As a Nevada-native, Lake Tahoe happens to be one of my all-time favorite locales for Venuelusting. North America’s largest alpine lake (and the largest freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevadas), Lake Tahoe spans over 22 miles long and is the stunning sight that inspired history’s most revered nature writers—Mark Twain called Lake Tahoe “the fairest picture the whole Earth affords” and said it boasted “the same air angels breathe.”
Upon visiting the Lake, it’s clear what greats like Twain saw in this special setting. A crystal-clear sapphire sheet of water (with an average annual clarity of over 73 feet) set amongst the towering pines and dramatic ridges of the awe-inspiring Sierra Nevadas, it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime settings that, I believe, makes a special mark on anyone who’s lucky enough to lay their eyes on it in person. I travel to Lake Tahoe as often as possible with family and friends to celebrate, adventure and, oftentimes, simply relax and unwind amongst a setting that’s nothing short of striking.
While I love spending summers at the Lake, my favorite time of year in this coveted area, hands-down, is wintertime. With blankets of snow covering the shoreline and sitting heavy atop the branches of sky-high pine trees, no setting feels quite as magical as Lake Tahoe during the stormy winter months.
We often work with the amazing team at Tahoe Luxury Properties to find the perfect rental for our holiday and summer vacations. This year, we landed on Tahoe Luxury Properties’ “Bellissimo Lago” private estate for our Christmas and New Year's’ celebration at the Lake. I’m so thrilled to share with you our unforgettable trip to the place that has a forever-stranglehold on my Nevada-born heart. Read on to learn all about our experience at the Bellissimo Lago private estate and the adventures we embarked on this time around.
Bellissimo Lago is a private lakefront luxury estate located right along the North Shore of Lake Tahoe in Tahoe Vista, California. It sits right on the water and boasts a stunning pier that juts out over Tahoe’s sprawling waters. With three well-appointed bedrooms (each boasting its own en-suite bathroom) and 2,200 square-feet of living space, it was the perfect size for our group of five.
Rebuilt from the foundation up in 2013, the home still boasts its original fireplace (pictured above) but, other than this charming age-old feature, feels completely brand new. It boasts a cozy family room that’s kept super warm by the wood-burning stove, a modern mountain aesthetic throughout and countless niceties ranging from luxury linens to smart LED lighting throughout.
We travel often and have stayed in tons of rental properties, so we especially appreciate the attention to detail and level of care the owners clearly take with this property—everything from the china to the furniture felt brand-new and extremely well taken care of. Leather couches in the family room were super cozy and we enjoyed tons of meals at a gorgeous oversized wooden dining table (which looks out right over the Lake).
Just off of the main living space are two guestrooms, each of which has private access to the outside covered deck and one of which sits behind massive barn doors (which is such a fun design element). On the top level of the home is the master suite, which boasts a king bed, a twin bunk, a desk area and a roomy seating area with a large flat-screen television. All of the rooms boast a Bluetooth sound system, spacious and beautiful bathrooms with large walk-in showers and high-end adornments that feel brand-new.
The Check-In Experience
One of our favorite things about working with Tahoe Luxury Properties is the level of service it offers. The team at Tahoe Luxury Properties offers a number of check-in options, which vary depending on the time of year. For the holidays, we were offered Christmas tree delivery—and we had the option of either ordering the tree fully appointed or decorating it ourselves. We were also offered grocery delivery service, a private chef, ski equipment delivered to our door, the pre-purchase of ski lift tickets, the arrangement of in-home spa services, and a Christmas meal delivered to our doorstep.
As we knew we’d be arriving during a serious snowstorm (check out the photos above of the back of the house and the pier during the storm on the day we arrived), we chose to take advantage of the grocery delivery services. We simply filled out the checklist Tahoe Luxury Properties provided us in advance and, upon arrival, our cupboards were fully stocked with all of the groceries we’d requested for the week—and we also arrived to a beautiful arrangement of red roses and a complimentary bottle of cabernet, which was such a welcome and festive surprise.
