If you are thinking about Italy as a possible travel destination, but distance and money are holding you back, I have discovered an alternative that will reduce your distance traveled from more than 6,000 miles to less than 60 miles (a one-hour drive from Santa Monica). The Resort at Pelican Hill on the Newport Coast brings the traditions of Northern Italy to Southern California through its architecture, its food and wine, and a variety of specialized amenities.
Pelican Hill’s Italian-inspired landscape spreads across 504 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The architecture incorporates the principles of Italy’s most renowned 16th-century Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, whose Palladian style was named for him. They did not cut corners when it came to constructing this masterpiece! Each spacious room, whether one of the bungalows or the larger villas, has been given individual attention, and it definitely shows. Our bungalow, like all the bungalows and villas, had a private terrace facing the bountiful hillsides with a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean.
It was hard to leave our bungalow after unpacking, even though I knew I was being picked up in one of the resort’s Escalade SUVs to be taken to their five-star spa to get a signature body gelato treatment. Following that heavenly experience, I spent some time in the Coliseum Pool, a unique, circular (136 feet in diameter), salt-water pool surrounded by tiered decks. This pool is worth mentioning because it was constructed with over 1 million hand-cut glass tiles, in itself a work of art. It is one of the largest circular pools in the world. Between the pool, the perfect temperature of the water, and the magnificent view, I ended up staying there for hours, leaving only to get ready for dinner at Andrea Ristorante, their signature restaurant.
Andrea specializes in Northern Italian cuisine. Its kitchen is run by former French Laundry chef, the Italian born and schooled, Michelin-starred Luigi Fineo. His accomplishments include Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills and La Botte Ristorante in Santa Monica. We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Luigi, and his enthusiasm for Pelican Hill was contagious. He told us that when he interviewed for the job, all he had to see was the kitchen, and he was sold. They have a special cucina della pasta, dedicated solely to creating many varieties of pasta made fresh every day. (They even make gluten free pasta.)
Please do not miss one of their seasonal risotto dishes that is presented at your tableside. When available, the restaurant uses the olive oil they make from the fruits of the 750 olive trees that dot their landscape. Their menu was unique, but I admit I needed a little help in understanding some of their offerings. Once I learned that the pan seared John Dory on the menu was a fish and not a disgruntled employee, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and went on to try some of their scrumptious dishes.
When I mentioned Pelican Hill to my friends, they immediately thought of its two 18-hole golf courses (designed by Tom Fazio). As a matter of fact, in the April 2012 issue of Cond√© Nast Traveler, which rates golf courses in eight different categories, they received an overall score of 96.6 and were the only California golf resort to receive a perfect score in the course and design and access categories. Both of their courses have a panoramic view of the ocean. Although I am sure the average golfer has other things to concentrate on when on the links, it does not hurt to be surrounded by such breathtaking beauty in one’s quest for a birdie. Actually, for many years Pelican Hill was synonymous with golf, but since 2008 when The Resort opened its doors, it has flourished as a destination resort.
In keeping with their love of all things Italian, during the first week of November, Pelican Hill has an annual Festa dell’ Autunno, when the olives ripen and drop from the branches. This weekend festival includes an Italian street festival with olive pressing demonstrations, olive oil tastings, Italian cooking demonstrations, strolling musicians, bocce ball games and more.
I am hoping that when my own trip to Italy comes to fruition that the real thing is as first rate as my Italian experience here in Southern California. Pelican Hill has won so many awards, ranging from the AAA Five Diamond Award three years in a row to countless prestigious awards for their restaurants, spa, and golf courses, that it would be an embarrassment of riches if it was not so well-deserved. As far as resorts in Southern California go, I think that I may have finally found the jewel in the crown.
If you go
The Resort at Pelican Hill
22701 Pelican Hill Road South
Newport Coast, Calif.
CAROLE can be reached at Carolesorlin@yahoo.com.