Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In the Gardens at Eden Vale Inn: Modern Luxury in a Beautifully Restored Old Barn

The Live Oak Room's private outdoor soaking tub at Eden Vale Inn

With a press of the “romance” button in my room, the lights dim to a warm glow and the gas fireplace blazes to life. When I press the “reading” button, and a tiny spotlight illuminates the pages of the book in my lap. With the press of another button, the private outdoor soaking tub for two begins filling with warm water and automatically shuts off a few inches from the rim. The high-tech features are an alluring luxury for a century-old hay barn.

Live Oak Room at Eden Vale Inn
I grab a robe and step outside to slip into the steamy water of the soaking tub. I roll back the wood-slatted privacy shade to enjoy the view of the tranquil gardens and watch birds flit between the branches of the trees.

Fireplace at Eden Vale Inn
Eden Vale Inn is a verdant sanctuary nestled in the straw-colored hills between Coloma and Placerville in California’s Gold Country. Mark and Gayle Hamlin bought the barn and the surrounding 10 acres in 1985. Old photos from that time show a weathered structure with a rusted corrugated metal roof standing amid a dry, rocky landscape. Built in 1919 for a pioneer family’s dairy farm and then abandoned in the 1940s, the barn and the land had lain vacant for over 40 years.

Hammock near the grape arbor at Eden Vale Inn
Captivated by the barn’s spacious interior and the rough-sawn beams cut from old-growth forests, the Hamlins converted the barn into a warm and inviting home. They built a stone fireplace that rises 27 feet from the floor to the timber-framed cathedral ceiling. The slate rock for the fireplace was hand-picked from a local quarry and weighs about 40 tons. The block and tackle that was once used to lower hay from the second floor loft hangs near the top.

The barn now serves as the main building of the bed and breakfast inn, which the Hamlins opened in 2009. The inn’s seven luxurious guest rooms blend ultra-modern features with rustic touches and feature outdoor soaking tubs, gas fireplaces, and spa-like private baths.

Firepit at Eden Vale Inn
Outside, the Hamlins transformed several acres of land surrounding the barn into a lush paradise, planting trees, shrubs, vines, and grasses that have grown over the years into a beautiful three-dimensional tapestry of color and texture. The gardens attract over 50 different types of birds, whose chirps blend harmoniously with the bubbling fountains and tinkling wind chimes. I wander the footpaths through the gardens to find endless curiosities, including a collection of antique bird cages and bowling balls perched atop wooden posts.

Swimming pond and rowboat at Eden Vale Inn
Of the latter, Gayle explains they are the poor man’s version of Italian columns. She started collecting bowling balls from thrift stores for the garden and ended up buying every used ball in El Dorado County. Her mom, who lives in Las Vegas, continues bring Gayle more bowling balls when she visits.

I climb into a hammock near the grape arbor to watch the sunset beyond the hills and the row of bowling ball columns. I note with amusement at how the columns’ silhouettes take on a more regal appearance against the setting sun.

Vegetable frittata with sausage and sweet potatoes
After the skies have grown dark, I wander over to the metal fire pit near the pond and sink down into one of the Adirondack chairs to gaze up at the stars. A newlywed couple from San Francisco joins me around the fire and Mark delivers a basket of fixings for s’mores. The couple and I roast our s’mores and stay up talking late into the night.

Early in the morning, I take a walk around the placid pond. A rowboat tied up to a small dock glides idly from side to side. At the far end of the pond, I catch sight of two bucks standing just outside the fence.

Outdoor deck overlooking the gardens at Eden Vale Inn
At breakfast, I find a generous selection of fresh fruits, warm scones, house-made granola, European-style yogurt, fresh-squeezed juices, and coffee and tea. The main entrée that morning is a delicious corn and asparagus frittata with pork sausage and roasted sweet potatoes. I sit on one of the outdoor decks enjoying breakfast while trying to plot my day. I’m torn between wanting to explore Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park and signing up for a rafting trip on the American River. I’m also hoping to wander the shops and art galleries in historic downtown Placerville, check out the Sherwood Demonstration Garden, and stop by a few wineries along the way.

