11 October 2008

Cal-a-Vie: French Romance in Southern California

 

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Remember this house designed by Cote de Texas Top Designer #7 Gerrie Bremermann?   The house is owned by Terri and John Havens, of New Orleans.   The couple moved their permanent home from Houston to be in New Orleans and hired Bremermann to design a kid-friendly home, even though they had no children at the time.   Now, parents of three children, the choice to hire Bremermann was no accident.  Terri Havens is a committed Francophile, as Bremermann herself is.    Around seven years ago the Havens won an auction item for a week's vacation in California at the famous health spa Cal-a-Vie.   Located 40 miles north of San Diego in the hills of southern California, Cal-a-Vie's 200 acre property resembles more a Provencal countryside than an American one.   The couple was hopelessly hooked.    They bought the spa and embarked on a massive restoration and remodeling, turning the picturesque property into a French dream. 

California is famous for its legendry spas, the Golden Door and La Costa among them.  Cal-a-Vie has quickly caught up.  The spa wins all sorts of awards each year, including Travel and Leisure's #1 Destination Spa of 2008.  Suffice it to say, it's now considered one of the top spas in the world.   The Havens trek to France each year to collect furniture, construction materials and even buildings to bring back to Cal-a-Vie.  The result?  A gorgeous spa with a decidedly French atmosphere.  Although staying at Cal-a-Vie is very expensive, it is all inclusive - including pedicures, massages, and every imaginable treatment you can think of.  It's small - the capacity is only 24 guests and the ratio is 4 staff to each person.   If a vacation to France is too far away to manage, a quick trip to Cal-a-Vie in southern California may just make you feel you went abroad anyway.

 

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The valley where the pink stucco, red tiled roof guest rooms are concentrated.  The surrounding hills provide hiking trails for early morning treks.  The Pacific Ocean is just a few miles away.

 

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To get there, first you drive over a wooden bridge, then you enter the property through iron gates.

 

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The entrance to Cal-a-Vie.  Steps lead to the pink stucco main building with authentic French wood shutters painted green.

 

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The same inviting scene at night.

 

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The terra cotta steps leading to the main lobby.  Orange trees grow everywhere in southern California.  In nearby Rancho Santa Fe, most houses have their own orange orchard.

 

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The lobby:  filled with authentic French antiques brought back by Terri and John Havens.  The large lobby area has several distinct seating areas.  I love the settee and the tall tea table.

 

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Another view of the lobby from the back stairs.    Notice the beautiful Spanish style antique table just to the right.

 

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The bar area of the lobby, except no liquor is served on the premises!  Remember this is a health spa.  Guests may bring their own toddies, but most choose to stay on the Spa Plan and try to lose weight while here.  On the right is a massive, glorious  tapestry.

 

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Another seating area in the lobby next to the fire place.   The walls are limestone, the floors are unstained wood.   Large armoire doors flanking both sides of the fireplace are built into the walls. 

 

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A close up of the antique fireplace mantel imported from France.

 

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A massive crystal chandelier hangs over the center seating area.

 

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Notice the wood floors in the lobby:  I would guess that the Havens imported these ancient boards from France.

 

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Guests eat dinner around this large French table, underneath antique chandeliers.  The room is wall-to-wall boiserie, with a hand painted frieze above the paneling.  Notice the antique crystal candelabras on the table.  On the Spa Plan, guests can choose how many calories  per day they want to stick with during their stay. 

 

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Lunch is served in either this dining room or outside on the terrace.  The French chairs are slipcovered in cotton check.  Notice the beautiful large armoire with a grape gathering basket on top.  At lunch, many guests dine in their hotel terry cloth robes - ready to go to their beauty treatments during the afternoon.  Mornings are spent doing exercises.

 

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The grounds with a French fountain.    Notice the lone building on the hill in the back.

