two Rolls-Royces were flanking its entrance, and an old-fashioned door bell announced our arrival.
Upon check-in we settled in a spacious Hermes House, across from the chateau, tastefully decorated with equestrian sculptures and framed vintage Hermes scarves. Vaulted ceiling in the entryway, living room with a huge fireplace, dining room with a glass door to a private back yard on a bluff, kitchen with bay windows, and master bedroom with a hot-tub in a well-appointed bathroom – and only rolling hills around. I felt like in a beautiful dream.
For dinner, we headed to the chateau, but decided to eat outside, at the loggia, overlooking a rose garden.
After champagne and hors d’oeuvres on a white leather couch we sat at a white-tablecloth table for two with fine china, crystal glasses, and a bouquet of red roses.
The sky became darker, and the cicadas louder and only our server appeared noiselessly with every new dish, and then disappeared again. Butternut squash soup with crème fraiche was followed by a salad of organic baby arugula, scooped watermelon and feta cheese. I liked my roasted Cornish game hen stuffed with California wild rice, mushrooms and almonds, and served with broccoli florets, red cabbage, zucchini, and cranberry sauce. Dark chocolate mousse with port for dessert was simply irresistible.
Next morning, our lavish breakfast was served in the Hermes House kitchen even before we woke up. Hot coffee was quietly bubbling in the coffeemaker.
We happily sat by the window. Suddenly, we noticed a large brown cat crossing a horse paddock behind our house. Something about this cat wasn’t right… Too long legs, too massive neck, large ears with black tufts, short bobbed tail… “Bobcat,” exhaled my photographer husband, and clung to his camera.
Later we learned from a staff member that seeing a bobcat, a coyote, or even a mountain lion at Stonepine is quite possible. Wild animals roam around undisturbed, and in hot weather might drink from a little pond by the waterfall.
We spent a wonderful day walking the trails in the forest, reading on a lawn under oaks, and swimming in the pool surrounded by potted lemon trees. We watched horses being gently walked around racetracks, had a couple’s massage in our house, performed by two skilled masseuses from a nearby spa, who arrived with their folding tables and aromatic oils, and then it was time for our afternoon tea.
We decided to have our five-o’clock at the waterfall pavilion behind the emerald lawn of the chateau’s enormous back yard.
Our attentive server delivered a 3-tiered tray with classic finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and house-made jam, and petit fours. The soothing sound of waterfall was the only noise in the quiet afternoon, filled with sunshine and joy.
In the morning, it was time to say goodbye to a hospitable estate, but not before we had a fluffy stuffed omelet and fresh croissants with a cup of freshly-brewed coffee in the main dining room of the chateau.
I thought about the two other Stonepine vacation packages – Carmel Valley Wine Discovery and the Equestrian Immersion, but I would have to wait for the next big occasion in my life… and they were well-worth the wait…
The owners, who recently introduced these three new packages designed to give travelers a taste of the Carmel Valley estate living, wine country, and equestrian adventure, also launched a program that donates 20% of all room and event proceeds from these packages to charity, and visitors get to choose one of the nine charities supported by the Hentschels.
“Philanthropy is one of our family’s core values and we know that many travelers also want to give back to causes they support, and what easier way to do it while one is traveling. Our children grew up here so not only is Stonepine filled with love of family, but we have poured our hearts and souls into the estate to make it the most unique retreat our visitors have experienced. The introduction of a philanthropic component for our guests is a convenient way for everyone involved to benefit,” stated the Stonepine owners.
Each of the nine charities is 501(c)(3) qualified and can be utilized as a tax deduction: Women and Children in Need: Foundation Against Child Exploitation & Human Trafficking; Migrant Clinicians Network; Catholic Charities Diocese of Monterey; Science and Medicine: National Alliance on Mental Illness; Natividad Medical Foundation; Casa Esperanza and Animal Abuse and Adoption: Training Racehorses Off The Track (TROTT); The SPCA for Monterey County and Mustang Heritage Foundation