Allegretto Vineyard Resort. Come for the wine, stay for the Ambience and Art!

If you follow my posts, you may remember I recently escaped for a road trip week to inspect hotels and explore activities moseying down the central coast through the small towns that dot Hwy 101.

In many ways, nothing has changed in the quiet burbs rooted amidst the undulating golden hillsides that sweep to ridges of the California Coastal Mountain Range. Much of the uniform agricultural acres have transformed to grapes and a surprising number of olive farms have been introduced to the bucolic warm valleys. Miles of open road still remain, unfortunately the roadways haven’t been improved, however, the rutted freeway may prevent nodding off in some long stretches of asphalt.

My initial purpose was to rendezvous with high school girlfriends and wander the Bruce Munro- Sensorio, Field of Light exhibit in Paso Robles. The internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Munro has premiered his largest artwork to date—an enormous multi-acre walk-through installation, and it is well worth visiting. The exhibit ends in January 2021.

To begin – word on the street is that downtown Paso Robles is mask challenged, and I was herding cats – planning and plotting for nine girlfriends – all in the Covid delicate age category!   Allegretto Vineyard Resort is minutes from Sensorio and is fashionably plopped right in the middle of a vineyard and rolling countryside. It is not your typical resort, from the Tuscan styles to the museum caliber artwork, it was Paso Robles first full-service hotel. The hotel appearance is unexpected for an unpretentious Central Californian wine country setting: the owner embraced grand Italian architecture, built amid rambling Mediterranean-style grounds and it includes his collection of interesting objects from his personal travels around the world.

Guests can stroll 20 acres through centuries-old grapevines, olive trees and stone fountains in the courtyard — all reminiscent of a villa in the Italian countryside. Bocce ball, pool cabanas nestled below the vineyard, spa and farm to table style Italian dining. At the back edge of the property, the spacious swimming pool and hot tub are surrounded by vineyards and six cabanas with lounges, sofas and tables for snack orders. Reserve a Cabana near the deep end – the kiddos splash and Marco Polo in the shallow end, their exuberance is delightful, from a distance!

Besides charming European flair, Allegretto has many pleasures, the central Piazza is dotted with elegant umbrella tables and comfy chairs – one can safely relax and mingle with your pod. Small cozy areas with fire pits for evening gatherings, an enormous play space for kiddies, bocce ball courts, strolling gardens, olive tree lined paths and secreted art alcoves. One of my property strolls yielded a very unique Sonic Labyrinth amid olive trees. The first of its kind in the world, the Sonic Labyrinth provides guests a tranquil space with a distinctive series of sounds created by wind instruments. Activated by motion sensors, the Sound Circle creates a series of soft, soothing tones that evolve as one walks through the labyrinth, generating a sense of relaxation and focus. A man and his pooch were quietly traversing the circles, pandemic stress reducer for all!

You may be surprised to hear the fallen Catholic girl suggest: don’t miss the French inspired ancient stone Abbey, modeled after rustic European chapels. The GM, Richard Veruni, mentioned the perfect photo op timing – mosey to the chapel in late afternoon and savor shadows of the setting sun filtering through stained-glass windows. Exquisite arrays of color and fractured light dotting the rough stone walls and floor. I popped in earlier in the morning for similar shadow play through the apse Rose window. It reminded me of my Barcelona visit to Sagrada Familia, my dear guide Fabio, perfectly timed our visit to appreciate the sun shadows. Details do matter – we are detail devotees! In the afternoon, head back to the Piazza for cocktails, my friends had seen my Instagram Aviation obsession and the head of the bar complied with a magnificent salver of Aviation cocktails! 

Rooms and suites are generous, 14-foot vaulted ceilings, comfy furniture in soft hues. Several second-floor suites have generous balconies with dining area with countryside vistas. There are two second floor connecting suites with common patio for small groups. My other favorite location is the ground level suites with terrazza, hedge enclosed terraces looking out to the vineyard – privacy guaranteed. I prefer those far from the pool. When you are ready to reserve, please ping or call me and I will provide the scoop on my favorites! Second floor suites and rooms are easily accessed by wide lobby staircase if you have developed pandemic elevator phobia. Again, I would avoid weekends in all these locations, Allegretto is a popular weekend party and event location.

Dining – Upscale Cello bar and restaurant specializing in Mediterranean inspired dishes. Northern Italian dishes made from regionally foraged ingredients, an extensive wine list, chef’s garden – inspired meals are yummy and very satisfying. Outdoor dining on a shaded terrace or from your suite patio or pool cabana!

