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Travel: Found Horizon

George Fuller

In the early 1920s, Ohio glass manufacturer Edward Libbey commissioned noted architects George Thomas and Wallace Neff to build, respectively, a private golf course and Spanish Colonial–style clubhouse in a rural valley northwest of Los Angeles. By the time filmmaker Frank Capra selected the same valley for his depiction of Shangri-la in 1937’s Lost Horizon, Libbey’s country club had expanded to include guest accommodations. The property continued to evolve over the ensuing decades, developing into a favored destination for Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Walt Disney, and other Hollywood icons past and present. Still, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, as the resort became known, remained a relatively hidden paradise that is now better than ever.

The journey to the Ojai Valley follows Highway 33 into the golden hills of the Los Padres National Forest, passing fruit orchards, red barns, mom-and-pop breakfast cafes, and small towns that seem content to have stayed as they were decades ago. At the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, however, you encounter a landscape that has been completely transformed. As part of a recent $70 million renovation, the resort added 305 guest rooms and suites, each housed in new two-story, Spanish-style structures with red tile roofs and mission points. The buildings’ exteriors were designed to blend with the property’s original structures, and the interiors continue the theme, with four-poster beds, fireplaces, and foyers and bathrooms with terra-cotta tiles.

Completed in January, the resort’s makeover also included the addition of a pub, meeting space with an adjacent ballroom, and several restaurants, among them the inn’s premier eating establishment, Maravilla, which features the cuisine of new chef Michael Otsuka. One of the few areas at the resort that did not undergo extensive renovations was Spa Ojai, primarily because it left little room for improvement. The 31,000-square-foot building, which is styled after the inn’s original 1923 hacienda, opened in 1997 and encompasses 28 treatment rooms where therapists administer a variety of massages, facials, and body treatments.

Of course, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa’s most renowned route toward relaxation is through the eucalyptus-lined fairways of the Thomas-designed golf course. Thomas, whose other Southern California gems include the Los Angeles Country Club North Course (1921) and Riviera Country Club (1927), was a master landscape architect, and his layout at Ojai is one of his greatest legacies: Old wooden bridges lead over yawning arroyos, and meticulously preserved oak trees, sprawling pepper trees, and four-story eucalyptus trees stand sentinel along fairways and putting surfaces.

As part of its renovation, the Ojai Valley Inn reversed the configuration of the golf course’s front and back nines and added a Spanish Colonial–style clubhouse near the new first hole. The property’s original clubhouse, now named the Neff Lounge after its designer, serves as the resort’s welcoming area, an appropriately spectacular greeting to Shangri-la.

As part of its $70 million overhaul, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa added 305 rooms and suites and flipped the front and back nines of its golf course.

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
805.646.5511
www.ojairesort.com

Photo by Bonhams
Photo by Simon Clay/RM Auctions
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Photo by Daniel Simon