By David Armstrong, Contributing Editor
For 102 years, California’s Claremont Hotel and Spa has stood on the city line between Berkeley and Oakland, 12 miles east of San Francisco. Seldom has this hillside century-old fantasia gleamed as brightly as it does now.
My wife, Georgina, and I stayed at the Claremont on November 15, lingering for breakfast and a meeting the following morning. I had last stayed there in the dear, departed 1980s.
The Claremont has been sold and re-sold several times since then, coming under Fairmont Hotels and Resorts management in 2014. Last summer, Fairmont’s parent company was sold to the French hotel chain Accor for US$2.9 billion.
The property is now known, a bit awkwardly, as the Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel.
Toronto-based Fairmont has a deft touch with heritage properties, bringing them smartly up to date while respecting the legacy of the hotels. It operates such prestigious properties as London’s Savoy Hotel and Shanghai’s Peace Hotel under management contracts.
Fairmont has wisely kept the Claremont’s trademark white exterior and the mildly fanciful turrets and pitched rooftops of the main building, which is fronted by gracious palm trees.
The 22-acre property features 10 outdoor tennis courts. Management has honored historic ties between the hotel and a local health club, whose 1,500 members share the well-kept facilities with overnight hotel guests.
After we valet-parked outside ($30 per night; self-parking is free), we checked-in in the expansive, high-ceilinged lobby, located near the end of an elegant corridor running from the hotel’s main entrance.
After check-in, Georgina and I set off on walkabout. We wandered into a meeting space decked out with framed, wall-mounted photographs of University of California at Berkeley sports teams.
Then we spotted a work space labeled Alumni Office. The aptly named office serves graduates of nearby UC-Berkeley, who have for generations held events at the Claremont and often stay there for reunions, big games, banquets and fundraisers.
Like most guests, we booked the Claremont for entirely different reasons.
The Claremont showcases its spa, and for good reason. It’s big, offering 32 treatment rooms, including two set aside for couples. The spa also has a hair and nails salon, and offers treatments and relaxation choices such as saline whirlpools and eucalyptus steam rooms.
Public rooms on the ground floor and below-ground include some 20,000 square feet of meeting space. Business travelers account for about half of the hotel’s guests, more than that during the week.
The leisure market is hardly neglected. There are the aforementioned tennis courts, illuminated for night-time play. Also located outdoors is a splendid swimming pool, with attentive poolside food and drink service.
The Claremont has two 25-meter pools, both heated – one for lap swimming and the other for recreational swimming – plus a children’s pool and an outdoor whirlpool.
In the carpeted and chandeliered Lobby Lounge & Bar, we sipped whiskey and wine – Woodford Reserve bourbon for me, Duckhorn Merlot for Georgina – beside a big picture window.
We gazed out at San Francisco Bay and daydreamed. The Golden Gate Bridge shone brightly while the sun sank into the Pacific. It would be hard to put a price on a panorama this precious.
Happily, we enjoyed a good bay and bridge view from our room on the west-facing side of the hotel.
Fairmont’s recent refurbishment of the 276-room hotel catapulted the Claremont, which opened its doors in 1915, into the 21st century.
One gracious touch from the past – wide hallways, lined with wall-mounted vintage photographs of Berkeley and the Claremont – was wisely retained. I’ve been in hotel hallways so dim and constricted that I felt I was meandering underground, like a lost river.
Our Fairmont Bay View room, 240 square feet (22 square meters) in area, featured a flat-screen TV, couch and very large and comfortable king bed. The large headboard included a flexible reading light. At the foot of the bed was a bench. We sat baggage and bags on it, as closet space was limited.
The smallish but well-appointed bathroom was well-lit and sparkling, and included a separate shower and sink. Hairdryers and other amenities travelers expect to find in a 4-star luxury property were, indeed, found.
The only thing that didn’t entirely please us was the front door of our room. Ample space under the door admitted hall light and noise. This is a quibble measured against the hotel’s virtues, to be sure.
We dined that evening with friends in downtown Berkeley, which meant, regrettably, we didn’t get to try the Claremont’s new, high-profile restaurant, Limewood.
Premiering this past fall under well-regarded chef Joseph Humphrey, Limewood highlights seasonal menus and ingredients from local vendors.
When we popped in for a peek, the restaurant was buzzing and busy. Chatty patrons sipped cocktails at the bar and lined long communal tables. Some fired up laptops and worked while they shared small-plate morsels.
We ended our visit with breakfast the next morning at Meritage, a large restaurant space where breakfast, lunch and dinner (Wednesday through Saturday) is served.
Fairmont has been an industry leader in pioneering healthy meals that taste good with its Lifestyle Cuisine Plus program. Vegan fare, GMO- and gluten-free, organic – they’ve got it. We decided to go healthy. Well, Georgina did.
Georgina had fresh mixed berries and smooth, rich Greek yogurt. I ordered a pastry selection, which came with a flakey, buttery croissant, fruity Danish pastry and iced bun, plus marmalade, unsalted butter and coffee. Breakfast was simple, healthful and flavorful.
The Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel, is located at 41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley, California 94705.
To book a room or to obtain more information, telephone +1 (510) 843-3000, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.fairmont.com/claremont-berkeley. Room rates start at $260 per night.
David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist specializing in features, news and reviews about travel destinations, airports, airlines, hotels and resorts. He is the former tourism, aviation and international trade reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered tourism, movies, media and theater for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He is the author of five books and numerous travel articles for TheStreet.com, Travel + Leisure, Global Traveler, Napa Sonoma Magazine, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, Aviation.com and many others.