The Estate by the Elderberries – Luxury Near Yosemite

After a five-hour drive from Santa Barbara to Oakhurst, we approached the iron gates of The Estate by the Elderberries with relief and a need to stretch our legs. Perched on a hill overlooking the town nestled in the valley below, the white walls of the main house, Château du Sureau, stood out against the dusk sky. We were greeted by the houseman, who invited us to leave the luggage in the car, so that we could be welcomed into the front door as if we were guests at a great manor house. Like any good houseman, he would take over such mundane activities as parking the car and delivering luggage to our room, while we were given a tour of the mansion, which we instantly felt was our own.

At the front door we were introduced to Lynnette, the night hostess – a young woman dressed in black with a long, European-style white apron. The charmingly old-fashioned attire reinforced the notion that we were not paying hotel patrons, but guests at a tasteful, private manor house.

An arched doorway led from the entry hall to the high-ceilinged living room filled with comfortable furniture arranged in cozy conversational arrangements. A fire blazed in the floor-to-ceiling brick fireplace, notable for the herringbone pattern of its chimney. It being the holiday season, an enormous Christmas tree stood near the baby grand piano, awaiting a musically inclined guest to tickle the ivories. In the meantime, classical music played unobtrusively in the background. Dark-stained beams and mahogany furniture set off rich fabrics and white walls hung with 19th century art.

Located about 20 minutes from the south gate of Yosemite National Park, Château du Sureau is the perfect place to spend a romantic weekend or celebrate a special holiday. In our case, it was a chance to splurge for one night while resting up from a long drive, allowing us to head into Yosemite fresh the next morning.

The Estate by the Elderberries is the dream of Erna Kubin-Clanin, a native of Austria who purchased the nine-acre property after running a restaurant in Yosemite National Park. In 1984, she opened the first component of the estate, the restaurant called Erna’s Elderberry House.

The next challenge was to provide lodging for overnight guests, so in 1991 Kubin-Clanin built the 9,000-square-foot Château du Sureau, which features 10 elegant bedrooms. Each named for a different herb or flower, the rooms are individually appointed and would be considered suites at most hotels.

The last phase of the estate, Villa Sureau, opened in 1999. A separate building that incorporates two bedrooms and 2,000 square feet of living space, the Villa is perfect for families or business retreats that require more privacy.

The Estate also includes a life-size chessboard set among pine trees, a swimming pool, an extensive menu of spa treatments and a bocce court. The attention to detail provided at the Estate has earned it membership in the prestigious Relais & Châteaux organization, as well as the American Automobile Association’s Five Diamond Award and the Mobil Five-Star rating.

A highlight of our stay was the dinner at Erna’s Elderberry House, which wise travelers would be smart to book in advance. Erna’s is a destination restaurant, and many people drive in from outside the area to celebrate special occasions. The food and wine pairings were formidable, and after such a rich feast, the short walk back to the Château was refreshing in the cold mountain air.

We returned from dinner to find our room transformed for sleep. The shades were drawn, a fire blazed in the fireplace, and the turned-down bed revealed 700-thread-count sheets. The Hungarian down feather comforter was truly cloud-light, but utterly warm. Our scattered clothes had been neatly folded atop our suitcases, and complimentary slippers awaited bedside upon a European-style evening floor mat. On the nightstand was a fresh bottle of Evian water and glass, set carefully upon a miniature linen placemat. In case we could still be hungry, a charmingly wrapped package of cookies was tucked into a tin atop the dresser, and the pillow-top chocolates were both light and dark.

After the huge repast of the night before, it’s hard to believe anyone could really need much breakfast. But the first meal of the day at Château du Sureau is as carefully prepared as any other, and tempting enough to lure guests out of the cozy comforters into the brisk morning atmosphere.

Breakfast was two courses, starting with a baked apple filled with dried fruit compote, set on a vanilla cream sauce. The second course was half a toasted English muffin topped with smoked salmon, poached egg and a light basil sauce – an unusual combination that worked well. Accompanied by croissants, brioche and a choice of granolas on a nearby sideboard, this was a breakfast that would prepare anyone for a day of hiking the trails.

The Estate by the Elderberries offers a variety of outdoor activities in nearby Yosemite National Park, and occasional weekend cooking classes with its executive chef. Bass Lake is only minutes away, and there is even wine tasting within an hour’s drive at some of the area’s long-established wineries, known especially for their ports.

For lodging reservations: Hotel Château du Sureau, Oakhurst, CA, (559) 683-6860.

For dining reservations: Erna’s Elderberry House, (559) 683-6800,

Mark Your Calendar

Saturday, January 6

Sierra Club Hike

Montecito Peak

Strenuous, 7.5 miles round-trip

Steep hike up to Montecito’s landmark for a panoramic view of the South Coast. Bring lunch and lots of water. Meet behind the Bank of America on upper State Street at Hope Avenue at 9 am. For more information call Tony at 687-1929.

Sunday, January 7

Sierra Club Hike

McMenemy Trail


5 miles round-trip

Meet as above. For more information call Diane at 687-1929.