Though it can be overrun in summer, Carmel-by-the-Sea still provides a wonderful escape for much of the year. The pedestrian-friendly central shopping and dining district along Ocean Avenue comprises no more than 10 square blocks; the coastal hamlet atmosphere remains enchanting; and the beach is sublime. The former artists’ colony of Jack London, Ambrose Bierce and Mary Hunter Austin — it was inundated with rootless young aesthetes after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake — still clings strongly to its cultured history, hosting a variety of concerts, performances and openings throughout the year.
L’Auberge Carmel is a fetching stucco-clad inn of 20 guest rooms arrayed around an intimate tile courtyard. The property is located at the western edge of town four blocks from the beach, and was its first apartment building. A local entrepreneur named Allen Knight, who would later become mayor during the 1940s, was inspired by a visit to Prague to commission an Old World Czech-style structure on his family’s property on Monte Verde Street. In 1929, The Carmel Pine Cone noted approvingly of the new Sundial Court that “the architecture is European, probably more Bohemian than of any other national type, and fits in well with Carmel’s general scheme.”
In 2004, a local hospitality partnership headed by David Fink, the former general manager of The Lodge at Pebble Beach, purchased the property and turned it into a full-service luxury inn. Visitors are welcomed with a smile and a glass of wine in a simple but well-appointed reception alcove featuring little more than a fireplace, a love seat, a couple of reading chairs and an honor bar. The rooms are equally snug but felicitous, with dark wood furniture, reading tables, generous tubs, and arresting black-and-white landscape photography. In the late afternoons, after a walk around town, we often found ourselves relaxing outside in the serene vine-clad courtyard with a book and a glass of crisp white wine.
L'Auberge Carmel is precisely the kind of charming small escape that continues to inspire the Hideaway Report.
The property is probably best known for its excellent 12-table restaurant, Aubergine, a relaxing and subdued space managed by Executive Chef Justin Cogley. Featuring inspired pairings of local seafood with seasonal produce, dishes can include Dungeness crab with young coconut, diver scallops with lemon balm, or rib eye with yellow beets and tonka beans. Breakfast is complimentary, and a thoughtfully prepared room service menu features an array of flavorful small dishes including potted eggplant with confit garlic, duck rillette with fermented carrot, and an antipasti plate.
Those desiring lavish golf, spa and pool amenities should look south to Pebble Beach. L’Auberge Carmel is an intimate and distinguished hideaway for couples seeking notable cuisine and proximity to this storied village of just 4,000 permanent residents. And it is precisely the kind of charming small escape that continues to inspire the Hideaway Report.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: Attractive rooms; friendly staff; convenient location just a few blocks from Ocean Avenue and the beach.
DISLIKE: The public areas, with the exception of the delightful courtyard, are rather cramped.
GOOD TO KNOW: Less expensive rooms have views of a parking lot and should definitely be avoided. Most other accommodations overlook the courtyard; those on the third floor provide glimpses of the ocean.
L’Auberge Carmel 91 Deluxe Courtyard King, $550; Premium Courtyard King, $690. Monte Verde Street at Seventh Avenue, Carmel-by-the-Sea. Tel. (831) 624-8578.