Ventana - An Enchanting Resort in BIg Sur

Summary: I love Ventana. I highly recommend visiting  and exploring the landscape at Lime Kiln and Andrew Molera State Park which I've blogged about here. Please note this is #notsponsored . Yes, that means we paid our own bill! Lots of details in the following review. including a Post Ranch vs Ventana comparison. 
Can you tell there's something exciting beyond this beautiful gate?
There's something special about Big Sur, a magic in the light, the presence of the Pacific, the cliffs, beaches, redwood forests and the murmur of the surf. It's one of my favorite places in California. I couldn't think of anywhere else I wanted to be to celebrate turning fifty, because it's a place where there's a sense of nature, space and light and a wide horizon.
We've been to Big Sur many times and for a celebration there are two fantastic hotels vying for your attention. The exclusive, modern and very private, cliff top Post Ranch Inn and on the other side of the road the classic California spa resort Ventana. I've been lucky enough to stay at both over the years and Post Ranch's low key aesthetic has always been my idea of an ideal,  idyllic eco-hideaway. Their clifftop hot basking pools are one of the most beautiful places on earth. In comparison I've always enjoyed the more resorty Ventana, but it was the larger property, the ocean views were at a distance and I'm not sure they made the best of their situation. Well, for several reasons the calculus changed as you  may be able  to see from the images below. 
Post Ranch  which has appeared on lists of the best hotels in the world has always been prohibitive, but now with the proximity of  Silicon Valley, it  is in the realms of insanity. Even the mid-week, mid-winter rates were breathtaking, think over four figures per night and keep counting. I'm not sure how it's justifiable given that the amenities remain the same and the rooms look much as they did fifteen years ago. All these properties are obscenely expensive, but Post Ranch is now in its own stratosphere. In contrast, Ventana has just undergone a transformative, lengthy and extensive refurbishment. So, given this, and the prohibitive cost of Post Ranch, we opted to try Ventana again and I'm so glad that we did.
What a transformation their recent refurbishment has brought, I adored our stay. For those of you who have been before don't worry it hasn't lost any of its old charm but they've updated the place sensitively with luxurious finishes and and a hip modern, organic, craft feel. 
They're reoriented the pool and opened it up to a gorgeous view of the ocean with a tiled hot pool over looking the redwoods. the place is bursting with amenities and it's fun to stay here because there are so many things to try out and to explore. A beautiful raised platform with an open fire overlooking the ocean, innumerable lovely places to sit, a guided morning walk, a path around the property winding through the redwoods and yoga every morning. There's a gym too but that's not something I'd ever thing to use!
The Social House (above and below) hosts daily wine tastings along with small bites and it's also where you'll check in. As you can see it has a relaxed organic modern style. There are plenty of options for sitting and lounging!
Everywhere you look it's beautiful, whether you're looking at the ocean horizon or the forest, the landscaping is fantastic and they've opened the entirely place to the view with a spectacular new terrace and bar at the restaurant. It was glorious to have breakfast looking out over the Pacific and the jagged coastline to the south. 
The views were beautiful  even when you looked away from the ocean!
Incidentally the breakfasts were delicious too. They're expensive so make sure to get a rate that includes them, it makes a big difference! See my tips on booking below, if you book at the right place you'll get a $90 credit daily. Yes, it's eye wateringly expensive but you only turn 50 once, well or maybe a couple of times!!! 
The new L shaped lower pool is stunning and astonishingly in early March it was warm enough to swim. The entire atmosphere of the place is upmarket, luxurious and yet relaxed. 
Besides the main pool is a smaller tiled warming pool that's open at night and overlooks the redwoods (below). It's a beautiful spot and was often empty when we were there midweek. I was in there sometimes multiple times a day! The sense of both the forest and the ocean are one of my  abiding memories of Big Sur. There's a familiar scent to the air here, a fresh combination of ocean, forest and earth that feels particularly reviving. Or maybe it was all the lounging around in hot water that perked me up!
If you're not relaxed enough you could always have a sauna, or a massage...
The clothing optional hot pools (which have been a fixture since the resort opened in 1975) are still there,  though they're now located at the quieter upper pool in the Japanese baths. It's always good have options! It's also worth noting that Ventana is an adults only resort so you won't find any children at the pool.   This is a relaxed adult retreat. 
Here's the upper pool along with plenty of loungers overlooking the view.
Overall the architecture of the place is the same and it fits into the surroundings in a complimentary way as it always has. They haven't expanded the size of the property, essentially they're just making better use of what was already here by updating it, offering breakfast at the restaurant and reorienting the main pool. 
