Orange crush

Southern California's only Relais & Châteaux property puts a fresh face forward.

Brilliantly coloured real butterflies abound in the US$1.1 million Damien Hirst artwork, Imploration, that turns heads at Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa's Veladora restaurant.

There's an artful touch also to the work of head chef Eric Bauer, a Chicago native who fell in love with California's oft-overlooked San Diego and now uses plump produce from local markets and the best cuts in his considered culinary creations at this eyrie above the Pacific Ocean.

Rancho Valencia has just emerged from a year-long US$30 million makeover. Inside the 49 Spanish-style haciendas, dubbed "casitas", it's the best of everything, with luxury linen on beds that are hard to leave, deep tubs, organic bath products and spacious dressing areas. Outside, fuchsia bougainvillea shields private patios, spa pools and outdoor fireplaces: privacy being paramount for a place that has hosted the likes of Bill Gates and former US president Bill Clinton.

Sporting types are well catered for at Rancho. Callaway golf clubs are available free for guests to use at nearby championship courses, and there are 18 on-site tennis courts.

At sunset the resort changes into a fairyland with soft lantern lights, fires glowing and fountains bubbling. Try a Margarita in the polo-themed Pony Room, and wake up each morning to a delivery of freshly squeezed orange juice - Valencia, of course. Rooms from $711 per night. Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, 5921 Valencia Circle, Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego, +1 858 756 1123.


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