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For Lovers: : A Hideaway to be Remembered

October 04, 1987|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

CARMEL VALLEY, Calif. — The setting is rife with romance, and so a little music, maestro. Something soft and sentimental.

Make it the theme from "Love Story."

A dozen miles inland from the Pacific and 120 miles south of San Francisco, it's called Stonepine, a 330-acre estate cut in the cleavage of forested hills in the heart of the Carmel Valley.

Its centerpiece is Chateau Noel, a Mediterranean-style home of exquisite taste that brings to mind the charms of Le Colombe d'Or in the hills behind Nice. Or possibly Chateau d'Esclimont outside Paris. It is, some insist, a hybrid of the two.

And so take the stage, Romeo, for Juliet is waiting in the wings. Or certainly she should be. For to visit Stonepine and Chateau Noel without one's love would be like cruising the Danube alone.

And what a tragedy that would be.

Opened as a resort barely a year ago, Stonepine is reached by a long and peaceful path that leads to the red-tiled chateau whose grass is trimmed like a debutante's nails and whose entrance is as inviting as the door to a French villa.

To lovers, no matter their ages, Stonepine with its charming chateau is a poem to be remembered long after one takes leave of this unusual retreat.

Sunlight floods the valley and filters through ancient oaks and towering stonepines for which the former ranch is named. The chateau, which rises behind this row of stonepines, is old and secure and a lifetime removed from the frantic pace of our times. One senses that, if necessary, the estate could survive alone, and what lies beyond the walls would be of little concern to the fortunate few who found refuge within Chateau Noel.

Occasionally there comes along a resort or a hotel or an inn that is impossible to fault. Stonepine is that rare exception. The accommodations are without flaw, the service is superb, the setting is serene. Yes, serene as well as enchanting, so that the day of departure arrives with a desire that the clock could be turned back. If only to recapture a single spent day.

Only an occasional stately home in Britain and certain chateaux in France could possibly match the ambiance of Stonepine's Chateau Noel, a creation of the Crocker banking family in the '30s, and opened to the public barely a year ago by young Noel and Gordon Hentschel whose dedication to refinement sets the stage at Stonepine.

The grace is evident in the exquisite good taste of the furnishings. Chateau Noel was redecorated with a mix of both modern and antique furnishings that has blended with a delicacy that offends neither style. The rich, burnished oak paneling of the library and dining room--a wedding gift to the original owners--is of museum quality. In one corner a chess set awaits guests. Elsewhere, logs flame in an 18th-Century fireplace imported from France.

On a wintry day it's the perfect place to meditate or read. Or to just drift off to sleep, secure in the knowledge that one is free, momentarily, of civilization's mad whirl only a few miles beyond the gates of Stonepine.

Conversely, the loggia, supported by ancient arches imported from Italy, is the perfect choice for an alfresco lunch on a warm autumn afternoon, the vista beyond bringing to mind a rural setting in distant Tuscany.

With dusk a Victorian carriage attended by a driver and a footman attired in top hats and tails and jodhpurs appears mysteriously, as in a scene from an Agatha Christie thriller, to deliver guests on cocktail romps through forested fields and fragrant meadows.

Wisteria climbs the walls of Chateau Noel and shade is cast by olive trees framed by box hedges and flowering shrubs. At mealtime the table is set with Limoges dinnerware and sterling silver, and there are marvelous quiches and pasta salads prepared by winsome Wendy Browdie, whose talents of an evening turn to such delights as fresh Monterey salmon, lamb, veal chops with morel mushrooms, pheasant, quail, venison and a selection of other entrees prepared with rare artistry.

On occasion a string ensemble entertains in the handsome living room at Chateau Noel with its priceless tapestries and 19th-Century Italian fireplace, a grand piano and superb antiques. Custom rugs scattered about the public rooms were loomed in Taiwan.

Still, with all its luxury, Chauteau Noel provides precisely eight guest rooms, all handsomely appointed with king- or queen-size beds, goose-down comforters, high quality fabrics and lavish baths featuring Jacuzzis, imported toiletries and rich towels to match the quality of his-and-her robes.

The noble Taittinger suite appeals to the guest desiring his-and-her baths along with a loft for peering into the valley or catching a sunset or watching spellbound while morning mists drape themselves over gnarled oaks gowned in Spanish moss.

Another suite, named for French designer Coco Chanel, is tastefully toned with gray satin to frame an antique fireplace and an armoire that conceals the TV.

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