But looking out over the gardens, I’m equally tempted to spend another relaxing day in Eden.

Eden Vale Inn
1780 Springvale Rd.
Placerville, CA 95667

First, fourth, and fifth photos courtesy of Eden Vale Inn. All others by Ranee Ruble-Dotts for CABBI.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A New Boutique Hotel and a New Kind of Gold Rush in Plymouth, California

One of the guest rooms at the newest hotel in Plymouth, California: Rest, a Boutique Hotel
Founded during the Gold Rush and set amid the graceful rolling hills of Amador County, the rough-and-ready town of Plymouth seems poised to welcome a new rush of well-heeled visitors. In the last 20 years, the number of local wineries have flourished from a dozen to over 40. In the last decade, new shops and restaurants have popped up along Plymouth’s Main Street and have begun to smooth the town’s ragged edges. And just last year, a new boutique hotel opened and has already begun drawing guests from around the world.

The city park in Plymouth
I rolled into the sleepy town of Plymouth last September and immediately stumbled across the Amador Vintage Market. Owned by caterer Beth Sogaard, the tantalizing shop features a mouthwatering selection of fresh sandwiches, salads, charcuterie, artisan cheeses, desserts, and wines. It’s the perfect place to grab fare for a wine country picnic. I picked up a scoop of gelato to wander through town. Next door, at the city park with a charming gazebo, vendors were starting to set up for the weekly Amador Farmers Market. The newly-opened Prospect Cellars was pouring wines in what had originally been the town’s old post office. Across from the market, the kitchen staff were prepping for dinner at Taste, a restaurant that Wine Enthusiast Magazine named one of the Top 100 wine restaurants in America. Two doors down, I checked-in to Plymouth’s newest and swankiest hotel, which just opened in February 2016.

Rest, A Boutique Hotel
A corridor at Rest, a Boutique Hotel
The 16-room Rest, a Boutique Hotel, blends elements of the town’s heritage and tongue-in-cheek humor with the contemporary furnishings and amenities you would expect to find at a luxury hotel. The owners, Tracey and Mark Berkner (who also own Taste), renovated two rundown apartment buildings to create the hotel. They salvaged some of the original, first-growth timbers from the buildings and repurposed them as sliding barn doors for the lobby office. The lobby’s breakfast bar was made from old doors. The boards that hang above the bar were part of the building’s original siding and feature faint scrawls of graffiti written in cursive, with pencil. The light-filled lobby also features vaulted ceilings, beautiful hardwood floors, a gas fireplace with comfortable seating, and a bank of windows along the far south wall. The computer at the check-in desk is comically hidden inside a vintage suitcase atop a rolling cart filled with other vintage suitcases. Stepping in from the street, the resulting hotel and its gracious hospitality is an unexpected delight.

Double queen guestroom at Rest, a Boutique Hotel
The sweet desk clerk showed me to my room, passing along the windowed corridors overlooking an inviting courtyard. My room was a double queen on the second floor. Sunlight was pouring in through the plantation shutters. An elephant expertly folded from a towel greeted me from one of the beds. The spacious room offered a desk and a seating area and was decorated in soothing shades of sage, cream, and khaki with hints of pale blue and burnt orange. The elevated beds were triple-sheeted with luxurious white linens and incredibly comfortable.

Seating area for the double queen room
The room held a number of thoughtful amenities for a wine country getaway: complimentary water, a wine opener and wine glasses, plates, napkins, and utensils, and a small refrigerator with an honor bar. The room also featured a large screen smart TV, complimentary Wi-Fi, in-room coffee and tea service, an iron and ironing board, and plush robes. The bath, with its polished granite and glass tiled-shower, was hidden behind a frosted glass door. The control knob for the shower was thoughtfully designed to be outside of the spray of the shower head.

