Hubert Burda Media

SUBSTANCE IN THE SUBURBS

Two Californian cities off the beaten vacation track prove to be the best medicine, thanks to a duo of Rosewood hotels.

SUBSTANCE IN THE SUBURBS

ON ONE OF California’s coldest nights, set to hit a bone-chilling minus-6 degrees Celsius when the eve is at its darkest, I find myself seduced by a jar of marshmallows served beside a fireplace the size of my bedroom. Perched on the very edge of the armchair closest to the heat, I spear two or three specimens at once and inch them in between the logs, nestling them by the bluish part of the flame (coincidentally, I think, the new colour of my toes). I’m as happy as I’ve ever been in my life, happier still the warmer I get.
This is not what I expected of suburbia.
Travel nowadays is commonplace. Trips happen all the time. “Vacations” we sometimes call them, somewhat erroneously. Because we’ve forgotten how to relax. We fly to Paris to shop, to Tokyo to eat, to Phuket to have cocktails by the pool. We’re so busy doing “vacation things” – booking hard-to-get restaurants, lining up for tax rebates, scouring the night markets, finding rainbow-coloured celebrity fish in the world’s weirdest oceans – that it’s sort of inconceivable that dinner and s’mores could constitute an entire evening’s activities.
In fact, for most of the folks who dine that night at Cordevalle’s One Iron Bar, even the s’mores is an extracurricular, most of them choosing to stake claim to some real estate on the giant couches that face a TV broadcasting Monday Night Football, evidently a start-ofweek ritual for local members of the resort. The space is cosy, like the living room in a ski chalet. And the food, as we discovered earlier that night, is both simple and superlative: lobster spring rolls, roasted cauliflower and an amazing seafood stew rich in ingredients and flavour. Despite the knowledge of a s’mores-gasbord to come, we a lso accept the resort’s speciality warm beignets with cinnamon and sugar, a concoction that’s part pastry, part dream, and all good – and better, I’m sure, than any faddish croissant-doughnut hybrid, especially when dunked in one of the three dipping sauces (salted caramel is the one I plan to smuggle back home). But of course the food is good: before becoming resort manager, Luca Rutigliano was originally – and unusually – the executive chef, so the utmost attention is paid to menus.
We head back to our bungalow, a two-minute golf-cart-ride away, for jackets, and are whisked back to the resort lobby to find a fireplace-front extravaganza, complete with woolly throw blankets, set up right in the porte-cochère. Countless melted marshmallows later, with fingers glued together by a paste of chocolate and graham-cracker crumbs, I’m ready to be transferred back to the bungalow, where I settle in front of our indoor fireplace and fall fast asleep.
The rolling hills of Cordevalle are best admired by daylight. A golf member’s club as well as a resort that opened around a decade ago near San Martin in northern California, it was acquired by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts in 2006. Guests and members share the facilities, which are not open to the public, and include the stunning golf course, two restaurants (One Iron Bar and an Italian fine-dining venue, Il Vigneto), an intimate spa facility, heated outdoor pool, gym and tennis courts. The chief draw remains the golf course, but the manicured lawns that rise and fall with the terrain are equally admired by hikers. The adjacent Clos LaChance winery is also a great half-day trip, where you can do traditional tastings or even a blending class.
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy yourself perfectly well from the bungalows, which feature darling terraces that overlook the courses and bathrooms with big Jacuzzi tubs, as well as the fireplaces that seem ubiquitous across the property. And the people are possibly some of the nicest in the world, from Assistant F&B Manager Marco Pacelli, an Italian transplant whose passion for the job is evident not only in the finely curated dining options, but also in the warm smiles of the waitstaff who greet him, to Cordevalle’s resident dog-walker, whom I meet in the ground-floor bathroom and who vivaciously informs me, “You like this place? Make sure to check out the Rosewood by Palo Alto, as well!”
The hotel to which she refers is the Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park, a half-hour-or-so drive away from San Martin and closer to San Francisco. Though the greater Palo Alto area is famed across the world for being home to numerous tech companies and one world-class university, it’s still a far cry from big-city life. The Stanford Shopping Center is an outdoor mall; the closest Safeway is five kilometres from the hotel; and parking everywhere is free – a sure sign of suburbia to any cosmopolitan comer.
We arrive at Sand Hill in the evening, and apparently the hotel bar is Menlo Park’s hottest ticket come Thursday night. It’s not just hopping or happening, it’s heaving, but in a genteel manner that’s miles away from the W Hotels-see-and-be-seen scene (despite managing director Michael Casey’s FYI that it’s “mostly singles”).
The rooms, set in low, two-storey buildings that dot the property, are something else. The first thing I notice upon entering is the dog bed in the corner, with a posh two-in-one food-and-water-bowl set-up that promptly reminds me of my pooches, who may be welcome at the hotel but certainly are not on Cathay Pacific flight 872. The pet accommodations go unused, but the complimentary homemade puppy biscuits go in the check-in luggage immediately. The human-oriented furnishings are just as nice, from the bouncy bed to the cosy couches.
Friday breakfast at Madera, next to the bar, is considerably quieter, with a power-breakfast clientele noshing on California-influenced cooking that includes the likes of crabmeat frittatas or mesquite-smoked beef-brisket hash and eggs. It’s clear at this hour – and even more apparent when the dinner crowd materialises – that the Rosewood Sand Hill is very much an integral part of the community, instead of the mere bed-stop that describes most hotels in residential districts. The Sense spa is a fully fledged facility with 13 rooms, and given the hotel contains just over 120 guest lodgings, that means a good chunk of bookings come from locals. In fact, an adjoining space that was once a café has now been transformed into the salon of society hairstylist Alex Chases. The ballroom is another oft-used venue, whether for picture-perfect weddings, Fortune 500-firm corporate functions or for costume parties hosted by the local glitterati.
Our itinerary is lower key than that; slightly more packed than at Cordevalle, but hardly a strenuous day – a golf-cart tour of Stanford University ensures the feet won’t tire; the Filoli Gardens are a literal walk in the park (in the summertime, at least – it’s closed in the winter and we join the community grandmas at their dorky-chic Christmas craft fair); and lunch at The Village Pub in neighbouring Woodside sounds like a trip to a dive bar, but is actually a leather-booth, white-tablecloth experience complete with the best duck confit and liver mousse ever.
When blocks of free time come around, we’re hardly interested in heading to the city, a mere 40-minute drive away. We never want to see people on a sidewalk again. We only want to shop at strip malls and Whole Foods and Walmart. We think that driving from one end of a parking lot to the other end to avoid a walk is totally normal.
We’re officially suffering from suburban fever. And after years of cultural capitals and adventure expeditions and road trips and party weekends, this turns out to be the best disease I’ve ever caught.
 
+Prestige Hong Kong