Oscars weekend seems as good as any to begin a season of features on California, and we open the nominations as Jessica Baldwin, armed with a new addition to her travels, experiences the many joys babies and bad weather can muster. Thank heaven there are Four Seasons…
In yoga, as in life, it is often the simplest of things that is the hardest to achieve, like shavasana. Otherwise known as the corpse pose. To the outsider it simply looks like you are taking a snooze, however to truly accomplish this pose you must have a totally relaxed body and more importantly, a content and empty mind. Sounds easy, right?
Well, my mind has never been ’empty’, despite what my maths teacher said. Whilst everyone else in the yoga class is floating around on cloud nine somewhere, I am always lying on a cold floor thinking about the really important things in life, like where I put my car keys…if I left the oven on and if I recorded Made in Chelsea, sorry, I mean Panorama.
Unsurprisingly, this becomes infinitely worse once you have a baby. My house is now an emporium of half-finished cups of tea, books I stupidly thought I may get time to read and illegible reminder notes scrawled on every surface.
In my previous life I had time to do wonderfully self-indulgent things like put make up on, eat breakfast, I even used to wash my hair. Preening aside, my biggest love was travel. I spent glorious mornings canoeing down mangroves in The Gambia as the sun rose with only the sound of popping oysters for company, I dug around beautiful forests in Croatia with frisky dogs searching for pungent truffles and I galloped across deserts in Dubai with no destination in mind…But despite baby Rosie now being the centre of my world, do these adventures really have to end? Are luxury spas now out of bounds forever, are adrenaline fuelled escapades a no go and swish hotels a thing of the past? Or, can I have my family size cake and eat it? I will certainly give it a go, pack your bags Rosie, we’re off to California!
Four Seasons have always been one of my favourite luxury hotel chains; they just get it. And in all of my time spent indulging with them, I have never noticed a miniature human in sight (thank god, those noisy little buggers used to drive me mad…and my Hyde Park antics would surely have seen me locked up). However, to my excitement and surprise, their stylish villas at their residences resort just outside San Diego looked perfect for my new life as a grown up. Plus, holidaying on the Mexican border just as Trump took over seemed like a really good idea. Fingers crossed there were no building works taking place, hey.
Located in the laid back coastal community Carlsbad, 30 minutes north of San Diego, the resort promises uncompromised Four Seasons service and style with everything the new grown-up me needs; an enormous villa, a pristine kitchen, even a washing machine. But would they really let us in their pearly gates with a messy, noisy, unpredictable bambino? Any doubts I had were quickly extinguished on arrival as the charming receptionists cooed over Rosie and arranged for staff to drive with us to our villa to unload our suitcases for us…all 10 of them – well, it’s not easy packing an industrial size express machine next to your Choos and ramming your LBDs into a steriliser!
We arrived to a pristine baby-proofed villa; safety cushioning thoughtfully surrounded the tables, a cosy cot in our enormous bedroom, baby toiletries nestled alongside our delicious L’occitaine goodies, and even a cuddly toy sat awaiting her arrival. The resort’s Spanish colonial style villas are scattered across two ‘villages’, each with their own restaurant and pool. We were in the ‘Meadows’, in a beautifully styled one bedroom villa overlooking the golf course and lake, just a short stroll from the main reception, spa and Seasons restaurant.
On our visit, The Golden State was experiencing their worst storms in 17 years, naturally. With a year round average of 21 degrees, the area was in melt down with drivers unused to the wet stuff crashing like Bambi on ice. Undeterred, Sam and I chucked our well-worn anoraks in the car (along with the pram, car seat, muslins, bibs, snow suit, sun hat, change bag etc etc), and headed for the popular Double Peak trail: a five-mile hike towards a 1000ft summit with panoramic views of the surrounding coast and mountains.
The hike itself was a calamity of errors, with the schizophrenic weather throwing us a different microclimate around every corner. It felt like an NCT team building exercise as Sam and I worked together to slather sun cream on a confused Rosie only to pull her in to a snow suit around the next bend and then attempt to strap sunnies on her as we reached the summit. We finally made it to the top, with a baffled baby that looked like something out of a rap video, cocooned in a gleaming white puffa jacket and sporting oversized sunnies, like an LA diva as she took in the impressive vistas beyond…not to mention the ‘beware of mountain Lions’ sign!