Rest serves wine and hors d'oeuvres each evening from 5 to 6 p.m. The night I was there, the staff was pouring two wines local wines—a rosé and a red blend—made by Taste’s sommelier Thomas Allen under his label, Fate Wines. The wines were good, but the hors d'oeuvres—courtesy of Taste—were divine. Any description I could write about the smoked duck with figs or the crostini with eggplant and tomato would fail to describe how amazing they truly were.

Second floor landing at Rest, a Boutique Hotel
I could hear the strains of live music coming from the farmers market. I grabbed one last crostini and headed down the street, where the market was in full swing. One vendor was making pizzas in a portable wood-fired oven. Others were selling vegetables and sampling wine. The market was packed with locals sharing tales of the wine harvest season.

I had a dinner reservation at Taste that I didn’t want to miss, so I left the market for the restaurant across the street. Like the hotel, stepping into the restaurant from the street is a bit like stepping into an alternate universe. It’s an unexpectedly sophisticated urban bistro in a humble western town. The space features warm-hued walls, warm lighting, white table cloths, wood-plank floors, and a long wooden bar stretching across one wall. The service was impeccable. The restaurant’s award-winning wine list showcases many local producers as well as an impressive collection of domestic and international wines.

The menu offerings were impossible to choose from so I opted for mix of small plates starting with a fig, melon, and prosciutto salad with fresh basil, balsamic vinegar and wildflower honey. The late summer flavors lightly drizzled with the emulsified vinegar and honey were a superb combination. I also had the incredibly delicious Mushroom Cigars, which resemble egg rolls, but are made of phyllo dough stuffed with cremini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms, fresh herbs, and goat cheese. I rounded out the dinner with pan-seared gnocchi with Sun Gold tomatoes, braised lamb, feta, and shaved zucchini.

The outdoor patio at Rest, a Boutique Hotel
Walking back to the hotel after dinner, I found a plate of cookies on the bar in the lobby with a hand-written note that read, “Cookies made with butter and love.” Miles from home and my family, I was touched by the note-writer’s kindness. I poured myself a cup of tea, took a cookie out to the hotel’s rear patio—which glowed with string lights—and called my husband.

The hotel serves a continental breakfast in the lobby from 7 - 10 a.m. each morning. I had been trying to catch up on work in my room that morning, so I hastily ran downstairs to grab breakfast, which turned out to be a much larger spread than I anticipated. The woman busing the tray of empty plates and coffee mugs greeted me with a deep-felt warmth that stunned me. My immediate thought was this: this woman should be training people to work in hospitality, not busing dishes. She must have read the question on my face because she introduced herself as Tracey, the owner I had not yet met. She and her husband have formidable résumés in the food and hospitality industry and a tireless work ethic.

All of this was starting to fall into place.

Breakfast at Rest, a Boutique Hotel
Tracey proceeded to show me the breakfast bar, which included a delicious assortment of pastries, homemade granola, yogurt, fresh fruits, juices, and more. She gently urged me to take a plate and enjoy breakfast in the courtyard. She spoke with such a calming effect that she made my concerns about my work dissipate like wisps of fog on a sunny day. I did exactly as she told me: I filled a plate and took it out to the courtyard, where I sat beside a collection of potted plants and a trickling fountain.

Courtyard at Rest, a Boutique Hotel
A few minutes later, I was joined by two men who were raving about the breakfast. They were from Sweden and had been traveling in the U.S. for a couple of weeks. They told me that this was the best breakfast they had had on their entire trip.

I asked them where else have they had been. They rattled off their list: Walla Walla in Washington, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Napa and Sonoma, and now here, in Amador County.

“For pleasure?” I asked, wondering how they had ever discovered Plymouth and Amador County among much better-known wine producing regions.

“No, business, actually,” one of the men said. They explained they were wine buyers for European markets.

And so it seems Plymouth and Amador County is not likely to remain little-known for long. A new kind of gold rush is on the horizon. Make your reservations now.

