Ventana Inn & Spa Rating: 4.5 Pearls
Situated on more than 200 acres of picturesque land, The Ventana Inn & Spa looks like a rustic cabin nestled in the woods -- yet it features 62 luxurious, streamlined rooms with wooden accents, refreshing pops of color, and modern amenities such as flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, and free Wi-Fi. Many rooms have fireplaces, creating a cozy retreat vibe to fit with its surroundings -- though glass doors and large windows keep the rooms feeling bright and airy. Not a place for families, the overall goal of the hotel is to create a zen, holistic retreat for couples, with such offerings as yoga classes, discovery walks; afternoon wine and cheese, Japanese baths, and two pools, one of which is clothing-optional -- a sure-bet to heat things up.
Bernardus Lodge Rating: 4.0 Pearls
This 57-room rustic-luxe retreat in Carmel Valley sits in a lovely setting among rolling hills and vineyards. Details such as vaulted beamed ceilings, wood-burning fireplaces, and country-inspired decor help create an atmosphere that is homey and cozy. Rooms are large and comfortable with stone fireplaces, feather beds, and plush white bedding, and big bathrooms feature walk-in showers and two-person soaking tubs. Some rooms feature double French doors that lead to cute private patios with Jacuzzis, while rooms on higher floors have decks instead. There are several restaurants here -- including the famous Marinus restaurant with its chef's table where up to five guests can dine while watching the chef cook. Additional appealing amenities include an outdoor pool, pool bar, and inviting spa where wine-based treatments are available. It's a sophisticated, romantic spot in Carmel Valley.
Carmel Valley Ranch Rating: 4.5 Pearls
Carmel Valley Ranch may come in behind Bernardus Lodge because it is a bit more family-focused than the lodge, but this 500-acre property is still uber-romantic. Offering modern luxury in a rustic, bucolic setting, with tall oak trees, organic gardens, and rolling vineyards, Carmel Valley Ranch features rooms decorated in soft tones and equipped with flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, and Keurig coffeemakers. Enormous, immaculate bathrooms with soaking tubs and separate walk-in showers provide space to relax, along with small private decks and travertine fireplaces. The ranch's many features include two outdoor pools, as well as an 18-hole golf course designed by Pete Dye and an attractive spa.
Hyatt Carmel Highlands Rating: 4.0 Pearls
The cliff-side Hyatt Carmel Highlands offers awe-inspired views unrivaled anywhere else around Monterey and Carmel -- some could even argue the entire West Coast. Accommodations are seemingly as roomy as the stunning ocean views they offer, most complete with working fireplaces and stocked with simple yet modern amenities. The on-site restaurants serve meals that rival the scenery, and the outdoor fire pit is good for relaxing and taking in healthy doses of sea breeze after a day of kayaking (you can rent kayaks on-site). With 144 rooms and not as many acres for roaming, it's not quite as secluded and intimate as the Carmel Valley Ranch -- and it doesn't have a spa (although in-room treatments are available), but it comes in closely behind it.
L'Auberge Carmel Rating: 4.5 Pearls
Coming to a charming place like Carmel usually calls for a quaint inn experience, and the luxurious L'Auberge Carmel -- housed in a white stucco building dating to 1929 -- does not disappoint. Its 20 rooms have warm colors, high-quality bedding, and beautiful modern bathrooms with heated floors (some have deep soaking tubs). They do have some odd quirks, including small flat-screen TVs, and vaulted ceilings that run low in some spots, but for most guests, it just adds to the charm. The inn is built around an adorable brick courtyard, which helps create a homey European vibe, as do the green French shuttered windows with window planters. There aren't as many amenities as at a large chain, but there is free Wi-Fi, and the prime location makes walking to shops or restaurants in downtown Carmel easy.