The Views & Pier
What sold us on Bellissimo Lago for our holiday vacation was its coveted position along the lake. Tucked away in the charming town of Tahoe Vista in Agate Bay, homes in that area (because of their positioning in the tight cove) tend to be protected from the high winds other areas of the Lake sometimes see—and the result is stunningly still water. Plus, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a strategic build that allows guests to wake up to beautiful lake views from every single room, the sights the home allows its guests are absolutely unreal.
On our second morning at Bellissimo Lago (the day after the snowstorm), we woke up to low cloud cover sitting right on top of the water and a bright sun peeking through the stunning scene. With blankets of white powder from the storm, the area saw the day prior blanketing the area, the scene made for absolutely breathtaking photographs (and was an easy-on-the-eyes sight to stare at as we enjoyed morning coffee by the warmth of Bellissimo Lago's fireplace).
Sunsets at Bellissimo Lago rival the sunrises in their sheer and natural beauty—and we made sure we were at the home each evening around that magic hour, so we could capture the Tahoe sunset in all of its jaw-dropping glory. With saturated gem-tones dancing across the sky and the reflection of towering Pinyon Pines along the glassy water, the area���s sunsets are always our favorite part of our Lake Tahoe vacations—and they tend to feel especially magical in winter with the added adornment of sheets of snow hugging the shoreline.
We chose to find our own Christmas tree upon arrival and, after battling the blizzard we flew into and stumbling upon empty tree lot after empty tree lot (we arrived on December 23rd, just two days before Christmas), we found ourselves at Christmas Tree Village in Incline Village, a charming shopping center that boasts artisan holiday shops. High Sierra Gardens (pictured above) had just a few trees left and we ended up with a six-foot stunner.
Their service was prompt and their helpful team tied the tree to the roof of our SUV in the middle of the snowstorm. Even for those who aren’t in hunt of a Christmas tree, we definitely recommend checking out the interior of the High Sierra Gardens shop, as it boasts charming one-of-a-kind goods and gifts. We ended up purchasing a few home goods that caught our eye while we were there as well.
We set our tree up right near the floor-to-ceiling windows in the family room at Bellissimo Lago, which made for a stunning scene for Christmas dinner. Plus, the crisp scent of fresh pine was such a warm welcome to arrive home to after morning hikes or late-night dinners out.
Dining & Imbibing
As frequenters of Lake Tahoe, we’ve found a few local spots over the years that we always make a point to come back to year after year. One of our all-time favorites is Gar Woods Grill & Pier (home of the best shrimp and lobster bisque on the planet, as far as we’re concerned). Gar Woods is a coveted spot amongst locals and visitors to the Lake alike, and is especially known for its famous “Wet Woody,” which happens to be the stiffest cocktail you’ll find on the Lake. (Insider's Tip: Head to Gar Woods on Tuesdays for half-priced Wet Woodys with twice the rum float on the side.) In the summertime, you can pull right up to Gar Woods famous pier (pictured below), while in wintertime, it's out of service but is still a sight to be seen.
We spent a few of our lunch hours at the bar at Gar Woods imbibing and dining on their fan-favorite bisque. But, our big Gar Woods celebration took place on New Year’s Eve, where we were met with a celebratory NYE menu that included crab-and-lobster-stuffed sole, a bacon-wrapped filet and a grilled T-bone with a delicious garlic demi-glace. We also enjoyed amazing views of the lake. Plus—our favorite part—at midnight, the Gar Woods crew passed out party favors and champagne for a restaurant-wide toast. Plus, the live music in Gar Woods’ iconic bar added to the already festive atmosphere. Hands down, Gar Woods is the most lively spot on the Lake to celebrate New Year’s Eve as far as I’m concerned, and ringing in 2017 there happened to be one of my favorite nights of the entire trip—it felt nothing short of magical.
Another festive Lake Tahoe spot that’s an absolute must-try during the holiday season is Soule Domain (pictured above). A local North Lake favorite for over three decades, Soule Domain occupies a tiny hand-built log-cabin—and the atmosphere is as warm and festive as they come as a result. We recommend calling for reservations a few days in advance (as Soule Domain can get especially busy around the holidays) and requesting a table on the first floor of the cabin near the charming (and soul-warming) fireplace.
