|Where's Juliet? Lake Las Vegas|
Henderson, NV - Mention Las Vegas and most people think of “The Strip” and all its glory: towering modern hotels, flashing neon lights, all-night gambling at every turn, and a myriad of entertainment extravaganzas.
While to some The Strip as an ideal place to vacation, others find it too much to handle. They are interested in some of its offerings, but would rather vacation in a quiet, slower-paced, less crowded and more aesthetically pleasing location.
For those folks, a great option is MonteLago Village. Located just 17 miles from the Vegas strip, this Mediterranean-inspired village that sits nestled along the shores of pristine Lake Las Vegas seems like it is a world away from the hustle and bustle of The Strip.
Along the village’s cobblestone streets, visitors will find boutiques, niche shops – including a high-end cigar bar and a perfume and cosmetics store where during a recent visit I picked up some extremely soothing and aromatic bath and body lotion – and a great sampling of restaurants.
I stayed in a one-bedroom condominium suite at the four-year-old MonteLago Village Resort that couldn’t have been more comfortable or convenient. It was also extremely affordable ($179 a night) compared to the prices charged at the more popular hotels on The Strip. Studio condominiums start at $119. My suite included a spacious balcony that overlooked a large pool with two adjacent hot tubs. Beyond the pool were Lake Las Vegas and the surrounding mountain range, which made for great panoramic views.
The well-appointed suite, which included a large European-style kitchen, two plasma screen TVs, and a spacious bathroom with a separate shower and roomy tub, was clean and modern, offering the comforts of home with the benefits of a resort hotel: 24-hour front desk service, valet, underground parking, on-site laundry facilities, in-room high-speed Internet access, a media center and a game room. There is no room service and while there is a health club in the hotel, it is small and could use an overhaul. There is no spa, but two neighboring hotels – the Loews and the Ritz-Carlton - have them.
On my first day in Lake Las Vegas, I went to the Ritz-Carlton hotel where I indulged in a wonderful detoxifying facial, which was topped off with a re-hydrating seaweed mask, and a deep tissue massage that left my skin feeling rejuvenated and my body relaxed. The spa’s oasis-like atmosphere boasts 25 treatment rooms – some with terraces opening onto the lake and some that are extra large for couples – and many unique treatments, including Hydrating Blue Flowers, in which aromatic botanicals are combined with other ingredients to wrap the body in a silken veil that moisturizes and nourishes the skin.
After my spa treatments I was in such a mellow state that I wanted to go back to my suite and take an afternoon siesta, but as I walked along the lakeside path leading back to the resort, I couldn’t resist the urge to shop. Nestled alongside the fountain-strewn cobblestone walkways are dozens of unique boutique shops that carry everything from hand-blown glass vases (at Collectors’ Fine Art) to $45,000 custom-made martini glasses (at Da Mincci Jewelers, which has a workshop on the premises). Mishegoss features high quality, activity-oriented toys and games, and Alexander Perfumes & Cosmetics, which is owned by a couple – one a chemist and perfumer and the other an esthetician and makeup artist - from the Netherlands, carries a variety of exclusive skin care products, cosmetics and fragrances from Europe. It’s worth stopping in Splash for the smell alone. The store is filled with deliciously-scented natural soaps and handmade skin and bath products – a sampling of which made their way into my suitcase as gifts for my family and friends back on the East Coast. The Village Golf Shop is impressive and was packed when I popped in to take a look around. I overheard one of the customers, who was getting ready to play a round of golf at one of the three signature golf courses nearby, comment on the “top line” merchandise the store carried.
While the shopping options were plentiful, I was even more impressed by the quantity and quality of dining choices throughout the Mediterranean-style pedestrian village. From the casual Caffe Positano, which has euro-style seating along the lakefront side of the cafe and a menu that includes gourmet coffee drinks, fresh baked goods and a variety of light lunch items, to the more upscale Luna Rossa Italian restaurant, where I devoured the Spaghetti al Pesto Genovese – perfectly cooked spaghetti in a basil and pine nut pesto sauce served with diced potatoes that were seasoned just right and yummy sautéed string beans ($12.95).
