Sometimes you discover a place that is so special, it captures your heart. Rancho Valencia, in San Diego is such a place.
It doesn't take long to fall under the spell of Rancho Valencia – the only Relais and Chateaux member in Southern California. Just 30 minutes north of San Diego, the property is tucked away in leafy Rancho Santa Fe – the third most expensive postcode in the USA – surrounded by olive groves, gum trees and orchards.
The first thing we notice when we check in is the friendliness of the staff – they all go above and beyond for the duration of our stay – without being in our faces or clingy. The second is the relaxed and peaceful ambience of the entire property, not counting the well-equipped gym of course. The third is attention to detail, as evidenced everywhere and in everything. No wonder Rancho Valencia attracts celebrities like Gene Wilder, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tiger Woods, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan and Bill Clinton on a regular basis. In fact, Bill Gates is a member of the tennis club here, originally established by Australia's own Ken Rosewall.
We stay in an Agave Suite, one of 49 casitas (suites) on the property. Like kids in a veritable candy store we 'ooh' and 'aah' at the sophisticated, elegant yet welcoming features, ranging from the Toto toilet seat that lifts on approach, is heated and has all kinds of buttons for this and that, to the opulent bathroom with palatial spa bath, the sunken living room with push-button fireplace, impressive bedroom, and our favourite part – a private garden with outdoor fireplace and Jacuzzi. In the mornings we would wake to freshly squeezed orange juice and a newspaper outside our door – one of many thoughtful touches.
Practically everything at Rancho Valencia is custom made, with the quality of everything from the sheets to the glassware to the furniture unquestioned. Even the beds are custom made in Italy by Sterns and Foster and are ridiculously comfortable.
The Spa is top of our list, and as expected, it is out of this world. I choose the Sixth Sense Signature Treatment which is 90 minutes of pure, unadulterated bliss, starting with a bath soak in a beautiful outdoor tub and followed by the best massage I have ever had – and I have had quite a few. He chooses the shorter Bourbon Cowboy plus a bath soak, and waits by the pool for me.
During the next few days we experience one of the treatments for couples, the Golden Set, which comes with Champagne and a fruit platter and all kinds of pampering. Afterwards we chill by the adults-only pool then wander back for more chilling in our private garden. We decide we could get used to this. Another highlight of Rancho Valencia is the incredible food dished up by Chef Eric Bauer. Veladora is the main dining area or you can sit outside in that magnificent courtyard.
The Pony Room, complete with stools with delicate horses hooves at the bottom and the RV brand, is perfect for an afternoon cocktail merging into a delicious dinner and turning into a late night party. We even indulge in a tequila tasting ... no worms in sight and definitely no scorpions.
If we had so desired, we could have ordered absolutely anything off any of the menus and had it in our casita, with the thoughtful touch of delivering the dessert 20 minutes after the main, but the ambience of Veladora and the Pony Room makes that a difficult choice.
Over the next few days we go for a bike ride around the area, have a tennis lesson on one of the 18 courts, do a cooking class with Eric Bauer and think about doing spin classes, morning yoga or playing a round of golf. We could even have taken one of the resort's Porsches for a spin. Instead, we relax in our Garden of Eden, reading in the sun beds, lazing in the Jacuzzi or sitting by the fire, watching hummingbirds flitting about the garden in the dappled San Diego sunshine.
Rancho Valencia is located 25 miles north of San Diego, just 30 minutes drive from the San Diego International Airport.