As far as plates go, you can’t go wrong with anything on Soule Domain's menu, but we’re particularly fond of the short rib, the sea scallops, and the lobster wontons. Be sure to check out their holiday menu additions and ask to hear the nightly specials as well (I had an amazing mandarin-orange-marinated ahi tuna special that was off-menu).
Something I think every Tahoe lover should see is the historic Fanny Bridge, a bridge that crosses over the Truckee River right at the mouth of the river. Lake Tahoe feeds the Truckee River, and the river is surprisingly the Lake's only outlet. Large trout and other fish gather beneath Fanny Bridge at the mouth of the Truckee, which leads onlookers to lean over the bridge with their backs facing traffic, giving the spot its famous "fanny" name. Fanny Bridge is adjacent to the water-flow-control structure (below), where the water master can choose to open the gates to allow water to flow to the river, or keep the gates closed, allowing more water to collect at the Lake itself.
Another favorite Lake Tahoe spot of mine is the Crown Room at the Crystal Bay Club (fondly referred to as the "CBC" by locals). A tiny venue inside the age-old casino in Crystal Bay, this small space packs a serious punch. It pulls in big-name acts, but, because of its quaint atmosphere, the shows tend to feel super intimate and personal. With a family full of music lovers, some of my favorite shows I've ever seen have been at the CBC—my husband and I once even met Donavon Frankenreiter and had him autograph a vinyl while at CBC, as the space is small and artists tend to hang out in the audience after they're done performing. We were so thrilled, then, to learn one of our favorite jam-bands, Leftover Salmon was playing at the CBC on December 28th and 29th. We attended the show on the 29th and had an absolute blast. Seeing a show at the CBC is most definitely a must-do for music enthusiasts visiting the North Shore.
Skiing and snowboarding in Lake Tahoe in wintertime is an obvious must, but the unexpected adventure we had perhaps the most fun on during our holiday vacation was our snowshoe trip. With a decent layer of fresh snow on the ground, we decided, on a whim, to snowshoe part of the Tahoe Rim Trail—and I could not be happier we made that last-minute decision.
We ended up getting our pup out of his boarding at Pet Network in Incline Village (our favorite dog boarders in the Lake Tahoe area, who take care of our dog while we stay at rental properties every summer and winter) to get him some fresh air and outdoors time with the family. We rented snowshoes and poles from Tahoe Dave’s (a local staple) and drove to Mount Rose (located at a higher elevation, Mount Rose had plenty of snow for snowshoeing). We parked our car along the highway near the Tahoe Meadows sledding area (which you can’t miss in the wintertime, as it’s a wide-open meadow marked by tons of kiddos and families sledding). We definitely recommend getting there before 9 a.m. if possible (especially during busy holiday weeks), as the spaces along the side of the highway fill up pretty quickly.
From there, we trekked across the meadow (heading east) and cut up along the north side of the mountains toward Jessie's Peak, where we made our way up to a portion of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Because the area is well frequented by cross-country skiers and snowshoers, you’ll find a number of trails that have been carved out—you can choose to follow more strenuous trails that head straight up the face of the mountain, or can opt for easier (but longer) hikes that meander their way along the ridgeline of the mountain. We chose to go straight up the face, which definitely made for a workout—but we arrived at the peak within an hour (which probably would have taken us two hours had we chosen the longer, less strenuous trail).
The temperatures, which were in the high 40’s, felt super warm once we got moving, so we ended up not needing our heavy snow coats (we even ran into a few families snowshoeing in t-shirts and tanktops—it was that warm). We let our pup off-leash once we got deep into the forested area and headed up a steep, increasing incline for about two full miles until we reached the summit and were met with the stunning view that’s shown above. Despite the sore legs and tired muscles, it was definitely worth the walk.
Overall, Lake Tahoe is my favorite spot for celebrating the holiday season, as there seems to be a palpable magic in the air that you can't find at many other places. Bellissimo Lago also quickly became my family's favorite holiday rental, and we're so thankful to the owners and the team at Tahoe Luxury Properties for helping us secure such a gem of a vacation venue in one of our favorite spots on the Lake.