FEW SETTINGS EVOKE ROMANCE more than a villa in Tuscany. And you can get there — well, not exactly there — using only a tank of gas. Villa Toscana, just northeast of Paso Robles, comes about as close to the Italian playground as any place on this continent.
It’s a breathtakingly gorgeous bed-and-breakfast amid the green rows of the Martin & Weyrich winery. The eight suites and one villa all have balconies where you can sip the local product while drinking in the lush, rolling central California landscape.
And Villa Toscana’s interior provides its own kind of scenery. Rich is the operative word, in furniture, upholstery, colors and accouterments. Each 700 to 1,000-square-foot suite has a queen-size bed (700-count sheets, yard-wide down pillows), a spacious sitting area with fireplace and a refrigerator- sink area. At the foot of the bed is a large cabinet, attractive in itself but hugely practical. Press a button on the remote, and a 32-inch TV rises like a monolith and swivels if you prefer to watch from the couch or chairs. Even the bathroom is indulgent, with its stained-glass window, two sinks, makeup table and that too-rare civilized appurtenance, a bidet. The whirlpool bathtub, of course, is built for two.
Forget fitness centers and Pilates classes — Villa Toscana is for relaxation and revitalization, including a full menu of in-suite spa treatments. If you crave some exercise, walk around and snap pictures of the Italianate architecture and colorful landscaping. Or the arrogant peacocks that tease you with a quick pose, then disappear into a bush. Breakfast offers a happy choice. You can have a sumptuous meal brought to your suite or, if you prefer sampling, stroll to the bistro, where you can pick from a large buffet of fresh fruits and cereals as your pre-ordered main dish is prepared. For afternoon refreshment, Villa Toscana lays out a lavish selection of carefully prepared appetizers accompanied by several Martin & Weyrich vintages.
You could make that your dinner and be satisfied, or you could drive to several good restaurants nearby. I recommend Matthew’s at the Airport. Matthew Riley (you’re likely to meet him) has a passion for creating delicious dishes, and virtually everything on the menu, including mayonnaise, is prepared on site. You’ll come away with a whole new definition of “airport food.”
There’s more gustatory greatness, and another superior nesting spot, just down Highway 101 in Atascadero: the Carlton Hotel. Built in 1929, it fell into disrepair but has just completed a five-year restoration and now stands as a gleaming centerpiece of the ongoing downtown revitalization.
The Carlton is a boutique hotel, with 52 rooms and suites surrounding a courtyard. Its historical look has been lovingly preserved, with carefully chosen furniture and details like old-fashioned tin ceilings in public areas, inlaid-marble floors and the wonderful wrought-iron work in the staircases, with Tiffany glass encased in their posts.
Along with filling the eye, the Carlton pleases the palate with its bakery café, sushi bar and two excellent restaurants, the grill and the aptly named diVine (hey, it is in wine country). Try special creations like the vegetable or mushroom truffle flan or the hotel’s signature dish, the crusted sea bass.
Head up to central California and have a delightful dilemma —the downtown Carlton or the pastoral Villa Toscana. Either way, count on a great escape.
If You Go
Atascadero and Paso Robles are about a seven-hour drive (I-5 to State 101) from San Diego. Villa Toscana is about 10 minutes’ drive from the Paso Robles Airport; Atascadero is 15 minutes farther. Villa Toscana (805-238-5600, myvillatoscana.com) has eight units, $350-$370 a night. The Carlton Hotel (877- 204-9830, the-carlton.com) has 52 rooms and suites, $195- $335 a night.