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Travel: Stonepine Estate

Stonepine Estate Offers a Rare Retreat in Carmel Valley


There is a retreat up the coast that evokes the era of the Roaring ’20s. It’s a manor house deep in Carmel Valley called Stonepine. A private home for decades, the place has also served as a hideaway hotel since the early 1980s. I was invited to spend two nights at the estate and found it to be the perfect mixture of European service and American welcoming.

Stonepine was built by bank scion William Henry Crocker, the son of Charles Crocker, who was one of the Big Four — which included Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington, and Leland Stanford — founders of the Central Pacific Railroad. It remained in Crocker hands until 1983, when Gordon and Noel Hentschel purchased the property from William’s grandchildren, Henry and Helen Crocker-Russell. The new owners then changed the moniker from the Double H Ranch to Stonepine, in honor of the eponymous Italian trees planted in the early 1930s that now tower over the 330-acre grounds.

Upon arrival, I was buzzed through a gate onto the property and followed the wending road to the Big House, a Great Gatsby–looking affair. My weathered ’99 Honda Civic hatchback looked out of place parked alongside a vintage Rolls Royce at the chateau’s entrance, but I felt grand nonetheless as I went up to the majestic wood front door. I let myself in and was quickly greeted by friendly staff members: Jordan, Michelle, and Giovanni.

The Chateau Noel — named after the lady of the house — is elegant yet warm and inviting with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of manicured lawns and award-winning flower gardens. The estate is artistically landscaped and guests have free roam of the property. There is a cabana across a wee creek that has chairs in which to recline and view the backside of the house.

My accommodation was a cottage a short distance down the road from the main house. It was a full-service residence that included two-bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, laundry room, and a living room. It was sunny and comfortable and perfect for relaxing — fireplaces in the living room and master bedroom, windows affording a view of the equestrian center in a valley below, and wild turkeys wandering through the unfenced yard.

Another highlight of Stonepine is the food. The resident chef is trained in Asian, French, and California cooking, all of which he does superbly. I enjoyed appetizers that included homemade egg rolls and gyoza and breakfasts of fresh croissants, meat and cheese plates, and yogurt and fresh fruit. And the dinner was literally one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Picture this: Poplars glimmered under the last rays of daylight, shimmering in the wind as we were seated at a table for two in the chateau’s wood-paneled den, a fire roaring in the marble fireplace. Dinner began with fresh bread, butternut squash soup with crème fraîche, and arugula salad tossed with watermelon, feta, walnuts, red onions, and tomatoes. Then came the main course. I chose salmon with a red pepper coulis and Moroccan couscous, while my cousin (who had come down from S.F. to join me at the retreat) had filet mignon with mashed potatoes and mushrooms. Both meals were scrumptious. Our bellies full, we still managed to make room for dessert: chocolate mousse with strawberries and blueberries and cups of espresso. We waddled back to our cottage, sated and happy as can be.

Carmel is a short drive from the estate, but we chose to stay and explore Stonepine. We self-toured the grounds on foot and on borrowed bikes. In the afternoon, we had in-cottage massages, and then meandered down to the equestrian center. Stonepine has long been known for it’s top-notch horse training and boarding facilities. We pet the ponies, explored the old buildings, and watched a rider and her horse go through their paces. Over the stable is a game room that looks out of the Old West. An old-fashioned barber chair, ancient jukebox, and century-old saloon bar added to the atmosphere; we played ping-pong and billiards well into the evening.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the big house. Gordon Hentschel sat with us and regaled us with stories of the property — such as the time when guest Alan Alda and some of his famous friends held a spontaneous murder mystery party. It’s clear that the Hentschels love having people enjoy their home. So, what they purchased as a wedding gift for each other is now a gift for all who visit.

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Stonepine Estate is located at 150 East Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. For more information, call (831) 659-2245, email info@stonepineestate.com, or visit stonepineestate.com.

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