At Rancho Valencia, the Californian come-as-you-are lifestyle is alive and thriving. Just a few hours in this hacienda will have you feeling suddenly free.
There is neither antique furniture nor gilding of fine gold, no rare books in the library, no butler or maid behind every door, no ceremony honored since the Meiji era to remain prepared for the emperor’s unexpected visit. And yet, despite the apparent simplicity, a few hours at this hacienda are enough to leave you feeling lighter than you did when you entered. Within the large, courteously guarded gates, life is peppered with delightful surprises. Every detail has meaning. Suddenly, for the happy few who are here, life seems simpler, easier. Even the dogs are pampered, with their own menu of special dishes! Drifting over from Los Angeles is music, a happy hymn from the musical film La La Land, “Another Day of Sun.”
The estate was founded in 1989 in an orange grove, then taken over in 2012 to fulfill a demanding ambition: to achieve the highest level of service. The Rancho Santa Fe quarter is one of California’s most upscale neighborhoods, but this institution was enough to encourage those neighbors to quit their luxury abodes and leave behind their own gym, pool, or tennis court. Judging by the vehicles lined up at the crack of dawn in the spa’s parking area, the dream came true: the rarest, most powerful, most sophisticated models of Porsche, Ferrari, Land Rover, or Tesla are there. Beyond the equipment and coaching sessions, an atmosphere reigns here that cannot be reproduced on a villa scale. There is a staff of 100 just for the spa, including 25 ultra-qualified masseurs! Part of the place’s magic is giving the other half of the clientele – the day visitors – the same sense of being part of the club.
From the moment you are greeted at the reception desk, you are ceaselessly encouraged to pursue liberty: “Feel free to ...”: “Feel free” to forget your bathrobe at one of the two swimming pools and slip into another one. Feel free to choose the newspaper you’d like delivered, along with fresh-squeezed orange juice, when you awaken; to borrow a Pinarello bike to explore the local trails; to ask that your mini-bar be restocked with jellybeans or organic iced tea for free; to watch television as you soak in a bubble bath; to enjoy your fourth or tenth slice of self-serve banana bread; to dive into an ice-bath after a sauna and steam-room session or to spend hours in the Jacuzzi on your patio; to join a Pilates or yoga class, even if you’ve never been to one before.
For meals, too, it’s all up to you. An early lunch or a late dinner? On the terrace, overlooking the garden or the interior, at the immense dining room tables surrounded by Mexican decor, facing the butterflies of Damien Hirst? In the "Coastal Ranch” cuisine, the same principle applies, be it for octopus in the gourmet restaurant or mahi-mahi tacos at the Rein Bar. Dan will choose something from the voluminous cellar listings, determining which wine is best for you, unless you prefer one of San Diego’s famous craft beers. Jonathan talks about the salmon as though he caught it himself in Alaska. A simple pizza, vegetables grown on a nearby farm, or even the morning brown-rice porridge can be prepared to suit your mood of the moment. Always with a warm smile and a direct gaze, the greatest of the many luxuries at Rancho Valencia.
For there is no mechanical “How are you today?” The 350 employees have an innate sense of benevolent hospitality – the first criterion sought when hiring, says the director, because it is something that cannot be learned.
The staff also masters those little touches that make such a difference, like these reading glasses near the stack of magazines and this flashlight on the nightstand “for your nocturnal adventures.” “It’s not easy to do simple things!” the energetic director Coni Thornburg exclaims proudly. And while the area can provide delicious strolls on the beach at sunset, forests and deserts to explore, along with San Diego and Los Angeles to discover, leaving this cocoon of luxurious life can be as difficult for the year-round tenants in certain villas as it is for the residents of the 49 casitas!