Travel Writer & Author

Month: March 2016

Allegretto Vineyard Resort

Earlier this February, I took a road trip on Highway 1 Discovery Route, through San Luis Obispo County, a 100-mile stretch of topographically stunning, coastal California, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. From Los Angeles, I drove north as far as San Simeon, where I revisited the wondrous Hearst Castle; en route back, I spent six nights discovering a myriad of tasting rooms for which most of the vintners grow or source grapes from vineyards in nearby Paso Robles.

I extended my stay to visit Paso Robles and spent two nights at the Allegretto Vineyard Resort by Ayres, which had just opened in late 2015. Douglas Ayres, its visionary owner, fell in love with the rolling ranches in Paso Robles and decided to build a Tuscan-style inn here. The villa — complete with hundreds of antiques, a chapel, Mediterranean-style gardens, a bocce court and vineyard — sits on a 20-acre site near Route 101, just a few minutes from downtown Paso.

From the portico, I entered a soaring lobby where a huge glass chandelier changes color and the fireplace warms the seating area. The wide galley is lined with paintings by Russian Impressionists and landscapes by local artists, statuary and sculptures, antiques from India and family photographs. It leads to the central courtyard, an intrinsic part of the villa lifestyle, which can also be reached from the small, non-denominational, French-inspired Abbey through a Romeo and Juliet Tunnel, scaled to accommodate a horse and rider (or small carriage). There’s even a fountain and a double staircase, ideal for a bride and groom. Inside, there are small private dining rooms and boardrooms, plus a trio of meeting rooms that expand to a ballroom.

Allegretto Resort


Off the lobby, Cello dining room serves freshly foraged and locally sourced, Italian-inspired fare prepared by Chef Eric Olson, formerly of Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, and local wines including at least one made by Allegretto. The restaurant opens to an open-air, covered terrace on one side of the portico, while the spa opens to a private outdoor lounge on the other. The six-treatment room spa offers a tiny boutique, a lounge, wide corridors, high ceilings, a sauna and a couple’s suite. I received my Caudalie vinotherapy facial from Ashley, the aesthetician with a golden touch.

There are 171 accommodations in the mostly two-story structure, of which mine was a large, ground-floor room with 14-foot ceilings. The entryway held an armoire closet (with safe) and a piece housing a fridge and Keurig coffee pot. Farther inside the room included a king-sized bed, a sitting area with a couch and desk and French doors leading out to a terrace abutting the central courtyard. In the bathroom were a large glass shower (the 16 suites have bath tubs), double sinks, a monogrammed black washcloth for makeup removal and the perfect makeup light.

The resort is a 30-mile drive across Route 46 from Cambria on the coast, a beautiful drive that cuts through the hillsides and is worth it for those accustomed to a touch of luxury, even while visiting wine country.

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The Belvedere Review

The Belvedere, the fine-dining restaurant at the Forbes Five-Star Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, reopened Jan. 19 after a fall closure, during which the dining room and adjacent patio were renovated. I lunched there again, just two weeks after its debut, and recalled memorable family celebrations and an al fresco lunch once at which I was invited to become the spokesperson for Contadina Pasta Ready.The Belvedere

Upon entering — and it’s an easy, short walk from the valet drop-off — I noticed a lighter, brighter, more contemporary and less formal French country look, complete with white oak floors in a geometric pattern and well-spaced tables dressed in white linen over traditional blue and white Toile de Jouy skirts. The color scheme continues in the floral arrangements and the leathertopped seats, both on the whitewashed wooden Provençal armchairs and the curved banquettes. Seat backs are an oversized check on the armchairs and plush, tufted blue velvet on the banquettes.

Remarkable contemporary art on the white walls adds to the color spectrum and creates the feeling of dining in a collectors’ spacious home. Two commissioned works at the entry are by contemporary French painter Fabienne Verdier; each a spectacular polyptych —Linescape I and Linescape II (2015) has nine panels. Among the 11 works are paintings by Josef Albers, Nancy Graves, Robert Indiana, Yayoi Kusam, Tsuyoshi Maekawa and Sean Scully. At one point during our meal, I recognized a major music industry name, who stopped near our table to admire the Alex Katz painting, Anniversary, which captures a couple in a special moment in time.

The BelvedereDuring the four-month construction period, David Codney, the executive chef since 2013, revamped the decidedly Mediterranean-inspired menu, which incorporates seasonal and local ingredients he sources from The Peninsula’s rooftop garden and from his favorite fishmonger.

Our shared lunch for two started with a taramasalata, the popular Greek dip made with fish roe, olive oil and lemon juice. An entire branzino filet followed; it tastes as simply perfect as if it were just grilled outdoors on a stony, Mediterranean beach. This was followed by a tagine, in an exquisite pottery vessel filled with grass-fed lamb, raisin-studded couscous, cumin-flavored yogurt and an array of carrot preparations, including a purée. Dessert featured a Fabergé chocolate egg within which, the surprise — though sadly not a pearl- and diamond-crusted miniature — is a smooth chestnut mousse topped with black cherries and dark chocolate.

With 50 wines by the glass and an amazing list of cocktails prepared in the bar within the new kitchen, dining at The Belvedere brings a new and exciting experience to the established signature restaurant.

The Belvedere

The Peninsula Beverly Hills
9882 S. Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

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