From nature-covered campgrounds to historic lodges in tiny towns, various styles of accommodation populate the wondrous wooded areas in and around Yosemite National Park. None are quite like Oakhurst, California’s Chateau du Sureau, an elegant retreat etched into nine hillside acres with views of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Though the Relais & Châteaux property—which also houses a peaceful outdoor pool, spa and fine-dining restaurant—is still roughly an hour-long drive to the national park’s central visitor’s center (but much closer to the south gate and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias), it’s an ideal destination for travelers seeking a charming European aesthetic or an all-around fairytale environment.
The design of the property’s central structure, which features a stone turret and terra cotta roofing, alludes to the Provençal architecture of the south of France. Within, visitors will find 10 spacious guest rooms, with no two alike. A grand living room, with a piano and boardgames, welcomes guests as if they’re members of the family. Nearby, a two-bedroom villa offers a remote, yet equally fantastical escape.
For more than 30 years, the highly-awarded hotel, spa and restaurant have welcomed guests into what is the grand vision of chef, restaurateur and hotelier Erna Kubin-Clanin. Though Kubin-Clanin recently sold the property to hotelier and restaurateur Bernard Rosenson, the enchantment remains intact and Rosenson intends to keep it that way.
In addition to the quiet splendors of the property and the outdoor patios to drink and dine on, Chateau du Sureau also equips guests for their Yosemite excursions. During our stay, they made sure we had acquired vehicle passes to the park, assisted in our itinerary planning and, most deliciously, sent us off in the very early morning with picnic baskets that included ample fruit and water (which we brought with us on our 17 miles of hikes).
“We have a lot of travelers who start in San Francisco or Napa and will pass through to us on their way to Yosemite,” chef Robert Snyder of Chateau du Sureau’s Elderberry House Restaurant tells us. “We hold such a unique position. People feel like they’ve found us. There’s an element of surprise. We blow people away and they don’t necessarily expect that in this area.”
There’s no better spokesperson for the restaurant or hotel than Snyder, who started on the premises 15 years ago. In fact, he came first as a guest to see what he could contribute to their culinary adventures. Snyder’s worked at many prestigious institutions and for several celebrated chefs, from French Laundry to studying under Alice Waters. He’s left Chateau du Sureau a few times—but he keeps coming back.
“It’s just this place. It’s magical. I love it. It’s very guest-oriented,” he says. But regarding the restaurant, and its 100 heads per night, he adds, “I’ve been a lot of places but California’s Central Valley is so unique when it comes to ingredient content. It’s one of the biggest agricultural centers in the world.” Snyder uses the seasons to keep the menu exciting, and 95% of their ingredients come from farms nearby. “Nothing comes in frozen,” he says. “Everything is done in-house. The property has been doing business with many of these farmers for 30 years.”
“I like to compare it to Europe, with the experience, the level of service and the attention of the staff,” Snyder says of both the hotel and restaurant. “We’ve adopted these traditions from European service. We treat our guests like respected members of our family.” Walking through the corridors, or along the pathways on the grounds, it does often feel more like a home than a hotel—with breakfast served in the dining room of the chateau itself and staff often lending assistance right in the entry foyer.
“You get clientele that really enjoy the outdoor experience, and for some of them it might even be their first time going to Yosemite,” Snyder says of those who stay at the chateau. “It’s a gateway to Yosemite and there’s nothing like this anywhere near here. That’s what makes it unique. Four million tourists go through the two gateways into the national park but there’s only one property like ours.”
Images courtesy of Chateau du Sureau