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LUXURY HOTELS: El Encanto, Santa Barbara, USA
Style: Spanish Mission meet Colonial
Scene: Hills above the American Riviera

Seen in the lobby: The rich and relaxed

Seven years is a long time but that's how long El Encanto in Santa Barbara has been sleeping. Orient-Express have spent many years and $US134 million refurbishing the iconic luxury hotel. It reopened last month and early reports from our Santa Barbara spies are favourable. Sleeping beauty is awake and looking good.

By all accounts the hotel has successfully made the Seven Year Switch from tired to terrific without losing its historic appeal. Orient-Express has been clever enough to take full advantage of the hotel's hill-top setting too. The lobby has been opened out and a new terrace added to take full advantage of those sublime views.

el encanto
el encanto
el encanto suite
el encanto garden
balcony
el encanto view
suite

There are 92 bungalow rooms and suites housed in the hotel's original cottages with their Spanish mission style architecture with its arches, balconies and patios.   Interiors are stylish and timeless with hardwood floors and plantation shutters as well as all the expected mod cons, including Wi-Fi, naturally. Some of the new bathrooms are pretty palatial too.

The Luxury Travel Bible especially likes the large (0ver 1,700 sq ft ) two bedroom Camellia Bungalow set amidst   the  flowering camellias (of course) . It has two antique fireplaces and marble baths and bathrooms   with heated floors .

Then of course there those glorious outdoor spaces. There are seven acres of gardens with rolling lawns and quiet corners, including the historic arbor and the original lily pond. So the whole resort has a very laid back, outdoor feel.  A relocated   infinity pool also takes advantage of the views.

 The concierge can also direct you to local walking and hiking trails in the hills. There are also electric bikes for guests to explore Santa Barbara. And did we mention Ellie the cow who provides fresh milk for homemade cheeses at the hotel (maintained especially for the purpose on a farm in central California.) ?

An impressive collection of art work reflects he natural feel too.   For example, the local Monarch butterflies are immortalised by a Damien Hurst piece, in as a silk screen print with diamond dust that abstractly depicts butterfly wings. And artist Paul Villinski has created an installation of hundreds of tiny blue butterflies which seem to be fluttering down the walls as you descend the grand staircase from the lobby down to the 7-room spa and ballroom.

The dining room, won annual awards in its heyday as a romantic setting but not necessarily for its food. The setting is still there ,with matchless views over   the city but now the food   looks set to live up to the views   under the watchful eye of executive chef, French-born Patrice Martineau (who comes to El Encanto via   The Savoy in London, and the Peninsula in Tokyo).   Never fear however you can still get the hotel's signature meringue and crème anglais Floating Island dessert, a favourite since 1920.

On display in the wine room are some of El Encanto's 2,800 bottles of wine, with the majority of wines by the glass being from the Santa Barbara and Napa areas. We hear the tuna pizza offered in the bar area is winning fans too.

The historic luxury hotel opened its doors in 1918 and became a favourite with the stars of the silver screen (Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were both fans) . We predict its relaxed Californian charm will work the same magic this time around too.   Expect to do some serious celebrity spotting.

Check in:  El Encanto, 800 Alvarado Place, Santa Barbara, USA. Tel: + 1(805) 845-5800.
Ultimate Luxury:  The spacious Pfeifer Suite with two bedrooms and one and half bathrooms can be converted to a three or four bedroom suite with private entry to all rooms. Luxury amenities include slope-side balconies, fireplaces, full service wet bar, 42-inch flat screen HD TVs, Bose sound systems and personal computer system.
Most Indulgent Moment: Eating on the terrace with the twinkling lights of Santa Barbara below you
Insider Secrets: El Encanto was the brainchild of James Warren of Santa Barbara, who owned the property adjacent to what was once Santa Barbara State College, on the Riviera. His first idea was to build rental cottages for students on the grounds.
The Little Things: We love the views of the Pacific Ocean and the fact that well behaved dogs are allowed.
Junior Luxies: Welcome. So much space for them. They'll love the hidden corners and the winding paths between bungalows.
Dress code: Smart casual, with a touch of outdoors, knot that cashmere sweater around your shoulders...
Perfect luggage:
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Hotels Links: www.elencanto.com/ , www.orient-express.com/
Hilary Doling. Additional reporting Brad Nicks 1/4/13
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