Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States, has over 12 million population and the peak hour traffic runs for 24 hours a day. It doesn’t exactly scream relaxation, does it? However, drive two hours north to Santa Barbara and throw in a stay at Belmond El Encanto Resort and things are remarkably different.
Cruising up Highway 101 turning off into Santa Barbara you get a feel for two things 1) there’s wealth and 2) there are colleges, and it’s this dichotomy that gives Santa Barbara its edge. As you drive in you pass college bars and Mexican restaurants, then you wind through the hills behind Downtown and property prices start to rise as the road does – so it makes perfect sense that the Belmond El Encanto Resort sits at the top of the hill.
Set amid lush hills and overlooking the dazzling ocean, Belmond El Encanto is Santa Barbara’s only Forbes Five-Star resort and combines a laid-back Californian style with a beautiful slice of elegance. In 2004 the hotel went through a $134 million renovation that took 7 years to complete. The result? Beautifully crafted buildings with market leading rooms and suites, lush garden landscapes and world-class leisure facilities. El Encanto is a paradise, and despite being only a 5 minute drive to town, you feel a million miles from care, especially when sipping cocktails next the pool and looking across to the Channel Islands.
Meandering footpaths through floral gardens is El Encanto’s equivalent to taking an elevator to your room. At almost full capacity the resort was comfortably empty, a stroll through the garden was more often met with a friendly gardener rather than a fellow guest. Rooms are housed in red-tiled Spanish style buildings with private balconies and, if you’re lucky like we were, panoramic views across town and to the ocean. The rooms themselves are immaculate and apartment-like in size centered on a King bed with ample sitting, desk and wardrobe space. Our room had not one, but two private balconies, the perfect locale to enjoy the complimentary bottle of locally produced Chardonnay that greeted us on arrival.
Although the comfort of the suite is hard to part with, the 7-acre property houses a number of amenities that demand your attention, specifically the infinity-edge swimming pool. Attendants man the pool bar from 9am-7pm serving a refreshing mix of cocktails and bar snacks, (I’d highly recommend the Blood Orange Margarita), combine this with some of the most comfortable pool lounges on earth and you can see why we struggled to leave the resort on the first day.
If you can peel yourself away from the pool, town is a quick courtesy bus down the hill, where you’ll find a great mix of restaurants, bars and shopping. We especially enjoyed a dinner at The Hungry Cat after some wine tasting along Anacapa Street. Between the bars, the restaurants and the usual collection of fashion stores Santa Barbara maintains a chilled Californian vibe centered on a coastal community that simply loves the beach, the surf and the sun.
More than anything, I loved the contrast that Santa Barbara offers to LA. Australians often get hung up on the San Fran vs LA question, but I can confidently weigh in on that chat now and throw in Santa Barbara as somewhere that demands the attention of both domestic and international American travellers. Go a step further and include a stay at Belmond El Encanto Resort and you’re in for a weekend you won’t forget.
Many thanks to Belmond El Encanto Resort for having us.