Outside Yosemite, fairytale Chateau du Sureau is a true hidden gem

Night turns the Chateau du Sureau's nature park into an enchanted garden. The giant chess set is silent, its rooks and knights just outlines against the checkerboard. The wooden swings are still.

From my seat in the gazebo, the evening's last glass of wine in hand, I watch the lights of Oakhurst glitter like earthbound stars. This hotel is something of an anomaly: a European-inspired fairytale estate in the foothills of the rugged Sierra Nevada. The gate to Yosemite National Park is just 16 miles away, but it may as well be across the world. Only the pine- and fir-carpeted slopes in the distance serve as a reminder, and that's by design. The Chateau du Sureau is an escape within an escape.

(Courtesy of Chateau du Sureau)

It's a blisteringly hot 96 degrees when we arrive at the chateau but, inside, the soaring foyer is cool and quiet. In every room, antique furnishings—an upholstered settee here, a woven tapestry there—are thoughtfully arranged. "We really want to take you back in time," says Annie Matthews, the chateau's lead.

And they do. As Matthews guides us from room to room, the outside world slips away. There's the grand salon, a cozy drawing room with a brick fireplace, and a rounded turret where hand-painted walls ensconce a grand piano. There's the breakfast room with its exposed wooden ceiling beams and French doors that open onto a sunny patio. There's the tiny chapel, with its stained glass windows and pint-sized wooden pews.

Our room, like most of those in the award-winning Relais & Chateaux 10-suite boutique hotel, is upstairs, a four-poster canopy bed at its center. In preparation for our arrival, they've turned on classical music and placed a freshly baked Austrian cake on our table. A Bordeaux blend from the chateau owner's Coquelicot Estate Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley waits on the desk. In its well-appointed details, the Chateau du Sureau has captured something many upscale hotels fail to do. It's luxurious but not haughty, ornate but not overdone, intimate but not intrusive. It's the true definition of a hidden gem.

With the sun still blazing overhead, we leave the castle to walk its grounds. Through a stone arch is the nature park, a tree-dense hillside interwoven with dirt paths and adorned with a wooden gazebo and koi pond. A bocce ball court shimmers in the heat. And just beyond, the marigold-painted Villa Sureau—a 2,000-square-foot Parisian manor with two bedrooms, elegant marble baths, a salon and library—peaks out from its private grounds.

Wooden swings in the Chateau nature park, the Villa Sureau peaking out from behind.(Shoshi Parks)

Behind the park is the Spa du Sureau, a tranquil oasis that prides itself on European hospitality and a selection of renewing treatments, from Swedish full body massage to antioxidant-rich facials. On its roof, a bird has built a huge, elaborate nest and, as we pass, a jack rabbit ventures from the bushes—subtle reminders that one of the country's most incredible natural landscapes is just beyond the hotel gates. An inviting pool and a vegetable garden round out the nine-acre property.

By the time dinner rolls around, I could not be more ready to see what the chateau's restaurant, Erna's Elderberry House, has in store. Though it is more than a hundred miles removed from the Bay Area's culinary game, by striking an accessible balance between creativity and craving, executive chef Robert Snyder III is still playing a winning hand.

Once upon a time we would have sat down to a seven-course tasting menu, but Snyder says the three- or four-course prix-fixe they now offer is one that allows them to show off their skills without intimidating those who are less familiar with upscale dining. Indeed, the plates that glide from the kitchen are both approachable and gastronomically complex: a leek vichyssoise punctuated with fresh flowers and caviar; local mushrooms and gorgonzola folded into puff pastry and topped with dollops of garlic mousse; Maine diver scallops with carefully spun ribbons of squash; a fresh berry tartlet with foamy clouds of honey. Although Le Cellar, an Old World–style bar set off from the restaurant, is closed—they're on the hunt for a new mixologist, a challenging prospect in these unusual post-COVID times, says Snyder—its curated 800-label collection is still available table-side, along with craft cocktails.

As dinner comes to a close, we take what's left of our sobriety and head to the nature park once more, our bottle of Coquelicot in hand. So maybe we aren't 19th century aristocrats luxuriating on the grounds of a private estate. At least for one night, I am whatever brand of royalty I want to be.

A well-appointed guest room at the Chateau.(Courtesy of Chateau du Sureau)

The next morning, a three-course breakfast of freshly baked croissants, custardy fruit tarts, yogurt parfaits, and herbaceous egg frittatas awaits on the patio. If I've ever had a more elaborate hotel breakfast in the U.S., I can't recall it.

After breakfast, most of the chateau's guests will be heading into Yosemite. The hotel can arrange excursions and a picnic for your day in the wilderness—they even offer a one-night backpacking trip with a private naturalist guide and chef who'll whip up a memorable backcountry dinner. But with the national park on a limited reservation system this summer due to COVID, we're headed just a few miles up the road instead to hike between two local waterfalls, Red Rock and Corlieu (approximately four miles, out and back), in the Sierra National Forest.

When it's time to go, there's no lengthy goodbye. We don't even need to check out; Chateau du Sureau does it automatically and sends your invoice via email. We step back out into the heat with one last, longing glance and the memory of our enchanted evening.

// Chateau du Sureau, 48688 Victoria Ln. (Oakhurst); Erna's Elderberry House Restaurant is open to the public for indoor and outdoor dining, 5:30pm 8:30pm daily; chateausureau.com.

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