by Ron Bernthal
Paso Robles is one of the largest and fastest growing wine regions in California, growing from about 35 wineries in 2000 to over 200 today. But don’t dare call it the “New Napa,” not even in jest. It’s actually more like the “Old Napa,” which means the town is small and friendly, prices are not in the stratosphere, the wines are outstanding, and 95% of the wineries are family-owned.
The amazing thing about ‘Paso’ is that the stunning expansion of its viticulture, the revitalization of its lovely “no high-rise downtown,” and the influx of excellent new restaurants have not changed its original laid-back, central California ranching and farming, cowboy-hat wearing mentality. Even at the Hotel Cheval, built in 2007, and the city’s most pricy, upscale accommodation, the atmosphere is so friendly and casual that you think you are in someone’s home rather than a public, downtown hotel.
I did not even realize I was looking at the Cheval when I first arrived. A stone building with a central courtyard, covered with ivy, and surrounded by beautiful oak trees, it looks like a mini-mansion in the French countryside. The small reception area feels like a home den, with comfortable furniture and bookcases. Check-in, while sitting across from a small work desk staffed by a friendly woman, was finished within minutes and a young man escorted us to the ‘Lexington’, a contemporary-designed room with a slanted, vaulted wood ceiling, a high King bed with down comforters, gas fireplace, and a 37-inch flat screen TV on the wall above the mantle. A large abstract painting hung on the beige wall above the bed. The bathroom had lots of nice Spanish-style tiles, high quality towels and bath amenities, and louvered windows, and a large, glass shower stall. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available in the rooms and outdoor courtyard and patio bar.
The hotel’s name, Cheval, is French for horse, and much of the property is race-horse related, including the names of the rooms, like ‘Whistlejacket’, ‘Kingston’, ‘Rosebud’, and ‘Hightower’, famous racehorses of the past. My room’s horse, ‘Lexington’, was the country’s greatest racehorse in the mid-1800’s. The name of the hotel’s cozy, court-yard located wine bar, is the Pony Club, and there is a large framed display near the reception area medals and ribbons won by horses at various European racing events. The most creative use of the horse theme, however, is the silver metal feeding pail which is used to deliver breakfast to each room in the morning. The pails are replicas, of course, and the breakfast, composed of fresh pastries and fruit from a local, gourmet bakery, is excellent, and included in the rate. Guests are instructed to obtain their morning coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice from the self-service bar in the Pony Club. A complimentary hot breakfast is served in the Pony Bar on weekends.
We spent days visiting local wineries (there are more than 200 of them in the Paso Robles area), organic farms, the nearby Hearst Castle, and an interesting abalone farm on the Pacific coast. The hotel’s tree-shaded, outdoor patio bar was the perfect spot to relax in the fading light of a summer afternoon, before walking five minutes into town for dinner at one of several excellent restaurants that have opened downtown in the past few years.
Summer and fall weather in ‘Paso’ is perfect – warm, sunny days and very cool nights – so after dinner we made good use of the log-burning, outdoor fireplaces that are set around the interior courtyard.
Contact: Hotel Cheval 1021 Pine Street Paso Robles, CA 93446 Phone: 805-226-9995 www.hotelcheval.com