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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Elderberry House, Hotel and Spa in Oakhurst

Sep 25, 2017 09:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

Old World Charm

October 2017
Story by Jordan Venema

The nine-acre Estate by the Elderberries in Oakhurst is unlike any other property near Yosemite. Founded by Erna Kubin-Clanin in the early 1980s, the property grew from a single restaurant to include a five-star hotel and spa, and while the estate takes its name from the surrounding elderberry bushes, its roots lie in Austria, where Kubin-Clanin was born and raised.

Kubin-Clanin left Austria after studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and settled in London where she worked as a tea girl at the famous Claridge’s hotel. She came to America in 1962 to study at the New York Academy of Art, and continued her studies at UCLA in 1963.

In the late ‘70s, Kubin-Clanin moved with her two daughters to Yosemite National Park where she leased The Redwood Inn, which specialized in prix-fixe five-course European-blend dishes and cuisine.

Coincidentally, this was around the time Alice Waters began offering tasting menus at the famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley. According to Kubin-Clanin’s daughter, Renee-Nicole, who manages the Estate at the Elderberries, “it was not at all normal to have a menu that changed every night.” Especially not in Yosemite.

When Kubin-Clanin’s lease ended at the Redwood Inn, she purchased the nine-acre property in Oakhurst and built her own restaurant, the Elderberry House, which opened in 1984.

Built as a restaurant, the Elderberry House was designed to feel like it had previously been a home, with different rooms such as a cellar, private dining room, an escofierre room. “There even used to be a library, but we had to turn it into our offices,” says Renee-Nicole.

Chateau du Sureau, a 10-bedroom hotel with the air of a European castle, was built after the Elderberry House. “My mother knew she needed a place for people to stay to make the restaurant a destination, and being European, being accustomed to going somewhere and staying for several days – that was normal for her,” says Renee-Nicole.

The 10 unique rooms of the Chateau are named and designed after Herbes de Provence, like the Elderberry Room, which is accentuated by yellow and navy, and the Rosemary Room by deep emerald green.

“The Saffron Room, my favorite room, is in ebony and ivory, and has a Napoleon-era bed set that belonged to a princess. Her crest is set in ivory, and all the colors of the room are burnt orange and yellow. It’s like a home,” Renee-Nicole continues. “There is no front desk. There are TVs on request. It feels like you’re staying in an old castle.”

As the restaurant and hotel became more of a destination, some visitors wanted more private residences, so the Villa Sureau was added in 1999.

“She built a single structure like a country home for the aristocratic French, a mini Versailles, if you will,” describes Renee-Nicole.

The Villa Sureau includes two bedrooms, a grand salon, a library, kitchen, two bathrooms with steam showers and soaking tubs. “It’s extremely opulent, and all the furniture, even the door handles, is from at least the 18th century. It’s a way to see Yosemite in a luxe sort of way,” Renee-Nicole says.

In 2003, the estate added its final component: a destination spa.

“It’s the most beautiful spa I’ve ever seen,” says Renee-Nicole, who has worked around the country in the hospitality industry. “All art deco and art nouveau period, everything down to the lights. Each building is more beautiful than the one that came before it. But the spa is unparalleled.”

Though the Elderberry House lies somewhat above the valley floor, it hasn’t rested on its laurels as an “only option” for those traveling to or from Yosemite, as some remote resorts will do. The chef has been with Elderberry for eight years, “and he goes to the farmers market in Fresno twice a week without fail,” says Renee-Nicole. “Farmers will even grow things for him from seed.” 

Other than a destination for quality cuisine and luxurious accommodations, the Estate by the Elderberries also exists for events, with a dancing area on the terrace and beautiful natural surroundings.

“We have a lot of weddings,” says Renee-Nicole. “It’s the picture book setting, the fairytale come alive, the princess at her castle.”

And since the estate lies just below the snow line, not far from Yosemite’s south gate, it operates almost the entire year excepting two weeks in January when it closes.

“There’s something extra special about this property, and not just because it’s family,” says Renee-Nicole. “It’s really magical.”

Erna’s Elderberry House & Chateau du Sureau

48688 Victoria Ln., Oakhurst

(559) 683-6800 • 

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