It's as if they've polished the property and in doing so have opening up the entire place. It is far more glamorous than it was previously, it's a laid back rustic California glamour that takes you exactly as you are, which is why it's somewhere I enjoyed. In Big Sur whether you're at Post Ranch or Ventana there's no need to dress up, no matter how expensive your room is or how fancy the cars are in the parking lot. Needless to say our bashed up old biodiesel Golf was one of a kind!
Ventana has a relaxed California glamour but it's also  reminiscent of the best European resorts. The recent rebranding as an Alila hotel brings with it an emphasis on Asian style service and (I hate to use this cliched term) "curated" local experiences including hikes, photographic safaris etc. 
There isn't the exclusive, private ethos of Post Ranch, but there was something equally, and perhaps even more appealing, at the new Ventana. The sense of the natural world is omnipresent and the various amenities make it feel like a fully fledged resort which represents  an added value for someone like me who really makes use of them. There's a conviviality too and I'm looking forward to returning and trying the new spa. I really enjoyed exploring the property, walking  half a mile through the redwoods to breakfast every morning (above) and soaking in the hot tub every evening after our hikes. There are even several walks you can take directly from the property which would be fun to do next time.
The restaurant was great for breakfast and fine for dinner but I'd recommend using their car service to try some of the other local options. I'd recommend the tasting menu at Pacific Edge at Post Ranch for fine dining. If you're looking for something less formal try Deetjens or Nepenthe which are always fun. For something casual the Big Sur Bakery is a favorite. The hotel are happy to drive you anywhere within a five mile radius and they operate small electric buggies around the resort which are always available if you don't fancy the redwood walk to the restaurant. In that regard it's a great place for people with limited mobility. They're also dog friendly which is a big bonus for us as we are always happy to pet other people's furry friends!
There's so much to say about the property that I'm going to tackle the question of which rooms I'd recommend and why in a separate post. One of the things that I like about Ventana is that even their standard rooms are lovely. Let me know if you enjoy the pictures? Even if you're not planning on staying at Ventana I hope it's a fun armchair travel destination!
Incidentally, they have various amazing spots for weddings, one in a redwood grove and one overlooking the ocean. Isn't this spectacular? 
We were there for three days and I can still feel the glow of the place looking back at the pictures. Was the service perfect? Well no, they dropped the ball on my birthday, no acknowledgement in the room, no welcome amenities even after I followed up. Several small things went wrong (not worth going into but it was cumulative) and one morning the manager wouldn't let anyone sit outside on the terrace for breakfast because it had been windier earlier, though by the time we got there it was beautifully sunny and calm. Rather pedantic and not the "we'll make it happen " Alila style I would have expected. The truth is that in this price range your tolerance is  limited and they're an exception that things should run smoothly. However,  it wasn't worth getting bent out of shape about any of it, the staff are generally very good, they had given us a very generous room upgrade and  they did make some effort. I chalked it all up to the fact that they are only recently reopened and I'd hope things would be effortless next time around. 
Conclusion: Overall I was wowed by the renovation and  loved our visit to Big Sur. I certainly hope to go back to Ventana, perhaps for another birthday celebration! Whatever small complaints I've listed, the entire place left me with a sense of calm and well being. Ventana is one of my top hotel picks anywhere, highly recommended as a destination or as a stop off as you go down the coast.
Weather: We had wonderful luck with the weather for the first week of March which was clear and sunny. But Big Sur can be fogged in during the summer which can be disappointing. However, the fog can be both romantic and atmospheric when you're staying at a place with a fireplace in your room and a view out over the redwoods. 
Tip on Booking the Best Rate: You'll need to look around to find the best rate. In generally I recommend booking high-end properties like Ventana through a Virtuoso travel agent to get free breakfasts, upgrades and up to a $100 resort credit. I tend to use because it's easy to book online and when I had a problem at Ashford Castle in Ireland a few years agothey sorted it out effortlessly.  However, this time the best deal was available through Fine Hotels and Resorts, Amex Platinum's in house hotel booking program . They offered three nights for the price of two at Ventana. Their rate was considerably cheaper than anyone else, so make sure to check what they're offering if you have a Platinum card. The other advantage of booking with Amex is that they offer a guarantee 4 pm check out which meant we enjoyed an additional afternoon at the pool.
Other Suggestions: If you're heading to Big Sur and looking for something in  a lower price range  I'd recommend checking out  the charmingly European Deetjens  or yurt camping at Treebone Estates .