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Cycling Monterey: To Carmel and Back

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve visited Carmel and Monterey many times. They are only 2-3 hours away and the scenery is stunning. Because of the flat terrain and the scenery, cycling has long been popular. Folks either rent bikes or bring bikes into Monterey, and then take 17 Mile Drive around the Monterey peninsula to Carmel and back. Less popular is to complete the circuit by going over the hill above Carmel back into Monterey. I had always been curious about the route bikes can take to get back to Monterey without doubling back around the peninsula. This weekend, my wife and I decided to check it out.

We arrived at the Monterey Plaza Inn and Spa early on a Friday. Aside from being perfectly situated on the water, it is perfectly situated along the bike trail that turns into 17 mile drive. It is also appointed with great bike storage if you bring your own. The place is not cheap, but it had everything we were looking for with this bike trip.

We hung out around Cannery Row that night. Cannery Row is pretty touristy but there’s a lot of great food and bars a block or two in any direction. And some spots were charming despite all the schmultz around the corner. From a small stretch of beach, we walked to Gianni’s Pizza on Lighthouse Avenue. This is just a nice, clean, pizzeria: nothing fancy, but nothing greasy or over-priced either.

Given that 17 mile drive is only 17 miles and my average bike speed is 15 mph, we started the next day fairly late thinking we had plenty of time to finish the ride. We spent the morning savoring the pricey but spectacular gym and jacuzzi at the hotel. That got us thoroughly stretched and relaxed for the ride.

We cycled about a mile down from Monterey to Pacific Grove to grab breakfast at the Red House Café. Great shaded deck and great light California cuisine. After cycling just a few blocks from breakfast, this is what we found: spectacular flowers, surf, and rock formations.

Bike lanes here and on the whole route are sporadic. Initially, there were none just out of Pacific Grove but a bike lane started about a half mile later and continued for miles. The lanes are not large and are frequently used by stopped cars and pedestrians, but at least they are there. Fortunately, most of the competing traffic is not moving very fast because everyone is gawking at the scenery. Even when the lane narrowed or disappeared, the situation didn’t feel threatening.

As we pedaled around the tip of the peninsula well out of the Pacific Grove proper, the golf resorts started. These are all beautiful in their own right, but they do push the road away from the shore a bit. The good news about that is you pass under trees right about the time you are getting a bit hot.

Once you get past the Spanish Bay golf resort, you are pedaling through a full-blown forest of pines. In addition to providing a nice place to cool off, they provide their own aesthetic value to the ride, especially when you get filtered glimpses of the bright blue shoreline.

At this point, it was becoming important to find a bathroom. Sadly, there are very few facilities along 17 mile drive. There are no gas stations and very few businesses of any kind on the west side of the peninsula north of Carmel. The exceptions are the golf resorts. We actually darted inside the Pebble Beach Resort and they graciously allowed us to use the facilities. This lack of facilities applies to input as well as output, of course. As always, it is important to pack water on this cycling trip because there are very few places to hydrate until you get to Carmel.

Once we were past Pebble Beach, Carmel was not far off. There’s a steep drop down into the outskirts of town with no bike lane. This had some of the fastest moving and voluminous traffic of the ride so it was a bit hectic, but no worse than a lot of typical rides anywhere else.

The road from 17 mile drive dumps you out near the shoreline of Carmel. This positions you perfectly to see the famous beach at the base of Ocean avenue. This is not to be missed: the sand is super white, due to the high silicon content. It has an extraordinary squeak when walked upon.

Carmel village is at the top of Ocean Avenue. This a pretty steep hill, but it is only a couple of blocks until you are in the center of things. Scenes like this one make it totally worth the climb. We stopped for an Arnold Palmer (iced tea and lemonade) at the General Store. This has the best patio in Carmel for my money. It also has great Long Island Iced Teas if you are not driving or riding.

After the break, we had to decide which way to take home. We had tentatively planned on going up and over the hills of Carmel to get back to Monterey. This route was only 5.9 miles as opposed to doubling back on 17 mile drive. The problem was that my wife, like most of the riders of the world, is not a big fan of hills. After the climb required to get into Carmel Village, she wasn’t too keen for a lot more climbing. Worse, the path to go over the summit involved going all the way back down the hill to the shoreline to get back up to 17 mile drive. Once you are up on the hill in Carmel, there is no shortcut from the village back over to 17 mile drive. There is no way to save the altitude you’ve already gained if you want to go up and over. And the roads are frustratingly close to one another.

