Understated elegance, thoughtful touches and a peaceful, private setting make Belmond El Encanto the perfect home away from home.
Living in Los Angeles, we’re blessed with—among other things—an ideal home base location, with glorious beaches, mountains and high desert at our disposal. Ojai, Laguna Beach and Palm Springs are just some of the drivable destinations within reach that feel a whole world away, while Santa Barbara, a mere 90 minutes north on the 101, is a top choice for Angelenos in need of a Hamptons-esque escape to cooler pastures.
There are countless incredible hotels to choose from, but for some discerning travelers, Belmond El Encanto is the only option. Now, after a gloriously relaxing weekend there, I understand why.
After arriving in Santa Barbara and driving up a winding mountain road we arrived at the elegant hotel. Nestled in a residential neighborhood, the property—which was popular during Hollywood’s Golden Age with stars like Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Hedy Lamarr—is far from the crowds and exudes a quiet, peaceful vibe. After checking in at the warm and welcoming lobby—decked out in dark woods and adorned with tasteful art and furniture—we are led along a meandering brick path through lush greenery and mature trees, passing a gorgeous arbor and lily pond, a wishing well and a mix of Spanish Colonial Revival and Craftsman-style cottages and bungalows.
When we arrive at our spacious bungalow—one of 92 accommodations on the 7-acre property—I’m struck by how at home I feel, almost immediately. It’s definitely due to the room’s clean, comfortable design, what the resort calls California glamour. There’s a place for everything, and our particular room, 1701, had plenty of space to stretch out, including two private patios.
In light of the current pandemic, the resort is now offering a slew of unique alfresco experiences, and we dive into a private painting lesson with The Painted Cabernet on one of our balconies soon after arriving. Our artistic talent is questionable at best, but spending time with my husband with a paintbrush in hand—giggling at our handiwork—is a breath of fresh air and a welcome change from looking at screens so often.
The resort is fortunate to have a large terrace overlooking the ocean (perfect for safe, socially distanced dining), and that evening, we indulge in a variety of delicious dishes, including Hudson Valley duck breast, local halibut and perfectly cooked veggie sides. A live band plays music, and for a moment, in spite of the challenges of the times, what matters most is each other’s company, the ocean breeze and a sky full of stars.
The next day we decide to have a quick breakfast on the terrace (delicious), before soaking up a few rays by the breathtaking zero-edge infinity pool. Soon after, we head downstairs to the fitness center for a private yoga lesson. The instructor decides on a restorative, meditative session. It was just what the doctor ordered, and afterward, we both feel refreshed and ready to face the day. We decide to drive the short distance to town to walk around the Funk Zone area near the water. It’s filled with tasting rooms, cafes, small boutiques and galleries. We stop into one of my favorite shops, The Blue Door, where I spy designer Betsey Johnson, who used to have a shop nearby. With her dreads, huge smile and fantastic outfit, she’s everything I hoped for and more.
That evening we have a lovely alfresco Italian meal at Tre Lune in Montecito, dining on too much delicious pasta and dessert, before taking a walk through the neighborhood. We pass Tre Lune’s sister restaurant, Lucky’s, where we tried and failed to get a reservation. Apparently, new Montecito residents Prince Harry and Meghan Markle dined there a few days earlier, and it’s been tough to get in ever since. Back at the hotel we are met with the most incredible outdoor movie setup on our patio. Complete with different types of popcorn, candy, macarons and more, the gourmet setup—where you can log into your personal Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video or other personal accounts—is super comfy and the perfect way to end the evening.
The next day, sadly the last of our mini-break, we meet a hiking guide in the lobby, and after a short drive to the Montecito hills, set out to explore the area on foot. The resort arranged the three-hour experience, which incudes a moderate hike and gourmet picnic. We pass through fragrant foliage and running water as we steadily climb the mountain. When we reach the peak, about halfway through, we indulge big time on lobster rolls, salads, berries and more. Looking out toward the city and the ocean, I feel happier and more relaxed than I’ve felt in months. I’m thankful to the resort for arranging everything—for giving my brain a break and my soul the refresh it so badly needed. Low season rates from $475 per night; high season rates from $575 per night
Photography by: Courtesy of Belmond El Encanto