 

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That building, shown here, was bought by the Havens in Dijon, France and imported to California, stone by stone.  It is a 400 year old Chapel from the Convent of the Carmelites.   Today, it is the oldest building in San Diego County!   The Chapel is lit only by candlelight and is used for weddings and private dinners.  The couple is also rebuilding an imported Orangerie from  France which will serve as a reception room.   The stones in the front of the picture form a labyrinth where guests walk the circles in silent meditation.

 

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A close up of the restored Chapel, with its heavy wooden doors and arched windows. 

 

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Inside the Chapel, decorated for a wedding dinner - so beautiful!

 

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Another view from the outside.    I wish my daughter Elisabeth could get married here one day!

 

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The grounds outside the guest rooms were landscaped by the Havens after they purchased Cal-a-Vie.

 

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The same view - with the massive fruit tree in full bloom.

 

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The 200 acre property consists of hilly terrain.  A golf club adjoins Cal-a-Vie and the Havens recently purchased it to combine the two properties - making a total of 400 acres.   The golf club will be completely renovated - the French atmosphere will be carried over from Cal-a-Vie, although it will have a more masculine feel, according to John Havens.   He states that he and his wife are passionate about Cal-a-Vie and they are thrilled to be able to combine the properties and preserve the land and views.  More renovations are still going on at Cal-a-Vie:  all bathrooms were recently updated and additional exercise space is being built.  The spa gets many Hollywood stars, including Oprah Winfrey and Sharon Stone, who are frequent guests.  The actress Sharon Gless holds the record for staying the longest time - 3 months!  Most guests stay either 3 days or one week.  

 

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A guest room with the bright pink bougainvillea that lines the highways of southern California.

 

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The same guest room, at night.

 

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The guest rooms have been decorated by Terri Havens using French fabrics and antique furniture.  An arched window makes this room especially appealing.

 

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This room uses a combination of toile, check and ticking fabrics. 

 

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Blue and white French toile, check, and stripes! 

 

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A tone-on-tone damask was used in this guest room.  A graceful antique French day bed sits under the shutters.

 

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Traditional blue and white toile and checks along with French antique furniture was used in this guest room.

 

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This guest room has antique French leather armchairs imported by the Havens.  Even the lamps throughout the property are antiques. 

 

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The bathrooms in all the rooms were recently renovated with travertine tile surrounded tubs. 

 

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This room has a balcony that overlooks the hills. 

 

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And this guest room has a patio for outdoor dining.

 

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Even the spa is decorated in the French tradition with antique mirrors, sconces and buffet.    Antique terra cotta pavers were imported for the floor.

 

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The spa bathroom is as beautiful as it gets with a stone vessel sink, mirrors, sconces, and traditional blue and white tile.

 

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The spa:  heavenly!   Notice  the tile back splash.   Antique cabinetry holds the towels.  Just beautiful.

 

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A mural is painted behind the Jacuzzi, while a painted console holds the details that make Cal-a-Vie a feast for the eyes:   blue and white porcelain and white ironstone. 

 

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Even the beauty shop goes French with a trumeau and sconces.  In typical French fashion, the trim is painted gray while the walls are a creamy peach.

 

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Of course the Boutique would be charming too!  Terri Havens must be in heaven doing all the shopping for her property.  I would be!!!  The iron chair is adorable.

 

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In the boutique the French atmosphere continues with the fireplace decorated with a French mirror and candlesticks.

 

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Chandeliers are for sale here too!  Cal-a-Vie will soon be launching an online store on their web site.

 

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Early morning hikes are taken on the hills that surround the property.   The Pacific Ocean is nearby and acts as a natural air conditioner as the winds blow the air over the cold  water.

 

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Leaving Cal-a-Vie must not be fun!  Agapanthus line the walkway out the iron gates to the wooden bridge that leads back to San Diego.

 

If you plan to go, be sure to book extra time to explore southern California.  The nearby cities of La Jolla and Del Mar are especially charming and so is Catalina Island.  The neighborhood and small town of Rancho Santa Fe is a great place for drive-bys!  The  Cal-a-Vie web site contains information about rates, special theme weeks and guest lecturers and teachers that are scheduled.