California’s Gold Country towns are known for their mid-19th century architecture, historic parks (many of which are former mines), and proximity to Yosemite National Park. But luxury hotels aren’t exactly on every corner in this corner of the woods. It is more common to find moderately priced hotels geared towards weekend skiers, hikers and mountain bikers than luxury accommodations that are destinations in themselves. And restaurants in the area turn to lower-end diners and upscale steakhouses. Enter Chateau du Sureau, a glorious European-style retreat with the best restaurant miles away, a fabulous spa and secluded pool – all combined with top-notch service creates the epitome of a hidden gem.
This property was the dream of Erna Kubin-Clanin, an Austrian chef, restaurateur and hotelier who founded the retreat as The Estate by the Elderberries, which included the 10-bedroom castle, The Elderberry House restaurant, the Spa du Sureau and the two private -bedroom Villa Sureau. Although she sold the property to Bernard Rosenson a few years ago, this Relais & Châteaux hotel has retained its elegance and charm, as well as its world-class hospitality.
I recently stayed in the Rosemary Room, a large, gracefully appointed room overlooking the rear gardens with both a deep soaking tub and a walk-in shower. What I noticed the moment I stepped into space was its tranquil serenity – its deep stillness, in fact – which isn’t something I expected in a hotel unless half a mile from busy Oakhurst Main Street. And it was a most welcome discovery given how quickly it allowed me to switch from highway driving to deep relaxation mode. The 10 year old bottle of Poppy (Rosenson’s Winery) Santa Santa Ynez Valley Syrah that was waiting for me also helped and encouraged the transition.
Although the Castle of the Sureau is only an hour’s drive from the iconic Yosemite National Park – which means it’s easy to make the castle a base for your explorations there (and the staff will even prepare a picnic for you) – it’s also a good idea to never leave the property and dive deep into your own meditation practice, slipping in for swims, walks in the woods, and wonderful dinners.
Be sure to book a table in advance at the castle’s fine dining restaurant, The Elderberry House, which is formal but not stuffy or pretentious. Chef Robert Snyder’s seasonal menus use as many local ingredients as possible, combining European style and technique with the bounty of California’s many farms.
Another experience not to be missed is the spa. In a separate building adjacent to the main castle building, the spa has an entirely different interior aesthetic, with a more Art Deco slant and darker color tones throughout the space. Huge treatment rooms invite you to relax in the expanse, and the therapists are well-trained veterans in body and facial treatments.
The last area of the property in which you should spend as much time as possible is the exquisite common area on the ground floor, complete with a grand piano and library. The flowing light changes throughout the day, and guests are invited to relax here with a book and a glass of wine.
There is also a mysterious little chapel on the ground floor of which I did not understand the whole story, but I was won over by its simplicity. It doesn’t seem to have any specific use, but it was easy to take a quick glance and think about its origins.
The service here is exactly as you hope to find it – low-key, proactive, friendly and helpful – which is no small feat during a global pandemic.
Whether you have a big plan to hike the 7.2 km round-trip Yosemite Falls Trail or relax by the pool, Chateau du Sureau is a premier destination for serene comfort in the Gold Country of California, not to mention a soothing sound bath of luxurious silence.