Risk vs. reward: Traveling is different now, but can be worth it
Throwing open the French doors of my guest room at Bernardus Lodge & Spa in Carmel Valley, California, and mid-sip from a glass of the resort’s eponymous Sauvignon Blanc, I ruminated on the risks and rewards of travel during this unsettling time.
I was distracted for a moment, not only by the crisp and expressive Monterey County wine in my hand, but by a rabbit hopping among the lavender blooms just a few feet away. I rather envied this cotton-tailed cutie who appeared blissfully unaware of the travails of life during a pandemic.
This Forbes-rated, four-star open luxury resort was just three hours from my home in Napa Valley, for which I was grateful, as driving seems the safest option for a travel adventure now. With my four-legged travel companion, Freddie, in tow, and my next-door neighbor, Tara — the two closest connections I’ve had for the past several months — we hit the road, giddy at the prospect of a change of scenery.
Arriving at Bernardus, we were greeted by a masked bellman who explained where to park, since there would be no valet service on this visit. We were offered and accepted, however, assistance with our luggage. Check-in was swift, with a plexiglass partition at the front desk, social distancing in place and a reminder about mandatory mask-wearing on the property. All signed in, I availed myself a dollop of hand sanitizer from the bottle I spotted in front of me, available for guest use.
This resort has remained open for business throughout the pandemic, which means they’ve had plenty of time to adhere and adjust to California’s health guidelines for guests. The lodge, in fact, was almost fully booked while I was there. Yet, there’s plentiful open space on the property for guests to stroll, including an exquisite rose garden within which raised beds of organic produce are grown exclusively for use by Executive Chef Cal Stamenov and his sensory-stoking culinary offerings.
Everywhere I turn, lavender is in aromatic bloom, even between the purplish artichokes stretched skyward from Cal’s garden. Notably, the rose garden is strategically sited so as to frame the view of Bernardus’ estate vineyards, with its backdrop of the Santa Lucia Mountains.
Reservations are required for outdoor seating at the resort’s Lucia Restaurant & Bar, and diners share a single-use paper menu at every meal.
Tara and I feel almost mischievous as we remove our face masks in order to eat, yet we were also conscious of the increased risk to the waitstaff. We accepted a pour of the sparkling rosé we brought in celebration of our outing and gleefully toasted to a dinner we did not have to cook ourselves.
Only one thing could have made the experience feel more decadent — to be seated at the Chef’s Table within the kitchen where the walls are adorned with scratched signatures of various celebrities, including culinary great and native Californian Julia Child. That experience is not being offered until post-pandemic.
Honestly, it has been so long since I’ve been in a restaurant that I’d almost forgotten how much pleasure there is in dining out.
After that, I was primed for a hot, detoxifying salt bath in the luxuriously deep soaking tub in my room, followed by a nightcap while seated next to the in-room fireplace. Minutes later, I fell into a trance-like sleep.
The next day, Tara, Freddie and I got back in the car for a drive into the nearby village of Carmel. There, a full mile of artisan shops and more than 20 tasting rooms beckoned. But wait, many of those rooms were not open, thanks to COVID-19. So, our plan switched to a walk on the beach at Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Yikes! The temperature by the ocean was at least 20 degrees cooler than the valley, bringing on the shivers, so we hiked back uphill, donned our masks and power-shopped for a while. We grabbed a snack at an outdoor courtyard restaurant before retreating back to our secluded deck at the Lodge. That evening, takeout pizza from Lucia Restaurant seemed like the ideal solution for supper. We scarfed it down while polishing off the last of the Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc.
How did it feel to travel, sleep, shop and eat in the age of COVID-19? Truth be told, the adventure satiated my need to get out and feel normal, and I was grateful for the opportunity to do it, especially at such a lovely spot as Bernardus, but I could not shake a deep awareness of being “on guard,” never forgetting all of the extreme precautions that I — and others employed in the hospitality industry — took to make it happen. Odd and eerie at times? Yes. But worth it? Absolutely.
Charlene Peters travels the world to discover culinary dishes and worthy wines to share with readers. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.