After a failed attempt to find a possibly undocumented trail to 17 mile drive from Carmel Village, we doubled back down to the shoreline and then back up to 17 mile drive. Just the climb to get back up to 17 mile drive was steep, hot, and car-filled. That was enough to give my wife serious reservations about going to the summit. Since I had not done my research on the length and degree of the incline to get to the summit, she was seriously thinking about just doubling back. To her credit, she decided to go for the summit after all (what a sport). It didn’t take long to discover we had made a good choice. Using iPhone GPS, we soon discovered the summit was only a mile up and we were rapidly making lots of progress on the map. We made it to the top in about 23 minutes and that was with frequent stops to avoid traffic or just sit in the shade. The last bit is sufficiently steep but still relatively short, as climbs go. The worst of it was the unknown. Next time, I’ll research the incline better.

Once at the summit, we found the trail that parallels the freeway back into Monterey. Given it’s proximity to the freeway, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was this beautiful shady pathway dedicated to cycling: long, straight, and steep. Bombing down it was a nice reward for slogging up the west side.

Once you are down the big hill, you go under the freeway onto Munras Avenue. Munras actually has a nice set of dedicated bike paths just off the road as well. Another pleasant surprise.

After Munras, the dedicated bike paths turned into bike lanes on the street, but were still deluxe compared to places like Vegas.

Back in Monterey, we stopped off at the “East Side Café” for an iced coffee. This is a great coffee house with not only a great patio, but with an utterly lightless room for the hungover, web-obsessed, or goth-like.

From here, we took the bike trail that runs along the water back to the hotel. Although this is a dedicated bike path, it tends to be overrun with pedestrians. Dodging pedestrians is still better than dodging cars, but at times you just have to stop and wait for some of the chaos to pass.

The payoff for taking the bike trail along Cannery Row is, of course, the scenery. There is a nice herd of seals hanging out in the harbor. The rocks in the background are covered with seals. They are quite the hams, but cool nonetheless. Farther out in the water were quite a few sea otters eating a meal off of their bellies. Monterey delivers on the wildlife.

Back at the hotel, we decided to relax a bit with some mixed drinks. All in all, we felt great about the day. The weather was perfect. The summit climb had been better than feared and gave us more time to do something else than if we had doubled back on 17 mile drive.

With hindsight, leaving earlier would have been better to avoid the heat. Strategizing about bathroom breaks is also a good idea. Regardless, when you consider all the wonderful smells of sea air, trees, and flowers, cycling is the best way to see Monterey and Carmel.

As a nice bonus, the next day at breakfast we stumbled upon a bike race through the center of Pacific Grove: The Butterfly Criterium. We had a nice view of all the action from Toastie’s.

On the way back to our car, as we headed out of town, we found one of the racers warming up under a tree. A nice end to a bike-themed weekend.

Top Destinations to Fly to in Switzerland and Austria

Verbier, Switzerland

Suddenly Verbier has stolen the crown from under the noses of Courchevel, St Moritz and Klosters and become the place for Europe’s elite to ski. Last year saw the opening of Sir Richard Branson’s first ski chalet (£56-£96,000 per week), the Coco Club nightclub (offering £5,000 cocktails), and the Coskun Gallery (giving passing skiers the chance to pop in and drop £500,000 on an original Warhol, Lichtenstein or Indiana on their way to the cable car).

Recent visitors have included Hugh Grant, the Beckhams and Jamie Oliver, while singer James Blunt has a chalet in town and a ski lift named after him. The key is that hardcore off-piste skiing here means the resort keeps a sporty, young atmosphere – while Prince Charles goes to Klosters to ski, his sons come here.
Fly to: Sion, 64km away

Best for après ski: St Anton, Austria

If après ski were a sport, then the village of St Anton would be its Lords, its Centre Court, its Wembley. Just above the village, the two most celebrated bars in the Alps face each other across blue piste number 1 – to the left, the Krazy Kanguruh, where the concept of après ski (glühwein, singing, Jägermeister shots, dancing on tables in ski boots…) was invented in the late 1970s; to the right, the Mooserwirt, reputed to sell more beer than any other bar in the country. The party starts at 3pm and by 7pm the piste is carnage as the well-refreshed revellers attempt to ski back down to the village (where the clubs stay open till 6am). Try not to get too carried away – St Anton also has some of the best skiing in Europe, with cruising pistes that connect to the neighbouring villages of Stuben, Zurs and Lech, and legendary off-piste. Stay at Artemis, Scott Dunn’s brand new luxury chalet for 12, or for old-school glamour, the Alberg Hospiz in the nearby hamlet of St Christoph.
Fly to: Innsbruck, 100km away