Allegretto Abbey

Allegretto is minutes from the Bruce Munro – Sensorio, Field of Light. I recommend early arrival before the sun sets with a VIP ticket in hand. We felt very safe at dusk, as the evening descends, more people walk the winding field. The VIP sitting area has a splendid view of the valley and if you are more comfortable sipping and sitting, it’s a terrific vantage point to enjoy the magical display as twilight descends and the field of lights luminously light the landscape. Even before sunset, Sensorio is visually enchanting. The tiny tendrils that glow in the darkness look lifelike as they arch and reflect the setting sun, little dancing blossoms.

Comprised of an array of over 58,800 stemmed spheres lit by fiber-optics, illuminating the hillsides in subtle blooms of changing color defining the undulating 15-acre landscape. The walk is .5 miles of gently rolling hillside, majestic oaks border the horizon, the rising moon enhanced our stroll. The waving spheres are solar powered and appear to turn on in knots depending on which patches darken first. It’s truly an ethereal experience under the cover of gradual darkness. The summer cricket symphony keeps time with the glow, slowly undulating from green to purple to orange and back again. Magic in the gentle rolling hillsides.

Allegretto Hotel Paso Robles Image Mary Studer Shea

Pandemic Planning – Avoid the weekends in all these locations, the Covid Cocoon has burst, the streets and avenues are packed with people – honestly, Los Olivos crowds suggested a weekend jail break. Weekdays are serene and you can count on delightful fall weather for a few more weeks.There are smaller hotels in downtown Paso Robles that I avoided due to the masking inefficiency.

Highly recommend an escape to Allegretto Vineyard Resort and Bruce Munro Filed of Light at Sensorio. Central Coast Attractions.

Photo Mary Studer Shea

Sleeping Around – The Central Coast

The current pandemic travel model resembles travel of bygone eras, what once produced summer memories might include a road trip in the family station wagon, kids and dogs pile into a wood paneled wagon and head to a National Park. Antsy to travel, a few of our clients are taking to the road on mini-escapes.

Forthcoming, I plan to mosey down the Central Coast of California, I missed the Bruce Munro Field of Light at Villa Montalvo, it has moved to Paso Robles until January 3, 2021. I’m off soon to preview and perform site inspections along the way. Over the last decade, the Central Coast has become a flourishing wine destination.

Originally named El Paso de Robles, or “The Pass of the Oaks,” the town and its surrounding hillsides and canyons have been spared the devastating fires that have recently struck Sonoma and other farming regions. Paso Robles is now a Central Coast wine country mecca; for years, it was merely a blip to refuel en-route to Santa Barbara, summer is usually blistering hot, and we would scarcely nod in the direction of the oak studded golden hills from the road. The Paso Robles summer rodeo and mid-state fair banners barely fluttered in the static searing heat. In the Midwest, ‘Fair Food’ is a summer staple, i.e. deep-fried butter on a stick or fried Oreo cookies, these fair delicacies didn’t tempt me to explore Paso Robles. In the early years, Paso Robles’ farmers and ranchers were major producers of almonds, grain, cattle and Zinfandel. The region’s multiple micro-climates and diverse soils have led to a vibrant wine industry. Paso Robles is now home to 11 different wine sub-appellations. As a wine-growing region, what sets Paso Robles apart from other regions is its elevation, 10-mile proximity to the Pacific and the fact that it has a coastal climate — which means that consistently hot dry sunny days are followed by cool nights — with thick sea fog, which blankets the region nightly.

There are a couple of well-regarded hotels in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. A choice of locations in Paso Robles, downtown amid the mix of small shops, or a bit outside town close to the Sensorio exhibit. Allegretto Vineyard Resort is not your typical resort, from the Tuscan styles to the museum caliber artwork, it was Paso Robles first full-service hotel. On 20 acres, guests can stroll the through centuries-old grapevines, olive trees and stone fountains in the courtyard — reminiscent of a villa in the Italian countryside. Bocce ball, pool cabanas nestled below the vineyard, spa and Italian dining! At the back edge of the property, the spacious swimming pool and multi-jet hot tub are surrounded by vineyards and six cabanas with chaise lounges, you can count on finding me here with a bag of reading materials!

We’ve reserved private wine tastings for clients in this area – however, there are a plethora of interesting tours and tastings: Jam Making at Hartley Farms, Olive Oil Pressing at Groves on 41, Oyster Shucking in Morro Bay, Farm & Creamery Tour at Step Ladder Creamery, Chocolatiers Classes and for those who love Clydesdales yes, you read that right. The Covell Clydesdale Ranch is the only one place on earth where you can experience the majestic Clydesdale horses grazing on nearly 2,000 acres of rolling pastures speckled with pristine Monterey Pines and overlooking an exquisite view of the Pacific Ocean. At any given time, the ranch is home to approximately 100 Clydesdale horses of all ages, sizes, and abilities for riding and/or driving. The concierge at Allegretto Vineyard Resort can organize all or some of these activities. Wine tasting is mostly all private appointments during the pandemic, which is the best path to taste wines, in my humble opinion!