That evening, we celebrated our eventful clamber with the Kitchen Counter Experience at Seasons Restaurant; an evening spent with the resort’s chefs as they created a playful five course tasting menu with matching wines. My favourite dish was the salmon belly sashimi with torched yuzu meringue, so glisteningly fresh that it melted away in my mouth. However, what really made the night was the theatre of it all, with each chef proudly presenting their dish with wit and knowledge and the chatty sommelier excitedly pairing each creation with a delicious wine. Watch out Saturday Kitchen, these guys have banter.
The next morning I awoke at 4am, now I’m not sure if it was jet lag, or the excitement of the lobster benedict that awaited me at my Seasons’ breakfast. As we awaited our feast we planned our day. San Diego is a magnet for fun-loving families with everything from Legoland and whale watching to Balboa Park which is packed with 15 museums, various gardens and a world famous zoo. On our trip however, we wanted to see the areas natural wonders, so we opted for another hike – a 2700ft summit named Iron Mountain. Well, every baby climbs their first mountain at 4 months don’t they? As I kitted up at the base of the mountain I could see Sam stifling an amused grin. As Rosie and I made our way past him, and the sign he was attempting to hide, we understood why; ‘Beware of rattlesnakes’, it declared. Hmmm.
This trek was much steeper and the sounds of San Diego quickly disappeared as we literally walked up through the clouds, over craggy streams and amidst thick bush to make our way to the summit. It made for an intriguing experience: breastfeeding within a cloud as vultures circle. Presumably patrolling the rattlesnakes. I guess mums do have adrenaline fuelled adventures after all. Having seen an angry looking storm making its way towards us we embarked on a speedy descent and then headed off to George’s at the Cove restaurant in the upmarket beach town of La Jolla for a well-earned lunch.
The Ocean Terrace of this popular three tiered eatery is usually basking in sun and crammed with diners overlooking the cove, but the storms meant we were inside on the mid-level for our meal. The bar was busy with locals enjoying cocktails and craft beers (San Diego has over 120 craft breweries). We enjoyed enormous portions of tangy mahi mahi ceviche whilst watching surfers battle the waves beneath, then kale and roasted squash salad, and vowed to return for the mocha butterscotch parfait. That evening I retreated to the Four Seasons’ Driftwood Spa for a satisfying steam room session and a wonderfully relaxing massage – the definitive come down for having been up a mountain that day.
The next day, more nature. Our destination was Torrey Pines nature reserve. Famous for being home to the rarest pine tree in America it is one of the most popular hiking areas, with countless mini trails leading you off through the scrub to stunning view points and down to the beach. Due to the weather only a few trails were open and after a day of exploring we headed off to The Lodge at Torrey Pines for dinner. The striking timber hotel is perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean and its curious facade gives way to a grand entrance hall with well-dressed guests contently sipping Californian reds around roaring log fires. The hotel’s fine dining restaurant, A R Valentein was reassuringly fully booked on our visit, and as we awaited our reservation we heard a couple begging for a table as they ‘just had to eat the confit duck again before leaving…’ They were so desperate they were debating eating outside, despite the area soaking up a year’s worth of rainfall- that is serious dedication to the duck.
The buzzy restaurant was peppered with cosy booths, but our charming waiter quickly found us a table which could accommodate our pushchair, and even offered to walk our daughter around if she awoke. The chef serves market-to-table dishes, changing the menu daily depending on which ingredients take his fancy at the market that morning. This trend has swept across the region, unsurprising when San Diego has 7000 farms – more than any other city in America. I enjoyed a delicious and unusually plump smoked trout filet to start followed by the celebrated confit duck. The chef also proudly sent out a portion of crispy five spiced sprouts; in England these would have been promptly pushed to the side, but Californians seem to have managed the impossible; they’ve made brussels sprouts sexy.
On our last day, the sun finally made an appearance and after enjoying a coffee whilst watching the sun rise from our balcony and indulging in the infamous lobster benedict (it is as good as it sounds), I decided to embark on some ‘me time’ and booked into the resort’s al fresco morning yoga class. A toned and glowing woman with long flowing hair greeted us all as we positioned ourselves around the fire with our mats and embarked on an hour of stretching, balancing and breathing. I was just drifting off to the sound of rustling palms and morning bird song when she awoke me; “welcome to sharvasana, my beautiful starfish”.
Well, it was heavenly relaxing.
Prices at Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara, North San Diego start from USD 425 (approx. £340) based on two adults sharing a Superior Guest Room, excluding applicable taxes. For more information, visit www.fourseasons.com.
Jessica’s California escape continues on Sunday – Oscars night – as she takes on La La Land itself, Los Angeles…