Dude ranches don’t typically rate as luxury travel destinations. But Alisal Guest Ranch in Solvang, California, has created a series of exclusive group activities that lend an air of sophistication and exclusivity to a ranch visit.
The 10,500-acre working cattle ranch has 73 guest rooms and suites, two championship golf courses, 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, a spring-fed lake and a comprehensive horseback-riding program that includes personalized, guided trail rides.
Sherrie Fitzgerald, director of sales and marketing, said the ranch has become a popular destination for family reunion groups who are looking to have distinctive experiences during their time together. And like so many other family gatherings, those often revolve around food.
“A lot of our groups like to do our breakfast ride,” she said. “You ride out on horseback or a hay wagon to our old adobe building. We have pancakes, quesadillas and scrambled eggs with homemade salsa. We fix biscuits over the campfire and have cowboys singing.”
Groups can personalize the breakfast ride for special events such as anniversaries or birthdays, or they can arrange customized entertainment or education as part of their breakfast ride.
There are other culinary programs available as well, such as a BBQ Boot Camp with area pit masters and fine dinners paired with local wines.
“We can do a customized eight- or 10-course meal and make it as elegant as you want,” Fitzgerald said. “Our chef has great relationships with some of the best winemakers in the San Inez Valley. So we bring the grapes, the vine and the winemaker to the property for the dinner. It makes for an incredibly elegant evening.”
Truly Fine Dining
There are culinary destinations, and then there is New Orleans. A city this rich in food should afford epicureans endless options for great meals. Arnaud’s Restaurant, a historic establishment in the French Quarter, has cracked the code to offering luxury dining experiences for tour groups.
“The restaurant is very special because it’s been around for 95 years, since 1918,” said Lisa Sins, the company’s director of sales and marketing. “It was founded by a wonderful Frenchman who was one of the creators of Creole cuisine. We started in one building, a private home, and eventually bought the 10 surrounding homes. So it’s 11 homes connected together to make the 17 dining rooms of the restaurant.”
The historic New Orleans ambiance of those dining rooms is the beginning of the appeal. Groups that come for dinner get one of the rooms all to themselves and are served by a waitstaff dressed in full tuxedo. Once seated, travelers enjoy classic Creole fare such as turtle soup, shrimp remoulade and bananas Foster.
The food and atmosphere may come across as a bit expensive for tour groups, but Sins said the restaurant has been working with high-end tour operators to offer farewell dinners on their New Orleans tours.
“They do a cocktail party with a jazz trio in our bar,” she said. “Then, because friendships have formed during the week, the tour director gives us a seating recommendation for the people from the tour, and they go into the dining room and order off the menu.”
Groups looking for an extra-special touch often end their evening with a sorbet served in small ice carvings in the shape of swans.