Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

The West Coast is one of my happy places. Whether I’m staying with friends, in a tent, up a tree in Big Sur (yes, I have done that), in my car, a hostel in Santa Monica, or a luxe hotel in Bel Air, when I am there, there is nowhere else I would rather be.

Long term readers will remember my California Adventure from back in 2009, where I flew to LAX, hired a shonky car from an even shonkier rental company on a lot at the arse end of the airport, and set off to explore.

I first visited Santa Barbara on that mission, and I’ve been back several times since, although not to stay. Last month I decided it was time I spent a night there, and booked in at Santa Barbara’s most storied hotel, the Belmond El Encanto, perched in the foothills above the city.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara
(The dining terrace in the clubhouse at the Belmond El Encanto.)

Santa Barbara is a gorgeous two hour drive up the coast from Santa Monica, where I spent my first night in California  on this trip at the Fairmont Miramar. Don’t be put off by the distance thing – two hours in English terms always seems like a bit of a schlep, in California that’s like popping round the corner to get some milk. And, as I mentioned, it really is a lovely drive.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

A landmark since the 1920s, the hotel has benefitted from an excellent and recent restoration project, with its original architectural features have been lovingly brought back to life. Modern additions include a heated outdoor swimming pool and a boutique spa. 

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

The property is centred around a white central clubhouse, which houses reception, a sitting area, the main restaurant, a terrace overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean, and the above-mentioned spa. 

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

In February it was beautifully sunny, but with a real nip to the air in the mornings, and the fire in the sitting area of the clubhouse was more than welcome. 

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

This is the terrace at the back of the clubhouse building, where breakfast is taken.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

The property is large, with accommodation split between California Craftsman, and Mission Style Bungalows. If you are less mobile, there are golf carts to transport you through the winding, tree-lined paths to your home for the night.

Belmond el encanto

The gardens themselves are perfect for strolling in, with plenty of niches and nooks for reading and staring at the bright blue skies. (It’s understandably extremely popular for al fresco weddings.)

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

 And, although I didn’t have Lettice, my needy sausage dog, in tow, I was pleased to see that El Encanto is dog friendly.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

I met this delightful new friend at breakfast one morning. Helped to stave off the Lettice-missing.

Belmond El Encanto resort

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

My California Craftsman bungalow home for two nights really did feel like a generously sized apartment, with a huge combined bedroom and living area, a dressing room leading to a frankly palatial bathroom, with separate loo and shower and, accessed through a stable door, a beautiful shaded terrace running the length of the bed-sitting room.

Belmond El Encanto resort

Above – the front porch.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

The hotel is justly proud of its monogram pillow for each resident – a W here for Wilkins, my surname.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

The light-flooded seating area is a joy, with none of the sterility you sometimes find in smart hotels. Everything has been thought of, and it’s as close to a room in a private home as I’ve come across in a hotel.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

I loved the pretty writing desk, with its personalised guest stationery.

Belmond el encanto

(Parker Cisele fountain pen gift )

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

I spent an entire day on this beautiful terrace, which can be seen looking enticing through the stable door in the living area.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

sasha wilkins
G
anni Chiffon Maxi dress (only available in red now in the sale)

boden sandals
Boden Sienna Sandal  – available now

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

And then there’s the bathroom. Frankly there was more square footage here than there was in the entirety of my old East Village, Manhattan apartment.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

One of its big selling points for me is its accessibility options: with a sister who has MS, I’m always hyper aware of trip hazards, accessible bathing options, and grab rails. This bathroom was perfectly laid out for someone mobile but with access issues.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

No trip hazards here!

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

And so the hotel grounds…the swimming pool is a world-beater. Even on sunny days it can be chilly, but the pool is heated, and doing early morning laps staring at the ocean is a pretty good way to start the day.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto resort

During my stay, I had an excellent massage from a male masseur. I’ve noticed in American hotels (as opposed to European ones) that they can be quite surprised by women choosing to have male masseurs. The spa pointedly checked several times that I knew he was male…but I’d much rather have a guy digging his fingers in the knots in my shoulders, not being a fan of the scented, strokey, strokey approach, and Brian gave me one of the best therapeutic massages I’ve had in a while.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara
(The relaxation area in the spa.)

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

There is a great gym, whose USP is these exercise bikes out on the terrace underneath the pool, but if gyms aren’t your thing then it’s easy enough to head to the hills. Not metaphorically – behind Santa Barbara lies a mountain range and the Los Padres National Forest, and there are plenty of fantastic hiking trails within minutes of the hotel. (Sadly it was a little bit chilly first thing in the morning for me in February so I didn’t go this time, but here I am standing on top of Inspiration Point back in 2009.)

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

I didn’t eat supper in the restaurant, as I went off to meet my dear friend Lisa for dinner in town, but I had breakfast twice out on the terrace (chilly – pack a cashmere wrap in February), which was very good both times. But its deliciousness was beaten into a cocked hat by the absolutely charming waitstaff, for whom nothing was too much trouble.

Belmond el encanto breakfast

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Eating breakfast with this view is a complete treat.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Huevos Rancheros for breakfast – I think it’s illegal not to order this at least once in California. And when it’s as good as this…mmmm….

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

Although this hotel is beautifully thought out, and the interiors exquisite, it’s the staff here that really stood out for me. From the valet guys, who didn;t flinch at my midden-on-wheels and the bellhops who coped admirably with my insane amounts of luggage, through to the cheery housekeepers and welcoming reception staff, nothing was too much trouble.

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara

And the hotel’s care and consideration stretches to your car: as I drove off I noticed two bottles of complimentary water in the console.

Belmond El Encanto resort

Belmond El Encanto Santa Barbara: 800 Alvarado Pl, Santa Barbara, CA 93103, United States. Telephone: +1 805-845-5800

http://www.belmond.com/el-encanto-santa-barbara/

Sasha was a guest of Belmond for two nights, bed and breakfast, at The Belmond El Encanto in February 2016.

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8 comments

Reply

That morning dish looks sooooo good!!

Reply

Well, it looks absolutely beautiful, I can almost hear the birds singing! I really wish we had the same weather, blue skies seem to elevate everything. Hopefully we’ll get some soon, in the meantime it’s so nice to read about your travels, an escape for five minutes in my day. X

Reply

Hi Sasha,

Love this post and now desperately want to go!!

It’s funny how you talk about travel times…

I met an American when travelling in Chiang Mai and she said it was normal for American families to travel 8 – 10 hours to go on holiday and a 2 hour drive to work is normal…

As a true tea loving Brit I couldn’t get my head round it!!

Reply

I’ve been dreaming of going to California for a couple of years now and this just confirms that even more. One day I’m going to make it over there!

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What a beautiful place to stay! I love the little touches, like the initialled pillows on the bed, and I adore to sweet-but-stern face on that little doggie!

Reply

I’m a big fan of Belmond, and this hotel looks stunning, especially the pool area. I’ve always wanted to visit California, my husband loved his trip there

Reply

This place looks amazing. I’ve been to Santa Barbara a couple of times but never done an overnight, mainly because it’s a bit far away from the rest of our travels. You’re right though, in the part of the world a couple hours drive is nothing x

Reply

This looks like a fantastic place to stay. California is on my bucket list, so this is a really helpful post… It looks lovely and tranquil, a beautiful place to relax. Love that it’s dog friendly always an added bonus for me!!

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