Carmel is a quaint and gorgeous luxury beach town

It’s the first week of April and the news is replete with stories of tornadoes, destruction and death in the Midwest and South. But here on the crescent beach of Carmel, the winter sun is mimicking summer and the surf sparkles. Visitors and locals alike are cruising the sand just below the bluffs of the Pebble Beach Golf Course.

This intimate and inviting Courtyard of Fountains just outside Ajne perfumery on Mission Street is typical of Carmel’s quaint, pedestrian-friendly downtown. Photo by Jerry Ondash

Beachcombers near a signature Monterey Peninsula cypress tree enjoy the warmth of a March day on Carmel’s expansive beach. Photo by Jerry Ondash

Truth be told, it is somewhat unusual weather for March on this stretch of California coast. That’s why these beachcombers stay ‘til the last arc of the sun slides into the Pacific.

We are spending five days on the Monterey Peninsula and today is slotted for idyllic Carmel. This is not the real world, we think, but we’ll take it.

Earlier in the day, we ambled down Ocean Avenue, which runs through the heart of the village’s storybook shopping and dining district. A block south on Mission we find Ajne (ajne.com), a unique perfumery where you can custom-blend scents that match your tastes and personality, or buy one of 45 pre-formulated fragrances. Owners and spouses Jane Hendler and Rex Rombach are dedicated to producing sustainable, natural and organic scents that promise not to offend even if you have a problem with such things.

“Our scents react completely different than those made with artificial ingredients because everything in ours is natural,” Hendler explains.

Rex Rombach, co-owner of Ajne perfumery, demonstrates the painstaking process of converting flowers, plants and trees into fragrances that contain only natural products. Customers can create their own organic scents based on preferences and personality, or choose from 45 pre-formulated fragrances. Photo by Jerry Ondash

The couple imports raw ingredients from the world over, and Rombach grows

lavender, bergamot and yuzu (a Japanese tree that produce a citrus fruit) on three acres in Carmel Valley as well. He also designed and built a diffuser for collecting the natural fragrances. It takes pounds and pounds of raw ingredients to produce a scant amount of perfume, but his labor produces fragrances that are at once light and penetrating and never overwhelming.

Back on the beach, the day darkens, so we head for Hofsas House (hofsashouse.com), a family-owned boutique hotel on San Carlos Street between Third and Fourth avenues. (There are no numbered addresses, stop lights or street lights in one-mile-square Carmel.) Bavarian-themed Hofsas House, just a two-minute walk from Ocean Avenue, has 38 rooms, each decorated with antiques gathered by Grandmother Donna Hofsas, who opened the hotel 60 years ago. Today, granddaughter Carrie Theis is at the helm and often greets guests as they drive into the portico decorated with a Bavarian mural painted by artist Maxine Albro.

“Carmel is very much a European village,” says Theis, also president of the Carmel Innkeeper Association. “We want people to have unique experience. You can come for days and never have to move your car. All of our staff knows the area and can help visitors plan their day. You can make your base in Carmel and get everywhere. Big Sur is only 45 minutes away.”

Bavarian-themed Hofsas House, a boutique hotel with 38 rooms, sits in the heart of Carmel. It offers European hospitality and has many repeat customers who like the service and location. Photo by Jerry Ondash

Many Hofsas House guests are repeat customers.

“This is my fourth visit,” says a Michigan woman who is enjoying the continental breakfast in the lobby. “I always feel so comfortable here, and I love the location.”

Family- and pet-friendly, the hotel’s summer rates are reasonable; a queen-bed room starts at $150. Some rooms have kitchenettes, a few have fireplaces, and renovated bathrooms have in-floor heating. Groups like the pool, large deck and meeting room with kitchen, and Forest Hills Park and playground are but two blocks away.

Later we walk south to Mundaka, a Spanish tapas restaurant situated between Ocean Avenue and Seventh Street. Check the online sample menu of this intimate, contemporary bistro, but don’t get attached to anything listed because the menu varies daily according to what’s fresh and local. The menu proudly states that “we believe in serving ‘real’ food only. YES: fresh, local, organic, biodynamic, free-range, line-caught, sustainable, fair-trade, homemade, from scratch. NO: antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, high fructose corn syrup, artificial anything.”

For the most part, we are stumped by the choices, but our well-versed waiter, Nico, who hails from Spain, comes to the rescue.

Our choices include Solomillo, an excellent grilled hangar steak with foie gras butter and a delicious (who’d have guessed?) parsnip puree; and Lubine, a Monterey white sea bass with grilled asparagus and an heirloom bean puree zipped up with a hint of chili flakes. The ravioli with ricotta, egg and chanterelle (mushroom) jus is a dish-to-die-for. Banana crepes, homemade coffee ice cream and rich espresso make the perfect finale.

This moss-covered roof is typical of many of the Carmel’s storybook buildings, which house boutiques and eateries that draw tourists from around the world. Photo by Jerry Ondash

Next column: Outside the village: Point Lobos, a mushroom farmer and olallieberry pie.

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