Sitting on my terrace, overlooking terracotta rooftops towards the azure ocean, I remind myself I’m not in Tuscany. As it happens, I’m some 10,000 kilometres from Italy, enjoying the Pacific Ocean’s cooling breeze in the opulent Resort at Pelican Hill.
Tucked between the exclusive communities of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach in Orange County, the resort’s likeness to a seaside Italian village is no accident. Inspired by the works of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, it’s as if a village has been plucked from Tuscany and dropped into the middle of California.
From the piazza-like lobby to the classical bridge (not unlike the ones that span Florence’s Arno River) to the 204 Venetian-style bungalow guest rooms and villas built into the terraced hillsides – Northern Italy’s Palladian-inspired architecture is ever-present. The year-round 21ºC weather and climatic similarities help too. More than 750 olive trees grow across the resort’s 203 hectares, as well as cypress and eucalyptus trees.
The Italian cues don’t end there. My airy, ocean-view bungalow has the feel of a luxurious Tuscan country home with its hand-hewn wood-beam ceiling, Italian-limestone fireplace and travertine flooring, all awash in earthy hues. The unapologetic luxury extends to the expansive bathroom, fitted with a marble walk-in shower, a deep soaking tub with an ocean view and his and hers baby-soft bathrobes and slippers – imported from Italy, naturally.
If you can drag yourself away from the comforts of your expansive Italian residence, the resort’s Coliseum Pool, inspired by the Roman landmark, holds the title of the world’s largest circular pool at 41 metres in diameter, and dazzles with more than one million hand-cut and -laid tiles. The poolside cabanas push the luxury envelope with a Bose music system, a 76-cm flat-screen TV and a refrigerator to keep the bubbles nicely chilled.
If you’re here to relax, the resort’s award-winning spa has treatments from four-hand massages to seasonal body gelato therapies. I indulge in a Summer Zest or Rest massage preceded by an invigorating eucalyptus steam-room session, and followed by a dip in the Roman-style soaking pools that sit beneath a dramatic barrel-vaulted ceiling.
On my post-massage stroll through the resort’s verdant grounds, I pass the championship, Fazio-designed fairways. With panoramic ocean views beckoning from every hole, the resort’s two 36-hole ocean-view courses are a destination for golfers across the globe.
After a long and languid seafood lunch at the Napa Valley-inspired, open-concept restaurant Pelican Grill (which does a sublime ahi tuna tartare and barbecued short ribs), I hop into one of the resort’s complimentary Mercedes-Benz coaches to explore the 5.5 km of dramatic coastline on the doorstep.
Guests can also join daily morning hikes to Crystal Cove beach, which takes you past tide pools and a cute community of cottages, originally settled by Japanese farmers in the early 1920s.
Every good Italian love story needs a leading man, and in Pelican Hill’s case it’s chef Marco Criscuolo, the culinary genius behind the resort’s signature North Italian restaurant, Andrea.
Despite the temptation of 17 styles of pasta, which are created in a special temperature-controlled pasta room, I opt for the famous seven-year, barrel-aged Acquerello risotto, which is spooned onto my plate from a giant cheese wheel. As I watch the dusky sky turn to twilight from Andrea’s elegant terrace, I have to pinch myself once more to reaffirm I’m not in a Tuscan dream.
The important bit