Arosa, Switzerland

A charming resort, a top-notch five-star hotel and a breathtaking spa – what more could you want for a truly indulgent long weekend in the snow? Arosa is typical chocolate-box Switzerland (old wooden chalets, horse-drawn sleighs, skating on the frozen lake) and its best hotel, the Tschuggen Grand, is a classic grand European five-star. But cross a glass bridge from the hotel and automatic doors swish open to reveal what looks like a Bond villain’s lair – a colossal spa on four floors, built inside a hollowed-out mountain.

The Bergoase (“mountain oasis”) was designed by Mario Botta, the Swiss super-architect behind San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, and features his trademark minimal interiors as well as indoor/outdoor pools and all manner of saunas, steam and treatment rooms. To complete the Bond vibe, the hotel even has its own private monorail to deliver you straight to the middle of Arosa’s quiet, well-groomed pistes. Fly to: Zurich, 130km

North Cyprus Hotels

North Cyprus has seen a much gentler pace of development than most Mediterranean destinations, and this is as true for tourism as for anything else. However, to the vast majority of visitors this is a bonus, not a problem. The country has an incredible wealth of history, and is home to some of superb monuments, such as Kyrenia Castle, Saint Hilarion Castle and Bellapais Abbey, to name just a few. The pace of life seems somehow more relaxed here and there is something of a pleasantly ‘old-fashioned’ feel, but don’t for a minute think it is stuck in the past – it is simply that modernity has been incorporated in a more subtle manner. For the active tourist, there is everything you could possible want, from all types of watersports, through horse riding, mountain biking and jeep safaris, to paragliding and mountain climbing. As well, of course, as just lying on a beach or by the pool!

The development of hotels has taken a similar path, but what surprises many people is the sheer variety on offer. A number of decades ago there were only a handful of larger hotels and the vast majority were small holiday villages. Nearly always family run, these comprise a few small cottages or ‘mini-villas’ dotted around a reasonable plot of land with almost always a pool, a bar and a restaurant area. Today, there are quite a number of similar properties available, though most have moved with the times and offer satellite TV and broadband Internet as a minimum. There are also a number of medium-sized, family-run hotels, many with decent facilities and almost always with an excellent reputation for good cuisine and friendly service.

At the other end of the scale, North Cyprus now boasts a number of substantial hotels that can compete with some of the world’s best. Usually relatively large, these are characterised by superb architecture and an immense range of facilities. A choice of bars and restaurants is a given and most have at least two swimming pools and full spa facilities, but it is by no means unusual to find aqua parks, sports facilities, shops and the like, and many also have an in-house casino. With these larger properties, there is also the choice of style to suit you. Here you will find everything from the almost outrageous opulence of an Ottoman palace, to ultra-chic contemporary design. There is certainly no lack of style in Northern Cyprus.

The country also has more than a few superb boutique hotels. Although this category can be hard to define, here they are all small properties with most having just a few rooms. They all major on style as well, from quirky designer features to traditional Cypriot furnishings, architecture and antiques. Nearly all are famed for their culinary treats, offering everything from Cyprus specialities to the latest world trends. Most have relatively limited facilities, with little in the way of activities and usually just one (attractive) pool and terrace. On the other hand, they all provide luxurious comfort and excellent room facilities, with WiFi, satellite TV, DVD players and luxury bathrooms the norm rather than the exception.

So, North Cyprus hotels offer you a stunning choice, excellent facilities, supreme comfort and, of course thanks to the location, an ideal climate. What we have not yet mentioned is that they also offer incredible value. The cost of living is low in North Cyprus, certainly when compared with other Mediterranean destinations, and this is reflected in the comparatively low rates charged by hotels. This really is an ideal spot for a holiday and the only difficulty you are likely to have lies in making a rational choice from the plethora of options! Overall, your best bet is to contact one of the specialist tour operators who off North Cyprus holidays and, of course, North Cyprus hotels. Let their experience and knowledge be your guide.