By Tova Syrowicz
Once drawing the likes of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard away from Hollywood’s bright lights, Santa Barbara’s iconic El Encanto resort has just reopened—after seven years of careful restoration—under the Orient-Express flag.
Set on seven beautifully landscaped acres marked by winding paths and streams, El Encanto has all the makings of a modern California classic: Wide ocean views, plenty of outdoor living and lounging space, a film-star fan base, seasonal coastal cuisine and just the right amount of diamond dust.
Each of 92 individually designed bungalows features hardwood floors, plantation-style shutters and custom furnishings. As it recently did in Cusco, Peru while excavating and restoring the historic Palacio Nazarenas, Orient-Express collaborated with the local landmark preservation authority to stay true to El Encanto’s original architecture and footprint.
Accommodations come with private patios or gardens, as well as telescopes for exploring the Pacific Ocean views and sparkling night skies. The 800-square-foot Hummingbird Bungalow boasts an outdoor rainforest shower, but the 1,750-square-foot Camellia Bungalow we find especially enticing: Secluded amidst lush camellias, the two-bedroom Mission-style abode features two antique fireplaces and marble baths with heated floors ($3,220 a night).
On the foodie front, seasonal produce from the Santa Barbara region will take center stage, punctuated by freshly picked herbs and vegetables from the on-property garden. Ellie, El Encanto’s very own Holstein heifer, enjoys a pampering regimen of special baths, hoof pedicures, massages and a custom diet, and in return produces the most amazing milk, used solely in El Encanto’s handmade cheese. In a nod to the “floating island” dessert that debuted at the hotel in 1920, and became the firm favorite for generations, Executive Chef Patrice Martineau has reimagined the sweet meringue-and-crème-anglaise finale with a mango twist.
As with any good getaway, you’ll want to spend some time unwinding at the spa. El Encanto’s draws on the ocean, incorporating Patagonian seaweed into certain treatments, while looking to California’s famed wine heritage for a selection of vinotherapies, including the signature Pinot & Cabernet Crush Sugar Scrub.
Custom-made electric bikes, complete with baskets perfect for toting your specially prepared picnic lunch, are on offer for guests looking to explore the verdant surrounds, or head down into town.
And about that diamond dust: Orient-Express has poured not only immense passion but also a whopping $134 million into revivifying El Encanto, which today is home to a carefully curated collection of art that includes Damien Hirst’s Psalm Print: Verba Mea Auribus—created on silk screen with diamond dust. The abstract piece depicts butterfly wings, evocative of the butterflies that flutter through the hotel’s grounds on their migratory paths.
El Encanto, meaning “charm” in Spanish, is certainly chock-full of its namesake, promising to sweep another century of serenity seekers off their feet.