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“Is it here?”
“I think it’s around this corner.”
“Maybe it’s the next corner?”
My friend Amirah and I traded skeptical glances, both squinting through the windshield of her car and tilting our heads as if it would help us peer around each twist and turn of Highway 1. But we were determined to brave the narrow, winding road through Big Sur in the dark.
The stretch of coastline in Central California, located between Carmel and San Simeon, is as well-known for its often-treacherous two-lane highway as it is for its breathtaking views of turquoise waters, lush forests and steep cliffsides. But at that moment, Amirah and I couldn’t see anything other than asphalt in the headlights.
Finally, twinkling lights came into view. We had reached our destination for the night: Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, a rustic property in Castro Canyon that dates to the 1930s. And after tackling sharp turns on the pitch-black road for more than an hour, nothing was quite so beautiful as the amber glow and flickering candlelight emanating from within the property’s main building, which serves as its dining venue. Through the paned windows of the redwood structure — formerly a barn built by Helmuth Deetjen, the inn’s founder — we could see couples leaning in close to one another over glasses of wine, as if sharing secrets.
Stepping inside was like traveling back to the 1940s, when Englishwoman Barbara Blake came to Deetjen’s and, captivated by the beauty of Big Sur, invested in the property and expanded it. Guests can thank her for the cozy, English decor in the restaurant — including the redwood bar made with wood from a nearby ranch — as they enjoy meals made with local, organic food, along with delicious wines, many of which are sourced from small vineyards in California’s top wine regions.
The first item of business for Amirah and me was perusing that curated list and ordering a glass or two to pair with a snack (I recommend the autumn squash chimichanga). For heartier fare, guests can indulge in entrees such as grass-fed filet mignon; herb-roasted chicken; spicy seafood paella; or grilled rack of lamb. (There are a couple vegetarian options on the menu, as well.)
The next morning, we’d return to the homey space for breakfast (the eggs Benedict are a must), but once we had finished our repast and unwound from the drive, we were ready to be tucked into bed.
Accommodations are housed in a few buildings: Hayloft, where five rooms share two bathrooms; The Franklin House, which offers three rooms with private bathrooms; Castro Cabin, a standalone structure with a double bed that overlooks Castro Canyon Creek; and The Row, which has seven rooms with private baths. (Accommodations in Creek House and The Stokes Building are closed due to storm damage.)
The Row was our home for the night, specifically, Grandpa’s Room. This room has “special magic,” according to the property, as it was Deetjeen’s former home. An expansive space, the guestroom features a queen bed, a single bed in an alcove, a wood-burning stove, a piano (nonfunctional during our stay) and a record player with a stash of lovely old vinyl.
As the property was originally built some 80 years ago — it’s one of the oldest hotels in Big Sur — it certainly epitomizes the definition of “rustic.” And that’s exactly its charm. Touches such as handcarved porch balusters, wood-burned plaques, hand-hewn doors and antique decor transport guests back in time and imbue the property with its distinct look and feel.
While Deetjen’s exudes intimacy and warmth, if you have clients who expect luxe service and amenities or are used to more modern conveniences, this is not the hotel for them. (There are no televisions or telephones in the rooms; there is no Wi-Fi access; and there is little to no cell service in the area. Single-wall construction of rooms means little sound insulation, guestroom doors do not have keys — though they can be secured from within — and some rooms share a bathroom.)
But for those seeking a retreat, and quietude that can be felt in their bones, this is the place. Surrounded by gardens and a redwood forest, Big Sur Inn is its own kind of Narnia, drawing travelers in with its inexplicable magic.
The DetailsDeetjen’s Big Sur Innwww.deetjens.com