I’ve been slow, reluctant even, to write about our stay at Manka’s — a beloved hunting lodge turned retreat in Inverness — perhaps because I want to draw out the experience of being there, or prevent it from being discovered — already a hopelessly lost cause. It’s no secret, this spot. Far from it, in fact, considering every magazine you know by name has piled heaps of praise at its rustic wooden stilts. And yet, tucked into the evergreens on along a beautiful slice of Tomales Bay, it still manages to feel secretive, humble and immensely special.
This is a testament to owner Margaret Grade, who bought the property (a hunting lodge and a handful of cabins, including the boathouse where we stayed). It was called Manka’s then, too — a nickname for the previous owner’s wife (it means Little Rascal in Polish). Margaret spruced up the interiors. And by spruced up, I mean totally revamped with just-right amenities like soaking tub, outdoor shower and the comfiest twin leather armchairs in front of the hearth made of salvaged wood. The decor is an homage to the structure’s original function: vintage fishing nets, worn wooden oars, and a collection of black-and-white photos that link the place to its past.
Even though the legendary, locally sourced restaurant, which made the place a cult destination among the highest order of West Coast foodies, burned to the ground eight years ago, the in-room dining experience still feels rooted in the surrounding land and everything that it provides. Every morning, a slender wooden box is filled to brim with delectable local morning treats, blanketed with The New York Times, and delivered to the doorstep. Homemade yogurt and granola, sticky buns and hand-pressed apple cider one morning, and eggs with bacon and goat cheese another. Each bundle comes with a simple slip of paper — little fortune scrolls to detail the ingredients: what beekeeper made the honey and from what dairy farm came the cheese (in most cases, a neighbor or friend just down the road). Everything feels intentional, but the great efforts are rarely seen. Invisible gestures are manifest in the form of handwritten welcome notes, a beautifully photographed coffee table book as guide left on the window seat, food cooked with all the care. Our second night there, a fireside dinner was delivered by a local character who wears a cowboy hat and has lived in the area for decades. He regaled us with stories about how so much has changed (the Silicon Valley execs), and so much that hasn’t (the land is preserved, so it’s every bit as jaw-dropping and mystical as its always been. You’ve been warned: a foggy morning drive through the rolling knolls and ranch land, punctuated by ocean views, bluffs, wildflowers and redwoods may induce a desire to get out of the car and burst into song, Julie Andrews the-hills-are-alive-style). The whole thing is a splurge, but if you have a special occasion to plan a getaway around, it’s definitely splurge-worthy. We were celebrating our 10-year anniversary, and our cowboy friend insisted we eat at the table overlooking the bay even though it was pitch-black outside. He was right. A sense of calm and hopefulness comes from knowing what vast beauty glimmers just beyond the window. Kind of like the next ten years of marriage.