The newly-opened Bistro Zinc features eclectic American food with a French twist served in a warm and welcoming environment that includes an open kitchen and an outdoor patio overlooking the lake. Restaurateur Joseph Keller succeeded in his quest to create a dining establishment where guests could enjoy the food, ambiance and music (including live jazz) of New Orleans. From the moment we sat down in the large wicker chairs that surrounded the white linen-strewn tables, my dining companions and I were made to feel welcome by the hospitable staff - especially our waiter, Nathanial Johnson, a native of the area who was all too happy to give us tips on what to see and do in the area. The freshly-baked bread, which had clearly just come out of the oven, was heavenly, and the House Market Salad – which included arugula, Bosc pears, St ilton cheese and candied pecans ($10) was delicious. Even though I was full when Nathanial came to take our dessert order, my eyes were, as usual, bigger than my stomach and I ordered crème caramel with French butter cookies ($7). The crème caramel was smooth and flavorful and definitely worth the accompanying calories. Spirits include beer by the half yard, martinis, and a full wine menu with wines by the carafe and more than 30 - from domestic and international vineyards – by the glass.
Another exceptional restaurant in the village is the Auld Dubliner, which brings a bit of Ireland to Lake Las Vegas. Owner David Copley takes the Irish pub standard very seriously and imported not only recipes from his homeland (he credits his mum on many of the menu items, including the Irish scones, potato stuffing and apple mash), but much of the décor, too, including the wooden bar, behind which a variety of Irish draught beer is served. I started off with the potato leek soup ($3.50), which made up in flavor what it lacked in heartiness, and had as my main dish the vegetarian boxty ($10.95), a traditional Irish potato pancake stuffed with seasoned vegetables that was tasty and filling. I could barely finish half of it – perhaps because my supposed single sampling o f others’ curry chips (deep fried potato slices served with a homemade curry sauce) turned into repeated proclamations of “this is the last one I’m taking.” On many nights, live bands will perform Irish music and dancing will spill from the restaurant into the village square.
And while there are other restaurants that looked good but I didn’t get to try, I’m happy to say that I did dine at The Kitchen at Sunset & Vines. This lakeside retreat prides itself on pairing each food offering with the perfect wine. The Mediterranean-American cuisine features the popular Spanish-style “tapas” – bite-sized samplings of food – and complete dinners. Some of the more tasty tapas included the Bruschetta Trio ($10) - crispy baquettes served with chopped artichoke hearts and mushrooms, olive oil, garlic and herbs; sun-dried tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, fresh mozzarella, garlic and basil; and roasted sweet peppers marinated with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and basil – and the Spicy French Fries ($4) - crisp russet potatoes tossed with spicy chile-garlic-herb mix, served with traditional ketchup, Cajun aioli and honey-wasabi Dijon mustard. If you dine here, don’t pass on the cheese boards, which come with a choice of cheeses (one for $8.50, three for $19.95, five for $29.95) served with olives, roasted nuts in olive oil and herbs, fresh grapes, fruit chutney and a basket of sliced breads. There are nine cheeses from which to choose. I especially liked the St. Andre, described as a “French triple cream brie cheese notable for evoking visions of taking the perfect brie and adding equal parts heavy cream and sour cream,” and the Parmigiano Reggiano, which, the menu accurately states, is “initially firm (but) melts on the tongue with a tangy, slightly salty nuttiness.”
I could have made a meal of the aforementioned tapas and cheese boards alone, but I didn’t. My main course was the Vegetable Wellington ($15), a pastry puff stuffed with tasty seasoned gilled vegetables, forest mushrooms and spinach with a roasted shallot au jus accompanied by roasted root vegetables.
Besides dining and shopping, there are many other activities in which to partake in Lake Las Vegas, including boating on the lake (you can rent power boats and row boats, or get serenaded on authentic gondola cruises), and gambling in the handsomely decorated 40,000-square-foot Casino MonteLago. While this casino holds its own against many of the casinos on The Strip, it’s the atmosphere that greets people when they walk out its doors that makes the difference.
The one night I left Lake Las Vegas – to see Elton John’s “Red Piano” show at Caesar’s Palace (he was – and the show is – brilliant… fans in the first three rows are encouraged to join the music legend on stage during “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” Talk about an experience a die-hard fan like me won’t ever forget …) – it took just under 30 minutes driving each way and while I enjoyed the concert and the energy and excitement of The Strip, I was happy to get back to my quiet, comfortable suite, sit out on the balcony with a hot cup of tea, and enjoy the lake, the mountains, and the twinkling of the stars above rather than the buildings and the bright lights that were shining steadily just a half hour away.
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Juliet Pennington is a freelance journalist who lives in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. She can be reached at Juliet at JohnnyJet.com (replace the "at" with an "@").
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