January 13, 2013

Weddings at Carmel Valley Ranch

Last November, I had the good fortune of spending two and a half days at the luxurious Carmel Valley Ranch by the coast through a Wedding FAM trip.

This was a venue that I've heard about through the years, and seen photos of, but never had the opportunity to set foot on their 500 acres property.

It was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G in every way. When I go on these FAM tours, I don't just soak in all the fun and pampering. I also experience it as a client would....seeing things through the eyes of a bride, groom, and their guests, and observing closely the level of hospitality and service that's present throughout the venue. The team at Carmel Valley Ranch nailed it.

From the moment I stepped into the lobby, I was greeted by name, and whisked through a completely effortless check in process. I love the absence of traditional "front desks" at this property; it just makes the whole check in/out process that much more personable. Zero lines, friendly faces, expedited service. Oh, and cute resident dog just makes it that much welcoming. :)

Let me start with the suite that welcomed me. It was one of their 800 sq ft Ranch Suites, with a separate living room, a spacious deck that overlooks a part of the valley, an expansive bathroom that can fit about 20 people, and a beautiful fireplace inside the bedroom. It was hard to believe that I'd be staying in there by myself, but I sure did make myself at home rather quickly.

The little details count a lot when it comes to hospitality. Inside my suite was a bottle of Figge Pinot Noir, a cheese platter, and a snack basket, all compliments of the fabulous catering team at Carmel Valley Ranch. They knew we were all driving in from different areas and arriving at different times, so they were thoughtful enough to leave those amenities in our suites in case we arrived hungry. Now that's going the extra mile to enhance the overall experience.

We enjoyed a more casual Meet and Greet supper in their restaurant lounge area the first evening. It was wonderful to reconnect with my Wedding Planner friends, and to get acquainted with the Carmel Valley Ranch team. We were a small group this time, which made it that much more intimate and warm.

Day 2 began with a sumptuous breakfast of pastries, fruit, a ginormous and tasty omelet, and hash browns. Luckily, touring a 500 acres property required a lot of walking, so we had quite a bit of exercise following the breakfast. Rachel Schanding, Catering Manger of Carmel Valley Ranch, led the way as we went through various parts of the property that were feasible for weddings and events.

The entire property is extremely lush and picturesque, with sweeping views of the valley and vineyards. One can only imagine the possibilities of a beautiful wedding weekend there. I especially love the old-school tree swings that are spread throughout the resort, in line with their "playfulness" motto at Carmel Valley Ranch.

Their Clubhouse, with its vaulted ceilings, is one of their few indoor sites for events. Adjacent to it is their Valley Lawn, boasting glorious, panoramic views of the valley. There are working plans in place for some slight renovation to this part of the property, and we were lucky enough to see the renderings for them during our site inspection.

GM Dan Korn explaining the renderings to us

As we continued to explore the 500 acres of land, it became more and more apparent to us the vision behind Carmel Valley Ranch.....their encouragement of playtime as a method of kindred revitalization, their farm-to-table approach in their culinary experience, as well as their embracement of all that nature has to offer.

CVR's own Salt House on property

CVR's own organic garden where they grow much of their own produce
CVR's Executive Chef Tim Wood shared his culinary vision with us over delicious hors d'oeurves and wine

CVR's resident gardener speaking to us about the phenomenal organic garden on site
Later in the afternoon, we got to partake in CVR's famous Bee Experience. It began with a wealth of facts on bees and lavenders from their resident Bee Expert, John Russo. We were all in awe at the vast amount of knowledge John had on bees, and the passion that came through his voice as he taught us as much as he could about his favorite flying insect.

It was truly fascinating, and shortly after that, we were suited up and ready to see, touch, and feel the bee hives!

I would highly, highly recommend this activity for anyone who plans a visit to Carmel Valley Ranch. They offer this to adults, and children that are 4 or older. Though it was a bit nerve wrecking for a few of us, we were able to overcome our fears and have a whole new appreciation for bees!

We had a few hours of free time after the Bee Experience. Some of us had spa appointments while others hiked, napped, or simply had out feet up by the fireplace in our suites. It was the perfect way to get us to relax before dinner that evening, where more amazing experiences awaited us...

Dinner that night was held in the Oak Room, where Chef Tim utilized the Adventure Kitchen in there to entertain us a bit beforehand. While sipping wine and tasting caviar, we learned how to make butternut squash soup from Chef Tim himself! We also got great culinary tips on cutting techniques, healthy ingredient options, and more!

Our 5 course dinner that evening began with a day boat sea scallops amuse with sweet corn pudding and black truffle. Next, we had an oven roasted heirloom beet salad with olive oil croutons. The third course was a butternut squash ravioli with a frisee apple salad. Our entree was a cooked-to-perfection natural filet of beef with black truffle root vegetable puree and a fall vegetable gratin. Dessert was an organic Santa Cruz apple crisp with house-made lavender ice cream that was to die for. Each course was paired with lovely wine from local wineries to the area, including Figge Winery.

Needless to say, I was falling into a food coma after the last course, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the s'mores stations that were set up on the terrace outside, where the fire pits kept us warm and content for the rest of that wonderful evening.

Just when we thought the team at CVR couldn't pull any more stops out to make this perfect day even more perfect, we were greeted with these lovely baskets of goodies when we went back to our suites that night...

Such thoughtful gestures are really indicative of the level of hospitality at a resort. Carmel Valley Ranch is one of those places that truly goes the extra mile for any guest that steps foot on their property. They truly want every part of your experience to be memorable in the most thoughtful ways!

I slept incredibly well on both nights, with the fireplace set to turn off after I fell asleep.

On my last day there, I had a massage appointment at their Spa Aiyana. Like the absence of a conventional "hotel front desk", the spa greeting process was different as well. I was instructed to wait in their gift shop, and was greeted by one of their spa attendants who personally walked me over to the spa. Once we stepped foot inside, she gave me a tour, and then left me to change into their super comfy robe and slippers. After I stepped outside the changing room, another spa attendant was waiting to greet me with a warm neck wrap which felt soooooo ridiculously good at that moment. I then snacked on dried apricots and warm tea while waiting for my masseuse to get me in the waiting room.

The massage itself was very nice, and in lieu of the water glass that your masseuse usually holds in his/her hand afterwards, I was greeted with a red velvet cupcake! :) Little surprises like that are very delightful indeed.

I seriously didn't want to leave, but alas, my family (and about 200 emails) were waiting for me back home. I'm eager and excited for the possibilities to work at this beautiful property in 2013, and urge all couples looking for a lush, scenic, and charming wedding venue to check them out!

Thank you so much to Dan, Brian, Colleen, Rachel, Chef Tim, and the rest of the fun and fabulous team at Carmel Valley Ranch for this unforgettable experience! Also, special thanks to Mike Steelman for the awesome photos (the ones above that have his watermark)!

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