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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"

Carmel Valley Ranch Resort

While working on his second novel, John Steinbeck wrote to his literary agent describing his new work.
"There is," he wrote, "about twelve miles from Monterrey, a valley in the hills called Corral de Tierra. I have named it Las Pasturas del Cielo." This became the title and subject of his second novel.
In Pastures of Heaven, Steinbeck first portrayed what would become the central core of his greatest works, the land and people of the Salinas Valley and Monterrey peninsula, who are best revealed in his classic novels, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden.
While Steinbeck wrote fiction, his vision of the "pastures of heaven," of what today is called the Carmel Valley, is vividly true. I discovered it too driving south along the Pacific Coast Highway, past the beautiful crescent of beaches in Monterrey, a short drive inland from the quaint city of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
I stayed at the Carmel Valley Ranch (800-422-7635), a California ranch-style resort, set on 1,700 acres of lush green rolling hills, just a ten minute drive from Carmel's beaches and art galleries. The weather in Carmel Valley is better than on the coast with fewer rainy days and less fog. It has been described as the "sunny side of the Monterrey Peninsula." The resort itself surrounds a prestigious 18-hole golf course. Driving through the guard-gated entry, along the margins of the golf course, you come upon the main lodge, a building reminiscent of an old country estate. There is no formal hotel desk. You enter rather into a comfortable parlor style lobby and are soon guided to one of 144 individual condo-style suites that are tucked into the hillsides overlooking a golf course surrounded by an oak tree forest.
Each suite has a parlor room with a wood-burning fireplace, comfortable furniture, a television, and well-stocked bar. Through a separate doorway, you enter a large bedroom with cathedral ceilings, its own fireplace and t.v. An exterior deck overlooks the golf course. The luxury suites have wraparound decks with private outdoor spas. While normal rates vary depending on season from $255-550, there are several attractive golf, spa, tennis, romantic, and holiday "packages."
This is a golfer's paradise. The Carmel Valley Ranch course is a short Pete Dye design, a "target" golf course as opposed to a long course. A moderately difficult one that doesn't require a long shot. Carmel and the Monterrey Peninsula have been ranked as the number one golf course destination in the world by Golf Digest. Here, along a 17-mile scenic drive, you'll find the courses of Pebble Beach, Spy Glass Hill, Spanish Bay, and Poppy Hills. And here each February the AT&T Pro-Am golf classic is played.
Besides golf, Carmel Valley Ranch has a tennis club, offers horseback riding along verdant hillsides, and has a fitness center with spa services offered in room next to your fireplace.
You can dine in the main lodge's Oaks restaurant serving traditional California cuisine, in the Ranch House grill that supports the tennis complex, or the golf course Clubhouse.
The resort is ten minutes from Carmel-by-the-Sea. There you can explore myriad galleries. You might consider breakfast at The Tuck Box, a fairy tale cottage restaurant famous for its English scones, with a uniqueness that defines Carmel's charm. I enjoyed an intimate Italian dinner in one of the booths in Carmel's Tutto Mondo restaurant. Candles burn in chianti bottles on butcher block tables. A crackling fireplace glows in a far corner. Here you ought to keep an eye out for Carmel's former mayor, Clint Eastwood. Adorning the trattoria's walls, are numerous pictures of him dining here.
Fifteen minutes north of Carmel Valley you'll find Monterrey with its Fisherman's Wharf, Cannery Row, and famous aquarium. Thirty minutes south and you're in Big Sur.
Carmel and the Monterrey Peninsula is also an up and coming wine region. There are many wineries here but they're more spread out than in the more famous California wine region of Napa-Sonoma. However, just a few minutes from Carmel Valley Ranch you can taste the best of Talbott, Chalon, Bernardus, and Chateau Julien wineries.
In his Pastures of Heaven, Steinbeck wrote about a group of converted Indians who fled from the Mission in Carmel in 1776. A Spanish corporal and a troop of horsemen were sent out to retrieve them. One day, the corporal chased a deer in pursuit of his dinner and found himself at the top of a ridge overlooking a valley.
Steinbeck wrote, he was "sticken with wonder before a long valley floored with green pasture. Perfect live oaks grew in the meadow and the hills hugged it jealously against the fog and the wind. The corporal felt weak in the face of so serene a beauty. 'Holy Mother,' he whispered. 'Here are the green pastures of heaven to which our Lord leadeth us."
That is how John Steinbeck described the Carmel Valley. I cannot describe it any better.