by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
The Marvels of Motivational Travel
Many of us in the Meetings and Incentives Industry run successful businesses and make a good living because corporations know that extraordinary travel experiences motivate employees to achieve outstanding workplace results. Because this is our job and we’re not actual participants on these amazing programmes, we often miss the transformative impact of the trip, taking that part for granted. A recent visit to California during which I used a work commitment as the launching pad for a 6 night road trip reminded me just how powerfully motivational and inspirational an extraordinary travel experience can be.
We flew into San Diego International Airport where, upon deplaning, we were enveloped by that wonderful maritime heat that, for those of us who live in Northern climes, defines holidays and down time. But time pressures eliminated any scope for immersion in the city and soon we were way beyond urban life and highways and wending our way through the magnificent Santa Rosa – San Jacinto Mountains to the brand new Ritz Carlton Resort at Rancho Mirage, one of the nine cities of the Coachella Valley.
Ritz Carlton, Rancho Mirage
Contemporary understated design, limitless natural vistas and intuitive Ritz Carlton service are the defining characteristics of this great property. It’s set at a height, nestled amidst the awesome mountain scenery, juxtaposing unbridled luxury and untamed nature. Our pre-dawn walks took us up and down serpentine mountain trails of arid, scorched earth but thankfully we didn’t step on any serpents. For one entire morning I luxuriated poolside under the de-misters listening to the new U2 album, released the previous evening. I smiled smugly at the beautiful irony of being in Southern California, listening to one of the world’s biggest rock bands singing about Cedarwood Road in Ballymun, Dublin rather than Ventura Highway. We ventured into Palm Springs on the Thursday night to find the town in full festival mode, the streets blocked off and pedestrianised and full of food and craft vendors.
A special night en famille
We drove back towards San Diego and overnighted airbnb style with special friends in Encinitas, enjoying a truly memorable night en famille with great swordfish and dueling guitars. Part of the magic and motivation of travel is re-connecting with friends and having time to truly chat and bond. Nearby, at Solano beach, we took out first walk in the Pacific Ocean and tasted great wine in Carruth Cellars, an Urban Winery there.
We then commenced the long drive northwards with Santa Barbara as our next overnight stop. Brett Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero criss-crossed my mind repeatedly as we criss-crossed the terrifying 5 lane highways around Los Angles. If, according to Ellis, “People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angles” then we didn’t meet any of them as cars hurtled fearlessly into the traffic flow like high-as-a-kite revelers stage diving at a rock gig. Our 2 hour pause on the beach at Santa Monica provided solace for the body and entertainment for the mind as we relaxed and people watched from behind the wonderful anonymity of our dark glasses.
Ojai Valley Inn
We set off north for Santa Monica and headed for the hills at Ventura. My FICP buddy Chris Gilbert had connected me with Erin Hooley who, in turn, had arranged for us to stay at the super tasty Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, a member of Leading Hotels of the World and Historic Hotels of America. The madness of LA became a distant memory as we enjoyed a stunning sunset from the privacy of our balcony before a late dinner at Jimmy’s Bar with the songs of U2, Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Buffet and Jason Mraz – amongst others – provided by a guitarist performing under one of the magnificent trees of the sprawling luxury estate. Next morning we took a stroll into Ojai and enjoyed brunch at Azu where I had the best fresh orange juice I’ve ever tasted (honest!). We departed Ojai somewhat reluctantly, wishing for more time to enjoy more special moments at Ojai Valley Inn.
The route from Ojai to Carmel is almost 300 miles and takes a full day. We took the San Marcos Pass Road stopping in picturesque Los Olivos, an old stage coach town, now happily colonized by wine producers. We did a full tasting at Daniel Gehrs and bought a delicious Pinot with the intention of taking it back to Ireland to infuse an winter’s evening there with some bright California sun. At San Louis Obispo you turn onto Route 1 and that’s where the fun starts as the road from there to Carmel through Big Sur has more twists and turns than a dodgy politician.
It’s an epic drive, the Pacific Ocean to one side, the high mountains of the Los Padres National Forest to the other. It’s a drive that requires concentration and, of course, an appropriate soundtrack. We found The Bridge on Sirius and listened to a perfect selection of 70s rock from Poco, The Eagles, The Little River Band, Peter Frampton as well as a host of more obscure artists like Joe Egan and Gary Wright.
When you eventually arrive in Carmel you’re tired and you really don’t want to see another stunning vista. In Carmel you find pretty Hansel and Gretel style stores arranged in perfect, symmetrical lines. There’s no big global brand colonization here, however, each store featuring local artisans and designers. We marched down the hill to the beach to see the pink sunset and then marched up again to dine at Affina, a wonderful restaurant on sixth and San Carlos. Next morning we walked the beach and encountered as many dogs as people, but that, apparently, is a thing in Carmel. We had coffee on Cannery Row in Monterey before departing finally for San Francisco. And that’s another story!
Pádraic Gilligan and Patrick Delaney run SoolNua, a boutique marketing consultancy working with destinations and hotel groups on the strategy around Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events