I envy birds’ ability to snub gravity and soar through the air. Perhaps parachuting from an airplane would give me a taste of avian freedom, but that ain’t going to happen — ever. Fortunately, there are other ways to get a bird’s-eye experience: zip-lining over pastures and vineyards in north county, for example.
On a recent weekend, I had a chance to do just that as part of a vacation bundle offered by the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. Called “Zip, Sip & Stay,” the package is for two people and includes a night at the Madonna, a zip-lining adventure at Santa Margarita Ranch, wine tasting at Ancient Peaks Winery, and a packed lunch of sandwiches, chips, and drinks.
It was a hot afternoon when my companion and I made the drive to S.L.O. and the Madonna Inn. Built by Alex and Phyllis Madonna in 1958, the original 12-room building has expanded to include 110 themed chambers. We checked in, dropped our things in our room (“Old Mexico”), and immediately went to the pool for a dip. On an aerie-like perch above the hotel, the swimming area is an oasis of relaxation. A waterfall tumbles out of the rocky hillside into a pond; there are two large hot tubs, one tucked near the waterfall, one adjacent to the pool. The pool itself is an infinity-style creation with a sloping shallow end that allows you to ease into the water as if it were the shoreline of a lake. We ordered tropical drinks (piña coladas and mai tais) from the on-site bar, sipping them as we migrated from the pool to a hot tub and back to the pool as our moods dictated.
Three hours later, the sun on the wane, the evening still warm, we returned to the room to change for dinner, which was a quick meal at the inn’s Copper Café. The next morning we drove eight miles to Santa Margarita Ranch for our zip-lining adventure (margarita-adventures.com). Shuttled via van into the heart of the 14,000-acre ranch, I was atwitter with excitement (and fear) when we arrived at “Renegade,” the first of the four zip lines on the tour. The guides (Kyle, Spencer, and Mitch) helped our group — there were seven of us — harness up and we were ready to go.
The Renegade is the longest at 1,300 feet; it hangs several stories above grassland and offers uninterrupted 360-degree views of the breathtaking landscape. I was nervous as I stepped off the platform, but the thrill of soaring through the sky like a flying squirrel proved exhilarating. I hopped on the next line (the Woodlander) without trepidation, gliding over treetops for 800 feet to a steeply pitched hillside landing. By the time we got to the Hilltopper, the shortest (500 feet) but fastest line, I was in a state of bliss: warm weather, cattle and deer grazing, breezes rustling leaves, vast open space — oh, and zipping through the air. Brilliant.
The final line (the Archway) spans a meadow, dips under a natural tree arch, and deposits you on a small knoll where cold drinks and snacks await. Then it was back in the van for the return drive to town, during which Kyle entertained us with stories of the ranch’s history and its vineyards.
The last piece of the travel package trifecta was wine sipping at Margarita Vineyard’s Ancient Peaks tasting room. The Ancient Peaks label was established in 2005 but grapes have graced the ranch land since 1780, when Franciscan missionaries planted the first vine. With five different growing soils — shale, sedimentary, ancient seabed, volcanic, and granitic — Ancient Peaks (ancientpeaks.com) has created a smooth selection of whites and reds to imbibe. (My favorite was Oyster Ridge, its signature wine.)
High flying and wine tasting finished, we drove south to the Madonna Inn. We ate our lunch, lazed poolside, and reveled in the delightful day we were having. Back in Santa Barbara by 7 p.m. that evening, we found the “Zip, Sip & Stay” package had been the perfect escape — it only took a quick drive up the coast to achieve the rest and renewal that typically requires a plane ride.
For more information about the “Zip, Sip & Stay” package ($366 for two), call the Madonna Inn at (800) 543-9666.