Happy Wanderer: At Big Sur, yin and yang balanced


BigSur1Contracostatimes.com: April 17, 2015

My husband’s teeth were clenched like a man facing a tooth extraction. Hours of unwinding in one of California’s most scenic spots — wiped out as we white-knuckled our way up the narrow ribbon of a road.

This is the Big Sur few people see. Highway 1 may be the main attraction, but it’s the back roads that beckon me.

“Breath deeply, honey,” I urged as we hugged the side of the road near the cliff so the motorhome could squeeze by. We were driving to New Camaldoli Hermitage — a monastic mountaintop retreat overlooking the seaside enclave of Lucia. Rooms (meals included) were a steal from $105 a night.

There was no convincing my husband to stay there — too hellish a drive. He much preferred the Glen Oaks, (www.glenoaksbigsur.com) a boutique motel 24 miles south of Carmel. Once a ’50s motor lodge, the updated version had all the Zen he needed on 20-plus acres of forest with cabins and a private swimming hole on the Big Sur River. He could have been perfectly content, just strolling the grounds holding hands. Or not.

“Where are you taking me now?” he winced, only hours after the harrowing drive to the Hermitage — his own personal “road to perdition.” In my effort to find the path less traveled, I was directing him to a ‘locals-only’ beach I’d uncovered. No signs. No tourists.

No way. Turns out lots of folks knew about the ‘unadvertised’ beach down another impossibly narrow 2-mile stretch of road. Pfeiffer State Beach was no secret, but it was worth the drive to see azure blue waters kiss lava sea caves and golden sand beaches. Nowhere on earth does the mountain meet the sea with this kind of splendor.

Last week’s mini vacation — the very first time we had been to Big Sur — was a series of compromises. He got to pick the restaurants (breakfast at Big Sur Bakery, lunch at Big Sur Coast Gallery (built with two reclaimed water tanks from Oak Knoll Naval Hospital) and dinner at the celebrated Roadhouse.) I got to choose the outings (the waterfall that splashes into the sea inside Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the offbeat Henry Miller Library and Nepenthe of Sandpiper movie fame).

And the side trips, which I found exhilarating but my husband found nerve-racking. Call it the yin and the yang if you will. Luckily, there was a Buddha Board next to the bed at Glen Oaks. A little water, a palette and brush were all he needed to locate his lost chi.

Wine walk: April is Down to Earth Month (www.discovercaliforniawines.com) celebrating California’s sustainably-grown wines. There are 42 varietals in the wine regions of Monterey County, and the easiest way to taste is via the Carmel Wine Walk By-The-Sea — just north of Big Sur. Park and stroll to your choice of 14 tasting rooms, including sustainable wineries like Wrath and De Tierra and small family vineyards like Windy Oaks and Caraccioli. Buy a bottle for Big Sur and enjoy.

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