For far too long, a discriminating visitor to Santa Barbara in search of 5-star luxury had to be content with the oceanfront Four Seasons Biltmore, a large commercial albeit satisfactorily-run resort or the small very pretty but hideously expensive San Ysidro Ranch, hidden in the Montecito foothills. Both of these properties are the playthings of Beanie Baby billionaire Ty Warner.

That was until recently when Orient Express, now rechristened Belmond, poured over $100 million into the venerable ruins of the mountaintop El Encanto and reopened it to rave reviews. Overnight, Belmond El Encanto has become the place to stay and eat in style, a much more personalized hotel experience than the Biltmore with a good deal less pretense and extravagance than the San Ysidro Ranch. Belmond El Encanto manages to be breezy and fun in a European way, no wonder given Belmond’s long history. Belmond is a global collection of 45 iconic hotels, trains and river cruises brings together some of the world’s most thrilling journeys and destinations. They stole our hearts as Orient Express and now we feel the same way about Belmond. They seem to get it right with a fine balance between correct formality when needed and breezy friendliness.With premier properties in North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia, to say nothing of New York’s legendary 21 Club restaurant, this is a group with the highest of standards and the drive to execute seamless perfection.

What have they done to bring Belmond El Encanto to soaring new heights? Just about everything, including buying their own cow to produce their own special cheese just for the hotel. But their impact goes far beyond Ellie the bovine.
Belmond El Encanto offers only elegant private bungalows within their secluded resort so that guests can revel in a true personal sanctuary. Many of these bungalows have fireplaces, heated floors, garden or ocean views and are intimate personal retreats, full of modern technology yet they feel just like home. A large heated pool and rolling carefully-manicured lawn is open to all guests.


Dining is special here. Choose either the elegant dining room, or delight in a romantic dinner under the stars on the terrace. Either way you’ll be treated to a spectacular gastronomic experience, featuring locally sourced, artisanal ingredients. An innovative menu offers contemporary California-coastal cuisine, complemented with gracious, savvy service and a side of stunning Santa Barbara views. Artisanal ingredients and exceptional flavors blend to create an unforgettable dining experience. Executive Chef Leo Andres Ayala knows his stuff and is inspired by locally-sourced seasonal produce. Expect herbs directly from the chef’s garden.

There is a full service Spa offering an array of treatments featuring local ingredients that relax the mind and rejuvenate the body. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the rolling hills of Santa Barbara’s wine country, The Spa draws from the surrounding landscape to create signature soothing treatments. Set across seven treatment rooms, The Spa is a haven of peace and tranquility. Take advantage of soothing water therapies in the special wet treatment room, or unwind together in the romantic couple’s room. The Spa also features a relaxation lounge, showers, steam rooms and private lockers. Each treatment concludes with a selection of detoxifying teas as you enjoy breathtaking views from the patio.

All in all, we cannot imagine a more relaxed place for a romantic getaway or a small event, business or pleasure. To wander the brick walks of Belmond El Encanto is to relive history (the original El Encanto dates from the early 1900s) and nothing soothes like a few moments of meditation under the lily pond’s pergola. We must credit genius hotelier Ali Kasikci, who is the merlin behind all this magic, gently encouraging his young staff to consider no detail too small, and no request too large.

Think Belmond Cipriani in Venice or Belmond Villa San Michele in Fiesole or Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford, England (three other Belmond gems) if you want to conjure up a proper image of how heavenly Belmond El Encanto is. We cannot imagine a dreamier place to sleep, eat and live. Belmond El Encanto,, 800 Alvarado Place, Santa Barbara California 93103 USA Tel: + 1 805 845 5800, US Toll Free: +1 800 393 5315. Email:

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