Cass Vineyards has added Dinner in the Vineyards with Chef Charlie Paladin Wayne. Sourcing ingredients from local growers and from their garden estate and the nearby Pacific Ocean. The Vineyard has also added what looks to be an interesting Inn built completely out of repurposed shipping containers. The Geneseo Inn is perched above the vines, full report coming soon!

My Journey will continue south, twenty minutes south of Paso Robles, is the small college town San Luis Obispo; which has a new hotel, a property designed by the folks who own Hotel Healdsburg. Hotel San Luis Obispo is a modern urban resort that embodies the essence of SLO. As alluring as the hills that surround it and as easygoing as the quintessential California beach towns just down the road. All of the 78 rooms are located on the 2nd & 3rd floor, so leave your doors open for fresh air, many suites have small balconies with views of the eastern hills. High-ceilinged, airy rooms, the white-walled interiors are brightened with colorful furnishings and commissioned artworks rooted in the hotel’s local heritage.

Chef Ryan Fancher, returning to his roots in California’s Central Coast from Northern California Wine Country, oversees the hotel’s two onsite restaurants: Piadina, a fresh California take on Italian cuisine based around the wood-fired oven, and Ox + Anchor, a modern spin on the classic steakhouse. His Northern California’s Napa Valley skills were utilized at some of the country’s best chefs, including Richard Reddington at Auberge de Soleil and Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. Fancher’s expertise earned him the role as the opening team sous chef at Per Se in New York, a Pronounced Pedigree. He most recently led the culinary team at Barndiva in Healdsburg, where he gained praise and recognition for his culinary creations and imaginative use of ingredients.

Santa Ynez Valley, home to the village of Los Olivos, is a mere 90 mins. south of Paso Robles and is known for its laid back small-town charm. If you’re seeking a comfortable afternoon of wine tasting, gift shopping and artisanal eats, Los Olivos has it all. Sparkling wine-tasting rooms, artisan gifts and fine dining. Spend the day in the quaint town’s center or book a tour for a self-indulgent day of wine or beer tasting. Wander through the myriad tasting rooms within a few blocks that make up downtown Los Olivos. Dine at a number of delectable artisan restaurants or lunch spots or take a chapter from a local favorite and enjoy a rustic barbecue lunch at R-Country Market — Santa Maria tri-tip sandwiches are the order of the day every Saturday and Sunday. If fine dining and wine pairing are more your speed, enjoy a succulent dinner at Los Olivos Café & Wine Merchant, which Wine Spectator magazine named the “Best Restaurant for Wine.”

The history of Los Olivos began with a stagecoach route in 1861, The Overland / Coast Line Stage established a station at Ballard, just south of present day Los Olivos. Running from San Francisco down to Ballard, and continuing south through Los Angeles before ending in San Diego, the stage provided important transportation back in the day.

Mosey to the lovely Fess Parker Wine Country Inn just near town. Nestled in the heart of Los Olivos, California, the Fess Parker Inn offers guests a quiet retreat in the midst of Santa Barbara County’s iconic wine country. The Fess Parker property is part of the Preferred Hotel Group – started as the vision of a Hollywood actor whose characters loved the wilderness:Fess Parker was better known as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone on television in the 1950s and ’60s. When he set out to buy a vineyard in Santa Barbara wine country, it quickly became a family affair. Now his son Eli and granddaughter Tessa Marie have vineyards on more than 700 acres of land, and guests staying at the inn enjoy prime access to this fertile section of California countryside.

Third generation rancher Katie Parker McDonald offers private 90-minute horseback rides through the historic 714-acre Fess Parker home ranch. Fully customizable and for all levels, guests explore the ranch via horseback with a guide who shares stories of the family’s history on Foxen Canyon. Riders can also elect for offerings such as a picnic lunch or wine tasting at the Fess Parker Winery. A long list of activities including hot air ballooning, golf, bicycling on country roads, picnics, hiking and boating nearby.

The Central Coast has matured from deep fried butter on a stick locale to lovely hotel properties, esteemed vineyards, fine dining and activities for adults and the kiddos.We also work with a very well known bike firm who can offer a week of trail riding in this idyllic countryside.

Details soon – Follow me!