To this day, I haven’t had a Belmond experience that wasn’t really unique – from the British Pullman to the Venice Simplon-Orient Express trains, the iconic Reids Palace in Madeira, or the stunning La Residencia in Mallorca.
This time around, I went stateside and explored my first Belmond property in the Americas: Belmond El Encanto, located in Santa Barbara in California. This is how my stay went.
Getting to Belmond El Encanto
We flew from London Heathrow to Los Angeles with British Airways and hired a car with Avis for the duration of this California trip (which was 17 days, in 2017).
We drove from LA to Santa Barbara, and that took us around 2h45m (we were lucky with the traffic) – we chose the scenic route, via Santa Monica and Malibu and followed the Pacific Coast Highway for most of the journey.
Belmond El Encanto is located in Santa Barbara, in a residential area a few miles from the town centre.
The hotel & check-in
We arrived at the hotel and made our way to reception, located in the main building, where you will also find the bar and restaurant, as well as the spa, both open to non hotel guests. We had our car valeted and our ‘extensive’ luggage also taken to our room.
Check in was quick and efficient – this is a very small hotel and you kind of feel at home immediately. We were given a brief explanation about the hotel and where things were, and then escorted to our gorgeous suite.
This is no standard hotel – like most Belmond hotels, it has something quite unique about it – and in this case, how the bedrooms and suites were set up. As you can see in the photos below, there is a collection of small buildings and stand-alone houses, which is where most rooms are located.
The grounds were gorgeous and very well maintained.
Our suite at Belmond El Encanto
Our suite was lovely – it was made up of a secluded patio area and a 1 bedroom suite. The decor was very simple and worked very well with the location. We had a living room with a comfortable seating area and gorgeous views, as well as a working area.
The bedroom area was also very well-appointed – the bed was excellent and so were the linens.
With regards to tech, we did struggle with finding power points by the bed (we ended up unplugging one of the lights).
Our bathroom at Belmond El Encanto
The bathroom, on the other hand, one of my favourite things about our room – it was timeless and classic, but the details were all there.
Similar to La Residencia in Mallorca, the dressing area was in the bathroom, which I must confess I really like. We also had a walk-in shower which was excellent (and I did love the Etro toiletries, which is a brand I haven’t seen in hotels in years). They are custom-made for El Encanto and worth adding to the list of ‘those worth bringing home’.
A special mention goes to the towels – I think they were the best I have ever seen in a hotel. I loved the grey stripes and how plush they were. I have purchased things from hotels in the past (pillows, bed linen) and I did not ask to purchase these only because our stay was at the beginning of a 17-day trip and we would have to take them everywhere. But absolutely something to consider on a return trip.
The pool & hotel grounds
The infinity pool is, without a doubt, the most photographed hotel spot – but it has a flaw: it is tiny. And that was a real disappointment as during 3 days, we couldn’t find side by side chairs in primetime – and that would mean being very close to the ‘next chair’ neighbour.
Not sure how this can be changed – but it opened up an opportunity for us: to explore the nearby beaches. But more on that later.
The spa at Belmond El Encanto
The hotel has a spa which is known to be one of the best in the area – I had a 50 minute signature massage (priced at $180 +20% service).
The spa was very nice – the treatment rooms were very well-appointed, my therapist was great, but I felt it was overpriced. This buys you almost 2 massages at Belmond La Residencia, for example.
Eating & Drinking at Belmond El Encanto
On our first night, which is always a bit ‘hit or miss’ as we tend to be exhausted following the 12-hour flight, we chose to have a round of cocktails and some bar bites at the hotel, desperately trying to stay awake until 10pm.
The hotel, which has only 80 something rooms, has only 1 restaurant, but I thought they very cleverly split it so that a part of it is for more casual meals. We had tacos and other nibbles and we thought service was excellent.
One thing I loved was that Taittinger was the house champagne – and various types of Taittinger available by the glass. One thing I hadn’t noticed before – this was my first time in the USA staying at an ‘European’ hotel. So it was lovely to have Badoit as the sparkling water and, of course, all the Taittinger.
I have to warn you about one thing: the epic gin and tonics. Whilst I went for Martinis (because America and they were excellent), Mr. O went for a classic G&T. If you look at the bottle of Fever Tree tonic on the photo below, notice how little tonic has been taken from the bottle, and the size of the gin (very well priced at $18++). Just saying.
On our second night, we had a proper dinner at the hotel – whilst the food was very nice (the menu was pretty perfect, actually – as local as possible), service wasn’t great. We had to pour our wine throughout the whole meal and the tables nearby had similar issues – with some not getting their drinks until their mains arrived.
I don’t know if it was an off night – I hope it was, because the setting is fantastic and the service at the hotel was exceptional (probably one of the best in the USA) – except for the restaurant (but only at dinner as breakfast was very good). If you have been recently, I would love some feedback. Dinner for 2 was around $250++.
Breakfast was a la carte – and we loved how we could create really simple combinations, like an english muffin and a side of bacon. Or fresh sourdough with butter. The coffee was probably one of the nicest I have had in the USA.
Out and about
The hotel offers a complimentary driver which will take you to anywhere you’d like within 3 miles – and that means downtown Santa Barbara, with its quirky shops and wine tasting counters… or to the beach!
We wanted to explore a bit more (as the hotel concierge was so good with ideas and suggestions), so we took our own car.
We started driving South along the coast and ended up going for a lovely walk by the waterfront, all the way down to the Four Seasons. We also explored a bit of the Coast Village which is a very nice area, with good shopping.
But for lunch, we headed to Hendry’s beach and had a table booked at the Boathouse, which is one of the very few restaurants in the area right on the beach.
We went for a walk around the beach while we waited for our table – and a note to my European readers: no sunloungers anywhere.
On the other hand, the beach catered very well to dogs with a doggie park and a doggie wash, which I thought was absolutely brilliant. We did watch a few dogs being washed (much to the delight of the owners, who couldn’t believe we did not have those in Europe).
You can also get some more ideas of what to do in Santa Barbara, like the Urban Wine Trail by reading this post, which refers to a trip which took place a year later.
We really felt at home during our stay at Belmond El Encanto – we thought the staff were excellent.
People working there seemed very happy to be there and it showed – the people we interacted with the most were the doormen and they were so nice and funny. Full of personality and very helpful – they really added to our stay.
The hotel really is beautiful – and in very good condition. It also had an interesting mix of guests – both American and European, and I loved how comfortable it was. Not stuffy, full of personality and quite unique. Very Belmond, I would say.
I would have no problems recommending this hotel to anyone visiting the Santa Barbara area – in fact, we would definitely return.
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Disclaimer: we were guests of Belmond El Encanto for the purposes of this review. Opinions are mine, as you can imagine. Rooms start at $375 per night, depending on the time of the year.