BIG SUR California, USA
Driving along the Highway One in the stretch between the river Carmel and San Carpóforo Creek it’s like caressing the curves of Santa Lucia Mountains as to try to draw their profile. Passing through sequoia woods among trees that are taller than the sky, falling in love with sea lions plunging into the water one at a time, looking back again and again to look at the colour of the horizon at dusk, holding the breath when the street gets so close to the edge of the cliff that a few pebbles fall down. It’s common among Harley bikers to acknowledge each-others with a nod. There is something more special when you nod to someone on this sacred street. Meeting here creates a special bond. Spectacular, extreme and romantic, of the same intensity of a new born feeling, Big Sur is a parenthesis of Paradise. When you explore it, you suddenly feel like you are in a parallel surreal world that is charged of energy, magnetism, freedom and courage. We drive for hours but we don’t feel tired as we are animated by the same enthusiasm of all those travellers, poets and artists that, starting from the second half of the century, travelled here looking for unspoiled shores and cathartic experiences. They were guided by the charm of the purest of nature and found on these coasts the ideal conditions to start hippy communities and New Age fortresses.
After one of many turns we discover by chance Nepenthe. For years this restaurant has been a gathering point for both foreigners and locals. The story goes that as soon as they arrived, founders Lolly and Bill Fassett bought this cabin directly from Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. The famous couple found it during a trip, fell in love with the site and bought it with the intention of turning it into their private retreat, far from the hubbub of Hollywood. In the end, they were so busy filming that they never managed to come back or even spend one night here. The roots of the Fassett family, however, run much deeper. During the day, regular tourists stop at Cafè Kavah for lunch and enjoy the famous Sticky Buns on the breath-taking terrace. In the early afternoon, the atmosphere gets more intimate. You can enjoy an aperitif of Californian wine and potatoes with wild salmon on very long wooden tables facing the Pacific Ocean when the air is still and the sun sets the horizon on fire. In the evening, you wait for dinner around a bonfire in the patio area and you end up knowing everybody and sharing travel stories as you were among old friends. The restaurant is a wooden cabin with an open bbq. Some of the dishes on the menu are legendary like the Ambrosia Burger, Lolly’s Roast Chicken and the Three Berry Pie.
As to make this dreamlike experience even more perfect, we spend the night at Lucia Lodge, not far from here; it’s a unique chance to sleep overlooking the ocean. Reception and restaurant are on the main street while the cottages are down the road clinging to the cliffs, in such a privileged location that it doesn’t seem real. Inside, a high and sturdy bed and a lighted fireplace that they keep on even during summer, threadbare carpet and a tiny little bathroom. They serve the typical Californian breakfast, abundant and energetic: pancakes with vanilla filling, big and warm loafs of bread on which the salty butter melts effortlessly, muffins and cakes that smell of cinnamon, crunchy cereals and tasty milk. The cottages with views on the ocean are more expensive but if the usual morning mist is gone, the extra dollars are well repaid.