A two day escape to El Encanto--a favored hideaway of the rich and famous since its original opening 100 years ago—proved way above expectations. This was our first return since Orient-Express purchased the enchanted 90-room property in 2004 and shut it down for an extensive renovation that, while adding many details and embellishments, retained its elite and chic casual,country-club style.
Just about 90-minute drive from Los Angeles, the hotel sits high above the Pacific Ocean on California’s American Riviera by seven-acres of impeccably landscaped gardens with a historic trellised lined arbor and lily pond. To call it gracious is an understatement. Staying at the property feels more like a second home than a hotel.
So far from urban sprawl, yet with everything you can ask for, El Encanto now sports a charming little spa, electric bicycles to make the climb back up the hill from nearby Santa Barbara less taxing—if you decide to take a bike ride. A new infinity pool sparkles above the ocean. The deck has been fitted with cushy lounges, huge oversize towels baring the resorts signature gray color, and a snack bar. During our visit it was well used by guests sunning and swimming, many of whom spoke in foreign tongues (the resort draws a large European clientele as well as local luminaries and superstars).
During its heyday El Encanto was a mecca for foodies who would meet for lunch or dinner that was served in a gorgeous patio setting. Although the restaurant has been enlarged and gussied up, it is still filled with epicureans who come from far and wide to enjoy the talents of Chef Patrice Martineau who will created an exceptional California coastal cuisine menu which we sampled in a specially-prepared tasting menu. Each course was a palate-pleasing delight (see slideshow for mouthwatering details). Highlighting the evening was full moon that amped up the romantic atmosphere.
Going a bit outside the box, the hotel is keeping Ellie the cow on a farm in central California. Ellie’s milk is being used solely to make a special cheese for El Encanto (a delicious cheddar that Chef served us with figs prior to dessert). There’s also house roasted coffee, an herb and a vegetable garden which are all well used.
The Spa at El Encanto houses seven spacious treatment rooms, including a couple’s room and a wet treatment room. There’s a nice menu of seasonal, organic and specialty body and facial treatments that enchant as thoroughly as the hotel’s lush setting. We each booked the Signature Massage. Mine was done by the amazing Steve, a skilled therapist with synchronized musical movements that left me limp and barely able to get up from the table.
Having stayed at El Encanto pre-Orient-Express we were delighted that the company retained much of the flavor while pretty much bringing it up to contemporary code. No detail was left unattended. Linens are top quality Italian, rooms are gorgeously appointed with high end furnishings, flat screen TVs, huge bathrooms, free WiFi and even pod espresso makers (love that touch).
It’s only been reopened for six months and there are few small kinks to iron out in the service area. One morning our bungalow room service breakfast was all mixed up, we never got the newspaper that was supposed to come automatically (but did after we called the front desk), our car sometimes took a little too long to be delivered by the valet and the coffee, although roasted in house, wasn’t our cup of joe. It lacked flavor and consistency.
But those are small nit picks for a two-day getaway so close to our home in Los Angeles that was rejuvenating, relaxing and well pretty much sublime. The weather was perfect, too. And we did drive (by car) down to Santa Barbra proper to walk around the shops. While strolling we came across a great little Vietnamese restaurant called Saigon where I had a tasty bowl of tofu curry and Richard did a chicken egg drop soup.
El Encanto is located at 800 Alvarado Place, Santa Barbara. Rates for our superior bungalow begin at $525 per night, based on double occupancy. For further information or reservations click on www.elencanto.comor call 806-845-5800.