The Belmond El Encanto is nestled in to the Santa Barbara hillside in a residential neighborhood. As you climb the hill you feel the stress drop off of you.
The optimist in me would like to believe that the El Encanto has two horrible hotel rooms and I just happened to book them both. Like my last little getaway I took advantage of the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts program so that I’d shortcut myself into a five star resort for a few days of family time. There are many parts of the El Encanto that are amazing, including the room my children stayed in, so I do think it’s a splendid resort even though we had a decidedly not splendid visit. Let me give you a few tips about visiting.
If you like to sleep in an air conditioned room be certain that you request a room with more than one air vent. It’s a luxury resort and the guest rooms are oversized and well appointed but at least one room (our first room) had only one air register. My husband spent the first night tossing and turning which meant that I spent the night wide awake. Sometime around 2am I opened windows for a cross breeze and settled into the high thread count linens. At 3am a train ran through town complete with a whistle.
I know when I’ve been defeated.
Perhaps the El Encanto’s best asset is its staff. That’s a big statement as the location is spectacular, the grounds are lush, the pool is perfectly heated, and the food was top notch. When my under eye bags and I went to the front desk to explain the problem they sent maintenance over to help resolve the air conditioning issue. When we noted after 90 minutes that we couldn’t get the temperature to budge Max from the front desk took me around the resort to no less than 5 rooms so that we could check the air conditioning and the conditions of each room.
I noticed that unlike a large chain each room is a little bit different. There’s a charm that approaches homeyness but I wouldn’t quite call it that because no one wants to stay in a home. It’s just a warmer more elegantly decorated version of a hotel. The version where there are aspirational coffee table books and Etro toiletries.
We settled on two terrific rooms, the kids moved too so that we could be nearby, and had a great first night’s sleep. My husband, who is part polar bear, keep the room nice and cool and we really enjoyed ourselves. I don’t like it as cold as he does so the heated bathroom floor delighted me more than words can say.
Our third morning was not as lovely. My husband turned off the air conditioning for the first time and opened some windows. I went to enjoy the spa shower and walked out into the warm room and was met with the overwhelming odor of dog urine. As the room heated up the scent had been unleashed and I threw my hands up. Like I mentioned before, I know when I’ve been defeated. We went home a day early.
Although I occasionally enjoy bringing our dog on vacation with us, this is the last time that I stay in a dog friendly resort without specifying that I have allergies and require a room where there’s never been a dog. Once there’s a drop of urine in the room the other dogs will be tempted to mark and I suspect something along those lines happened with our room. I’ll just opt for dog free in the future and have a lovelier time.
Santa Barbara Tips
State Street isn’t what it used to be. Forget about back to school shopping. Saks Fifth Avenue is gone, Nordstrom is tragic (I’ve never seen one like it before) but the little boutiques still have some great finds. We fell in love with Folk Mote Music shop and even though it’s in grocery stores McConnell’s is always a treat. This is going to sound crazy but pop into Lush and if Aire is there you’ll fall in love with the brand and with the vibe she’s created in the store.
Have a late lunch with an early cocktail at Brophy Brothers. Rent a bicycle and explore the coastline but skip the bikes for four, they’re very heavy. Don’t blow dry your hair or put on makeup. Spend a day on Hendry’s beach, it’s protected from big waves and a great place for every age. This town moves slowly. Enjoy it.
If you do decide to visit the El Encanto and ask for a dogless, well ventilated room prepare to be spoiled. Like I said their staff is their strength. Every single person we dealt with was top notch. The tone was relaxed luxury with folks being helpful without being stiff but never overly familiar, this is not an easy chord to strike and should be commended. Restaurant service, engineering, valet and pool service were all perfection. We even had a chocolate bar emergency and the front desk clerk offered to drive into town to get our daughter a Hershey’s bar… we almost let him. It’s not a bad hotel, we just had a bad stay.