Before COVID-19, it was easy to know exactly what to expect when booking a vacation for your clients. You could easily choose a hotel property and know precisely the level of service and the amenities that would shape their time away. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the case today. Hotels and resorts are each interpreting and adapting to the “new normal” differently, finding constant challenges with employees and ever-changing legislation that often determines whether or not they are even allowed to resume some of their customary operations. We have visited quite a few hotels and resorts, including Belmond El Encanto, to find out exactly what the new normal looks/feels like.
Classic & Glamorous
The Belmond name is synonymous with excellence and ultimate indulgence, and the Belmond El Encanto most definitely embodies those qualities. Perched high in the foothills of Santa Barbara, California, this quintessential retreat affords some of the most amazing views of the American Riviera. The El Encanto, which translates to “The Enchantment” in Spanish, is just that—enchanting. With a mixture of Spanish-colonial and California-craftsman, it exudes a classic and glamorous aura that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the area. About an hour-and-a-half from Los Angeles and just under five hours from San Francisco, this unique property has been a favorite among the rich and famous for quite some time, boasting a long list of star-studded guests since it opened its doors in 1918.
Room for Relaxation
At the Belmond El Encanto, your clients will find luxuriously appointed bungalows and suites laid out in what feels like a storybook Spanish Revival-style town. Guests stroll through the lush gardens, with verandahs draped in stunning bougainvillea and take in the most delightful scents of lavender and eucalyptus as they find their way to their own private sanctuary. The bungalows offer a feeling of California coastal tranquility with a combination of warm wooden furnishings, airy textures and sumptuous bedding. Spacious in design, most bungalows have living room space separate from the main bedroom area. Among the many comforts offered in each cottage are heated floors in the bathrooms, push-button gas fireplaces for cooler evenings, controlled lighting and USB ports by the nightstand, and over-sized tubs. Guests will also find a comfortable desk with a charging port in each room to keep them on point while working remotely.
Be forewarned though that due to the nature of the room layouts, there are not many options for large families with small children like my own, so make sure to book your client’s stay well in advance if they fall under that same category. Our party of five enjoyed two interconnecting rooms with a roll away bed, which worked out perfectly. However, those rooms have the minor drawback of not having a private terrace.
Gardens, Pool, & More
If your clients are like us, and they happen to have a room with no outdoor space, don’t fret. The meticulously manicured gardens throughout the property are simply enchanting. Determining where to spend their time will be more difficult of a decision than they can anticipate. As they make their way around the carefully marked paths, they will find a serene waterfall, a historic wishing well, and a beautiful lily pond. If they’re visiting with little ones, recommend hanging with the family of turtles in the lily pond. The front desk will gladly provide food for a proper turtle encounter.
When lounging by the pool is more their style, the Belmond El Encanto is where they want to be. With sweeping views of the Pacific, the stunning zero-edge, salt-water pool is truly breathtaking and offers lunch and bar service throughout the day. The property also boasts a state-of-the-art fitness center and full-service spa, but they were both closed during our visit due to the pandemic.
Dining at the Belmond is a delicious experience, no matter where one chooses to dine. Normally, visitors can dine by the pool, at The Bar, The Lounge, The Dining Room & Terrace, or with in-room dining. They each have unique menus, all based on regional fare with local ingredients and home-grown herbs. Off the in-room dining breakfast menu, I highly recommend the Nutella-and-banana-stuffed french toast. It’s delightfully sinful! And don’t miss the sunset on the main terrace, overlooking the coastline and the Pacific. Everything we tried was absolutely sublime, and we are still dreaming of their Goleta lemon dessert.
Effects of The Pandemic
The Belmond El Encanto is without a doubt a place to unwind and recharge. It is stunning and indulgent with and without the effects of the pandemic. However, like with any hotel property these days, there are situations to consider before you book your clients at the property. The lack of fitness center and spa are without a doubt a big drawback to what would otherwise be a perfect stay. However, the property and the Santa Barbara area offer a variety of options to help guests maintain a healthy routine during their stay. For example, you can arrange a private training session on site, or your clients can take advantage of the many hiking trails and outdoor sports in the area.
Additionally, in order to allow for social distancing poolside, lounge chairs have been properly spaced out and there is a wait list available when the pool is at capacity. Guests can put their name on the list, and the staff will contact then when their lounge chair is ready. To help keep guests comfortable when waiting, the hotel has added lounge chairs on the lawn just outside of the pool area. On the lawn they will have similar ocean views and food and bar service, which makes the wait more than bearable. Honestly, I don’t believe there is too much of a problem with the pool, since we only saw one group have to wait during our full day at the pool. Also, we heard from other guests that the resort usually offers complimentary cleaning of sunglasses and Evian refreshing spray, but they are no longer offering these for the time being. In terms of dining options, they are now limited to outdoor venues like the pool and dining terrace or to in-room dining. Considering the stunning views from the terrace and the fact that the restaurant has heaters readily available, I did not feel that this was too much of an obstacle.
In fact, the understated glamour of a luxurious stay at the Belmond el Encanto lives on regardless.
For more information, visit belmond.com.
This story originally appeared in worldstompers.com, a family travel website created to inspire families with kids to expand their idea of adventures. You can follow the adventures of the Bazavilvazo family @worldstompers on Instagram and The Worldstompers on Facebook.