By Greg Aragon
The Belmond El Encanto hotel has welcomed discerning guests since 1918. Perched in the hills above Santa Barbara, this iconic hideaway offers serene seclusion in a relaxed, yet luxurious setting of lush gardens, winding paths and private bungalows. It has been described as Hollywood glamour in a modern classic and after my recent visit I can see why the likes of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were regulars to the resort.
My getaway to El Encanto began recently when a friend and I checked into a gorgeous, deluxe premier bungalow. Immersed in a forest of gardens and trees, the 650-sqaure-foot bungalow was private and elegant. It was highlighted by a large main room with hard wood floors, king bed, sofa and chairs, a cozy fireplace and lots of windows. The room also boasted a mini-fridge, Nespresso coffee-maker, iPod dock station, office desk with Wi-Fi, and a widescreen HDTV.
The bungalow also came with a private patio with tranquil garden views, and a huge, marble bathroom with heated stone floors, deep soaking tub and a separate glass shower.
When not relaxing in the room in my Belmond bathrobe with a glass of Santa Barbara wine, I enjoyed the rest of the 7 acre hotel property. A landmark since the 1920s, the Belmond El Encanto completed a $134-million renovation in 2013 to become Santa Barbara’s only Forbes Five-Star resort for three consecutive years. Today the hotel features 92 California-styled suites and bungalows overlooking the Santa Barbara “American Riviera” and the Pacific Ocean. The architecture is a mixture of Craftsman-style and Spanish Colonial.
One of my favorite hotel spots besides my room was the zero-edge pool. Overlooking the ocean, the heated, outdoor, saline pool is a great place to absorb the Santa Barbara sun and charm. Below the pool is the hotel gym, where I worked out after lazing poolside.
For dinner my friend and I experienced the Belmond Dining Room. Offering contemporary California-coastal cuisine, the restaurant is known for artisanal ingredients and rich flavors, matching the region’s culinary abundance. For our meal we sat on the outdoor terrace, admiring the lights of Downtown Santa Barbara twinkling below.
Our dinner began with Hawaiian kampachi sashimi appetizer with lime caviar, celery, black olive, pineapple vinaigrette and sumac. We followed this with a glass of Flor De Campo Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County and an heirloom beet salad with cooked and raw beets, halloumi cheese, local figs, caramelized sesame seeds and tahini dressing.
For the main course I devoured wild king salmon with cauliflower espuma, heirloom carrots, crispy quinoa and smoked tomato jam. My friend enjoyed Wagyu ribeye steak with fingerling potatoes, seaweed tapenade, watercress, and miso mustard.
After dinner we retreated to the lounge/bar area, where we sipped wine beside a large fireplace and listened to a classical guitarist. We concluded the evening by the fireplace in our own room.
In the morning I had an incredible, rejuvenating deep tissue massage at the El Encanto Spa. The full-service spa offers a range of treatments and services including a romantic couples treatment room, manicure/pedicure stations, dedicated facial suites, massage and wet rooms, private outdoor terrace and relaxation lounge. My relaxing, 50-minute rubdown was a perfect complement to the luxurious Belmond surroundings I found myself in.
After the massage, I joined my friend for a 10-minute walk to the Old Mission Santa Barbara. Founded by Spanish Franciscans in 1786, the mission sits on 13 acres overlooking the ocean. The grounds include the beautiful Mission Church, Historic Cemetery and Mausoleum, and multiple lush gardens, including La Huerta Historical Garden (which features authentic and ancient Mission-era plants, trees and paintings).
The Mission also houses a nine-room museum of historical artwork and artifacts, which includes the Chumash Room featuring Native American artifacts along with traditional crafts and tools; a re-creation of a 17th century kitchen with original 1790s adobe wall and 1805 front stone wall; a Padre’s bedroom with chess set, Bishop’s glasses, staff and desk set; and a Trades room with agricultural, blacksmithing, and weaving tools, as well as historical Mission-era photos.
Back at the El Encanto we had lunch in the lounge and then watched the turtles play and frolic in super slow-motion in the lily pond.
The Belmond El Encanto is located at 800 Alvarado Place in Santa Barbara. The hotel also offers free shuttles to town and complimentary Electric Faraday Bikes to ride. For more information, reservations and current specials, call (805) 845-5800 or visit The Belmond El Encanto.