Rest, a Boutique Hotel
9372 Main Street
Plymouth, CA 95669

Second to last photo Courtesy of Rest, A Boutique Hotel. All others by Ranee Ruble-Dotts for CABBI.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Private, Romantic Escape on the Quiet Side of the Mendocino Peninsula

Mendocino Headlands State Park is located just steps from Mendocino Seaside Cottage
On the quiet northern side of the Mendocino peninsula, Mel Lockey leads me on a walk along the trails in Mendocino Headlands State Park, which is located just across the road from his inn. An expanse of blue sea blurs into the wisps of fog drifting toward the shore. Waves churn and crash into the rocky cliffs below the grass-lined foot path. We walk into a thicket of windswept cypress trees which, in turn, opens into a natural amphitheater encircled by the trees. They frame a dramatic view of the headlands and the vast ocean stretching beyond. Fading rose petals are strewn along the ground, vestiges of a recent wedding.

Mendocino Seaside Cottage
Mel and his wife, Lindalee, were married at this spot 35 years ago on Valentine’s Day. For 42 years, they celebrated the anniversary of their first date at the same restaurant every year. “My wife and I were true romantics,” said Mel.

Special Occasion Suite at Mendocino Seaside Cottage
They bought Mendocino Seaside Cottage in the 1980s and created a private, romantic escape for couples. The heart-shaped sign at the entrance to the inn provides a hint of the romance inside. Beneath a canopy of eucalyptus and cypress trees, guests are welcomed by a beautiful, sun-dappled garden. The inn is a contemporary Victorian in its design with bay windows overlooking the headlands and the ocean. Each of the five spacious suites have private entrances, private decks and balconies with sweeping ocean views, king-size beds, and gas fireplaces. All but one of the rooms have Jacuzzi tubs for two; the Penthouse Suite also has a steam shower with dual showerheads. In the Tropical Cottage, the Jacuzzi tub is set in front of a glowing gas fireplace. The only room without a Jacuzzi tub, Vista View, has possibly the best view of the headlands.

Tropical Cottage at Mendocino Seaside Cottage
There are spotting scopes in each of the rooms for whale watching and bird watching. Built-in entertainment centers offer televisions, stereos, and DVD players hidden behind the cabinets. Free wireless internet is also included.

Jacuzzi tub for two beside the fireplace in Tropical Cottage
Unlike the many B&Bs in Mendocino, the Mendocino Seaside Cottage does not serve breakfast (a choice in keeping with the owner’s desire to create a private hideaway) but village cafes and restaurants are a just short stroll away. Plus, all of the rooms are equipped with full kitchens or wet bars with microwaves and refrigerators, and cozy dining spots with ocean views. So there’s always the option of checking in and never leaving the room. The light-filled dining alcove of the Penthouse Suite, for example, is a place I could easily spend hours gazing out of the wrap-around bay windows with their panoramic views of the ocean and Point Cabrillo Lighthouse.

On our hike, Mel leads me along a trail atop a narrow strip of land jutting out into the ocean, where we can look back at the coves filled with swirling turquoise blue water. “It was our dream, working together,” says Mel.

Honeymoon Suite at Mendocino Seaside Cottage
But after 33 years of marriage and decades of owning the inn together, Mel lost his wife to illness. On what would have been their 43rd "first date" anniversary, Mel returned to the restaurant where they had celebrated all of their previous anniversaries alone. He ordered a martini for himself and a Manhattan for his wife. It was the drink she had always ordered. “I drank both,” he tells me.

He gazes out at the beauty of the Mendocino headlands and says, “I feel her here. I would have lived in a trailer park had it not been for her.”

View from one of the private decks
The special romance between Mel and his wife live on in the seaside escape they created together and continue to share with others.

Mendocino Seaside Cottage
10940 Lansing Street
Mendocino, CA 94560
707-485-0239 or 800-944-3278