Like sitting on top of the world; Big Sur, California

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You'll find almost infinite peace gazing down on a flaming sunset

The Big Sur coastline has some breathtaking scenery, but much of the time it has fog as a constant companion.

On a clear day, you could see forever. Well, half way to Japan, perhaps.

Perched on a cliff almost 500 metres above the Pacific Ocean, the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, California, has a view to die for.

Which circumstance might happen if you climbed in the wrong direction out of one of the infinity pools on a foggy day. Infinity, it seems, is a major theme here at one of the most remote and beautiful resorts in America.

Big Sur (a rough translation of the Spanish for "the big south"), located about a three-hour drive south of San Francisco, boasts one of the most dramatic wilderness coastlines in the world.

Mile after mile of staggeringly high cliffs tower above crashing surf, and atop the highest cliff on the entire coast the discerning traveller who plans well ahead can reserve a tree house, mountain-view cottage or cliffside suite at Post Ranch for that very special occasion that demands the very best.

Deep fog along this wild coast is a frequent occurrence, and arriving at the ranch on a foggy day is a visual treat beyond compare.

Whether sitting on a cliffside patio, enjoying a dinner in the splendid Sierra del Mar restaurant, or ensconced in a warm meditation pool, the sensory experience is the same as flying first class in an airplane. Deep fog banks extend over the ocean far below, like fluffy white pillowcases extending towards an endless horizon, while the sunset blazes in a glorious red fireball in an azure sky above, setting the entire landscape on fire.

The overall effect is so hypnotic even the most dedicated diner might forget about the exquisite meals that drift out of chef Craig von Foerster's kitchen like a dream.

As night falls the fog banks deepen, but above, the night sky bursts into a billion stars. Those with vertigo might like to retreat to the comfort of the nearby tree houses - butterfly-shaped cottages set among the limbs of giant redwood trees - or head to the spa for a deep massage. Hailed by Conde Naste Traveller as the best leisure hotel in the Americas, Post Ranch is a special destination for honeymoons, anniversaries and romantic liaisons.

While the ambience of the inn might tempt any traveller to simply sit and stare at the horizon, there are many other scenic temptations along the Big Sur coastline. The Santa Lucia mountains tower up to 2000 metres along the coast, and although Big Sur has no specific boundaries, many define the region as being the 140 km of coastline from Carmel south to the village of San Simeon.

Big Sur has seen very little development due largely to residents who have fought to preserve their land. The Monterey County government won a landmark court case in 1962 affirming its right to ban billboards and all other visual distractions on Highway One. The county has adopted one of the country's most stringent land-use plans, prohibiting any new construction within sight of the highway. The views remain unparalleled, with many pullouts where camera buffs can indulge their passions for photography.

In the 1950s Big Sur's isolation and natural beauty began to attract writers and artists, including novelist Henry Miller. Today, the Henry Miller Memorial Library remains the Big Sur cultural centre, devoted to his life and work and worth a visit. Further down the coast, the Esalen Institute still draws followers of the human potential movement. At the tiny settlement of Nepenthe, a gallery, cafe and restaurant allow for other spectacular views of the coast.

The jagged topography of the cliffs causes many separate microclimates. Big Sur is one of the few places on the planet where redwoods grow within sight of cacti. The coastline typically enjoys a mild climate year-round, with a sunny, dry summer and fall, and a cool, wet winter. Coastal temperatures vary little during the year.

Big Sur remains sparsely populated with only about 1,000 inhabitants, including descendants of the original ranching families, artists and writers and wealthy homeowners. Real estate costs are as impressive as the views, with most homes worth millions. There are no urban areas, although three small clusters of gas stations and restaurants are mistakenly marked on maps as "towns." Land-use regulations mean that tourist accommodations are limited and expensive and fill up quickly during the busy summer season. There are only a few hundred hotel rooms on the entire coastline.

Certainly few hotels anywhere can match the Post Ranch Inn for scenic beauty, fine food and romantic ambience. A visit to this special region of the world is one that should be carefully planned well in advance. The views and memories will be infinite.

 

If you go

Where to stay: Contact the Post Ranch Inn at www.postranchinn.com.

What to do: Explore Big Sur state parks such as Carmel River, Andrew Molera, Pfeiffer Big Sur, Julia Pfeiffer Burns, and John Little State Park. Log on to Henry Miller House at www.henrymiller.org.

Organizations: Post Ranch Inn, Henry Miller Memorial Library, Esalen Institute Henry Miller House

Geographic location: California, Japan, Pacific Ocean America San Francisco Sierra del Mar Americas Santa Lucia Carmel San Simeon Monterey County Carmel River State Park

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