Sunday, February 16, 2014

Girls Getaway to Rancho Santa Fe

Part two of my Southern Californian jaunt was at Rancho Valencia in Rancho Santa Fe, the only Relais
& Chateaux property in Southern California. This resort just underwent a $30 million renovation and it shows. Each casita is outfitted with oak flooring, vaulted ceilings and antiqued French limestone bathrooms. I love the spacious counters, vibrant tiles and handcrafted furniture, much of it custom-made in Mexico.

It may sound strange, but perhaps the coolest and most memorable amenity is the Neorest toilet in each casita. Sensors in the bathroom recognize when you enter and the lid automatically lifts. The seats are heated and an automated bidet is built into the toilet, with multiple cleaning and drying settings. It might seem a little too high-tech at first, but the buttons are really easy to navigate.

We had our own Jacuzzi and two fireplaces, one indoor and one outdoor. Turn down service brought robes, slippers and chocolate caramels from a local chocolatier. The same chocolatier makes the fleur de sel caramels served as mignardise at the end of dinner at Veladora, the more formal restaurant at Rancho. While outdoor dining is available (and you can see so many stars!), it was quite chilly in the evening so we opted to dine in the plush booths beside the fireplace. Veladora means “candle” in Spanish, and there is plenty of candlelight here. A Damien Hirst collage of real butterflies splashes a kaleidoscope of greens, blues, oranges and yellows across the back wall. This color palette inspired much of the design throughout the resort.

The main building, or clubhouse, hosts a reception area with a spacious courtyard and fireplace with the same Spanish Revival themes of vibrant tiles and rustic wood seen throughout the resort. During the big renovation, the whitewashed finish was removed to create a warmer dining experience in Veladora. The clubhouse is home to both Veladora and The Pony Room, a more casual restaurant serving food from the same kitchen along with excellent cocktails. Both restaurants serve delicious California coastal fare, utilizing incredibly fresh and flavorful produce and seafood.  

Breakfast is maybe my favorite meal at Veladora. Definitely try the acai bowl with granola, bananas, bee pollen and shredded coconut if you’re looking for a light and sweet start to your day.

Definitely book a spa appointment for all the ladies. I chose the balancing blue lotus facial for its healing properties using algae, bamboo, lotus and other plants. After cleansing, exfoliation and extractions, I had two masks applied to my face, for purifying and hydrating my skin.
After my treatment, I opened my eyes to see the sun streaming into the room and took an energizing outdoor shower while basking in the sun, then rehydrated with lemon-infused water and a green juice of apples, kale and celery that’s also available at Veladora.

Another fun aspect of Rancho Valencia is the prevalence of fitness classes. From yoga and pilates to
spin and tennis classes, there’s something for everyone. It’s so much fun to take classes with friends, whether you’re looking to sweat or just stretch with hatha yoga. The new yoga pavilion has retractable doors set in the middle of a tranquility pond so it appears to be floating. I enjoyed a vinyasa yoga and ballet sculpt class here, the latter of white left my glutes and quads sore for days! I was especially impressed that small group classes are available with the pilates reformer at no additional charge, which is very rare. There are only four reformers, so these fill up quickly, but it can be a fun way to do pilates with a girlfriend.

Don’t miss tennis either. Whether you’re an old pro or brand new, there are plenty of courts to practice on and Tennis Magazine has ranked Rancho Valencia the number one tennis resort in the country for several years. You can even get a private lesson with a pro, and I guarantee you’ll see immense improvements in your game if you do! I hadn’t played tennis in nearly six years but Eduardo helped work on my ground strokes and taught me a side spin serve that I will definitely practice when I get home. If you’re celebrating a special occasion or treating yourself for a “just because” girlfriend getaway, this resort is worth every penny. Surrounding yourself with the beauty of nature and relax or exercise as much as you want. Everything you could possibly need is right at your fingertips and it’s hard to leave the resort, although we did venture out to Del Mar to run into the Pacific Ocean.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago. To find out more about Amber, 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Girls Getaway to Carlsbad

January is not the most pleasant time of year to be in Chicago. Particularly after the -38 wind chills of “Chiberia.” So I was thrilled to escape to sunny Southern California for a four-day getaway.

After a smooth flight to San Diego, I headed north to Carlsbad, a leisurely 30-mile drive from the airport. Carlsbad is a sleepy beach town known for being home to the Gemological Institute of America and golfers may recognize the name since both Callaway and Titleist have fitting and testing centers here. I wasn’t here to golf or hunt for gems though, but to soak up the sun and relax at the Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront.

Unlike the majority of hotels in Carlsbad, which are located east of the freeway and tucked into the hills, the Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront lives up to its name with incredible ocean views. The resort is right across the street from a pristine beach of smooth sand, even smoother pebbles and the Pacific Ocean. Sixty percent of rooms have a view of the ocean and I was surprised by how different the hotel was from what I expected of a Hilton property. The design is clean and bright; stone, wood and glass to evoke the ocean and bring the outside natural elements inside. I especially love the fun bubble wall behind the front desk in the lobby.

Meet friends old and new for a drink at the firepits around the pool. You can watch the sunset like we did before heading to dinner at Chandler’s. I loved that it was warm enough to sit outside while enjoying porcini-dusted scallops with fingerling potatoes, spinach and pomegranate and Arctic char with red quinoa, asparagus, leeks and chestnuts. I’m a more adventurous eater, but there were many thoughtfully prepared options on the menu to satisfy every taste. One of the most impressive aspects of the Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront is that it manages to successfully cater to so many types of people, from families, to couples, to corporate events, and most importantly – a girlfriend getaway!

A fresh and light breakfast (I recommend Chandler’s honey-whipped Greek yogurt parfait with fresh berries and housemade pumpkin seed and cashew granola), followed by a walk along the beach, and it was time for the spa. I had a chance to experience a Lomi Lomi massage for the first time at Ocean Crest Spa, and had no idea what to expect from this Hawaiian-style treatment. Amy, my masseuse, was wonderful and I actually felt taller when I got up from the table. It felt like she was actually elongating my spine and limbs with her long, gentle strokes.

Skincare products are all eco-friendly brands including vegan sea products with many different types of algae from Osea Malibu and Organic Male for the gentlemen. The Ocean Crest Spa even has its own line of lotions, candles and body scrubs created by Los Angeles-based Tasha & Co. Organics. My absolute favorite scent is the grapefruit and white tea – incredibly fresh and reinvigorating. My experience at Ocean Crest was as luxurious and relaxing as at spas that are twice the price.
Overall, the Hilton Carlsbad is a wonderful value, delivering five-star service and unbeatable views at an affordable price. Rooms start at $199 a night and if you’re looking to escape, this is about as idyllic as it gets. I can’t imagine leaving here feeling anything but happy, sun-kissed and calm.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago. To find out more about Amber, 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Spectacular Singles Getaways

Looking to celebrate your singleness with a getaway?  Check out this Daytime TV Show
travel segment for some great destinations for the solo traveler!