Des & Sandie Nichols
Carmel is, and has long been, the stuff of dreams. Its blissful hillside setting, overlooking the restless Pacific, is the perfect stage for this modern-day fairy-tale. It is a nursery rhyme town, with a myriad of magical small homes nestling amongst the trees along casual, narrow lanes. Gardens overflow, flowers abound, as if a wand had waved a spray of color to ignite the scene under the California sky. This is a Hansel and Gretel world.
Carmel is truly exceptional. Why? Because it has managed to hold back time and commercialism to retain all the calm and charm (and dare I say class) of an historic and affluent European village.
The center of this glorious hamlet is Ocean Avenue. At times, we thought we were back in St Tropez. It is stylish. It has 'pzazz'. It has 'Chutzpah'. It has elegance. But it is uniquely Carmel. The fine art galleries, English teashops and chic casual fashion boutiques make a stroll an adventure into another time and another place. A very special place.
Oh, we forgot to mention. All this comes at a price. Boy is it expensive. After deciding in a nanosecond that this was the place we would like to live for the rest of our lives, we realized that the numbers on the 'For Sale' details were not the agent's phone number but the extortionate house prices. $5 million might just get you a cosy bungalow with one guest bedroom and a small garden but don't expect a sea view. Or a garage. But that is the beauty of Carmel. It is exclusive and it totally resists change. Long may it continue and we wish the rich folk well in keeping it just the way it is.
(Below) One special house, down at the end of the beach, is that of the late Della Walker, who asked Frank Lloyd Wright to conjure up one of his signature designs. As ever, his combination of horizontal lines and expansive windows created a unique, 'prow of a ship' majesty, jutting out over the rugged ocean-battered rocks.
There is only one way to leave this paradise. You must take the singular 17-mile drive, one of the true wonders of America. This scenic loop through a private estate takes you from Carmel, paying a toll of $10.50 as you pass, to Monterey along the rocky headland and past one of the most famous golf courses in the world, the home of the 2019 US Open, Pebble Beach.
The Pebble Beach Lodge
The 18th hole
Two-time Major winner Johnny Miller described Pebble Beach as 'the greatest meeting of land and water in the world'. He may just be right. The whole private reserve, including the golf mecca, has had a number of owners over time, from Rupert Murdoch and his 20th Century Fox to a Japanese investment company, but today it is owned and protected by a well-heeled group which includes Clint Eastwood and Arnold Palmer. It is thankfully safe in Arnie's sporting grip.
Driving on, you come to a number of rocky promontories, where the only residents are Cypress trees, brown sea-lions and seabirds. But houses do exist here. Huge houses, each one strategically placed. Thankfully, however, there are not so many as to affect the views and the tranquility of this exceptional preserve.
As you venture on, accompanied by the roar of the 20ft white waves as they crash onto the battle-weary rocks, you will spot the famous Lone Cypress, a 250-year old tree that has become the iconic logo for Pebble Beach (below). It stands as a resilient symbol of what must never be lost, commanding an authoritative hill-top position with a defiant Canute quality.
This is another of those must-do experiences. As you drive, you seem
minuscule against the unstoppable, restless Pacific as is pounds the immovable, rocky coast, putting us at the very heart of a natural wonder.
The Restless Sea
The brown 'blobs' are sea-lions
We shall say few, if any, words about Monterey, which sadly seems to have lost all its excitement and beauty, and its very soul. We recalled it fondly from the 70s and were disappointed to find it has become a very normal, unimaginative town, squandering its incredible natural setting, to bastardize Cannery Row into an array of ice-cream bars, fried fish restaurants and an aquarium. Spend longer in Carmel. It is a veritable gem - even if you'd have to sell the Koh-I-Noor to live there.
This is what happens when you try and get arty.
Moral: leave art to the artists.
NEXT TIME - San Francisco