Nice round

The Quail Lodge is set among 850 scenic acres in Carmel and features a Robert Muir Graves-designed golf course. The 97-room resort also has a heated pool, eucalyptus steam room and elegant restaurant. (Con Keyes / LAT)

We quickly came to think of our visit to Quail Lodge, the tranquil, recently renovated resort surrounded by the lush Santa Lucia Mountains, as a trip to a fantasy world of studied gentility.

My wife, Helene, and I felt like minor celebrities, with a retinue of friendly, handsome, intelligent and articulate servants whose only aim was to make certain we were pleased.

The royal treatment started as soon as we pulled up to the circular drive.

We thought we would check in.

But we were met at our car by a dashing footman — er, bellman — whose mission seemed to be to make sure we didn't do something so obviously beneath us.

"Would you care to have a seat on the sofa and let me get you a glass of Chardonnay while I check you in?" the kind young man asked.

He then took us by golf cart along concrete paths topped by vine-covered trellises to our room, part of a cottage on the back nine of the Robert Muir Graves-designed golf course that is the resort's centerpiece.

The room, $225 a night plus tax and an $18 resort fee, was the least expensive Quail Lodge had that weekend. Although I thought the renovated room was elegant, with its vaulted ceiling, twin easy chairs and palette of earth tones and burgundies, my wife, a more reliable authority in such matters, assured me that the only truly luxurious thing was the bed linens.

And, I reminded her, the 42-inch plasma TV.

Not that I care.

Sampling the coast

We had set out from Los Angeles on a Friday earlier this month to take a leisurely drive up the Central Coast, stay one night at the casual and less expensive Cliffs Resort at Shell Beach and compare it with Quail Lodge.

The Cliffs, off U.S. 101 between Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo, seems more a hotel than resort. But we were relieved to find that, in one important respect, it lived up to its name.

It is indeed near the edge of steep, ocean-side cliffs that offer panoramic Pacific views.

Again, I had reserved the least expensive room available that weekend, $172 plus tax. It was compact and modern, featuring a simple, clean design. It had a wonderfully comfortable king-size bed and a shower with no bath. I had settled for the mountain view, which meant the hotel parking lot was in the foreground. Better to spend a few dollars more and enjoy the sight of the sea.

We got out of the room as quickly as possible to explore grounds that were part manicured lawns and part landscaping with native California plants.

We took a short stroll down concrete sidewalks to a well-maintained path. Stairs led down to a long, narrow stretch of sandy beach populated mainly by surfers, mussels and a dog that just wanted to play fetch.

Then we climbed back up for some refreshments at the hotel. I was a little taken aback when my beer came without a glass. Hey! I am somebody! But this was a very laid-back place. Only a fool would complain while sitting on a deck with a perfect view of the coast and the setting sun.

For dinner, we tried the hotel's restaurant. The service was slow, my wife's fish was dry and the only entree that appealed to me — steak, cheese, mushrooms and onions on a croissant — wasn't the most healthful choice.