Gemma Champ checks into the newly refurbished Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in California.
Hotel Insider: The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, Dana Point, United States
After the sprawling highways of Los Angeles, the wide, hilly and lushly bordered roads of Orange County are easy on the eye, and though the hotel drive is hard to find, that makes it feel all the more secluded. Arriving at the wide front driveway, cheerful young guys in sporty shorts – employed from the local surfer population – leap to help with the bags and park the car. The hotel lobby is light, airy and summery, with recently smartened-up decor and extravagant floristry that reflect the coastal location with its stunning Pacific Ocean views. Although the room isn’t ready when we arrive, we’re guided to the oceanfront terrace bar 180blu to eat lunch while we wait.
Dana Point, 90 minutes south-east along the coast from Los Angeles, is a legendary Californian surfer spot. Though it’s now one of Orange County’s most affluent areas, with huge private homes overlooking the sea, it’s still vibrant, thanks to its athletic population. The terrain is rich and green, the roads immaculately smooth and the views extraordinary. It’s not, though, party central – you’ll need to return to LA for the real action.
In lovely shades of white, stone and blue, with a sea-view balcony, the ground-floor room feels relaxing and fresh, with a moderate-sized bathroom that’s beautifully decorated in creamy marble.
This is service with a smile, American style: confident, energetic and personal. From the superb masseur, who takes plenty of time to find the right pressure, to the funny, informed and extremely friendly servers at supper and breakfast, it’s a slick but well-executed operation, and feels authentic, informal and genuine.
It’s all about the Californian lifestyle here: we pick up some fruit and water before descending to the beach for a morning run along the length of the sands, past wetsuited surfers – and was that Dustin Hoffman who just jogged past? On offer post-breakfast: pool lounging, golf nearby, watersports and environmentally friendly “Eco-Adventures” or spa pampering.
An immense Mexican-style breakfast burrito is generous and tasty, and lunch at 180blu includes some exquisite ceviche, sashimi, salad and healthy juices, before it turns into a chic terrace bar offering sundowners and fire pits to keep the cool winds at bay. Dinner choices include enoSTEAK, where the meat is the star, with prime steaks offered in a multitude of cuts. Raya, meanwhile, is a Richard Sandoval restaurant, with pan-Latin flavours such as a seriously mouthwatering ceviche tasting plate and lobster tacos (US$18 [Dh66] each), as well as Japanese notes, such as the miso Alaskan black cod ($32 [Dh118]).
The big bowls of homemade lemon salt scrub by the showers in the spa, which add a personal touch to an impeccable experience.
The setting of the Raya restaurant. Despite huge picture windows overlooking the ocean, attentive staff and exceptional food, it still feels rather like eating in a lobby restaurant, without sufficient separation between the public areas and the restaurant itself – an impression not helped by the fact that breakfast is served in the same restaurant.
With its refreshing, informal approach to luxury, although this hotel recently celebrated 30 years in business, it feels anything but dated, and makes a relaxing escape from the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.
The bottom line
Bed and breakfast at the hotel costs from Dh1,930, including resort fee, based on two sharing. One Ritz-Carlton Drive, Dana Point, California (www.ritzcarlton.com; 001 949 240 2000).
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