Belmond El Encanto | Santa Barbara, CA

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Discretely nestled in the foothills overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean you will find an enchanting hideaway called the Belmond El Encanto. This property exudes glamour and elegance in an understated manner and offers a sophisticated comfort that is captivating from the moment you arrive.

The Property

The property has a vast history with the original craftsman-style cottages being built in 1912 to serve as housing for students and faculty in the area. In 1918, the property and cottages were converted into a hotel to serve the growing tourism market. In addition to the original craftsman-style cottages that still occupy the property today, several Spanish Revival style cottages were built on the property over the years which explains why the property has two distinct architectural styles.

@2016 Susan Edel

In 2004, the property was sold to the Orient-Express Hotel Group {now known as Belmond Hotels}, based in large part on their reputation for restoring historic properties. After a seven year and 130+million dollar renovation, the hotel re-opened its doors and is currently (2016) the only Forbes Five Star hotel in Santa Barbara.

The serene grounds consist of seven lush acres of mature plantings which include some Eucalyptus trees originally planted in the 1870’s. As you stroll down the brick walkways between the bungalows, you can’t help but be enraptured by the hanging foliage from the trees, colorful Bougainvillea, dense plantings, water features…and, oh yes, the glistening Pacific blue ocean beyond.

An arbor covered with 100-year-old Wisteria vines and a lily pond are located toward the front of the resort and is used for special events. During my stay, the area was set up for a wedding. It was quite romantic with the chairs flanking each side of the lily pond and the altar set up under the arbor…and the resident ducks don’t seem to mind the visitors.

Check-In

On arrival, you are greeted by the valet who escorts you into the main building. Upon entering, there is a small, nondescript front desk where the business of check-in is quickly conducted…and then you turn around.

As you move past the entrance, your eyes feast upon what I can only describe as a warm and inviting, upscale residential-style living area. One corner of the large room is a cozy area with rich, dark wood-paneled walls, a cushioned reading nook and an alluring fireplace; while the larger area is bright with white wood-paneled walls, small conversation seating areas and floor to ceiling glass paneled doors that fold back to expose the large outdoor patio and crystal blue ocean beyond. It feels sophisticated and decadent, as well as warm and comfortable all at once. I found it extremely welcoming.

Guest Rooms

The guest rooms are a unique aspect of this resort and what makes the property so desirable. There are 92 units {70 bungalows + 22 suites} scattered throughout the 7-acre property, ranging from standard bungalows to specialty suites {too many different categories to describe, click {here} for descriptions}. Some of the units are stand-alone, while others might have several units attached or an upper and lower unit.

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The bungalows each have their own characteristics and charm, some still have the original 1920 era fireplace surround and offer unique details that give the rooms their abundant charm. All bungalows are designed in a clean, contemporary style with the same upscale residential feel as the lobby. The renovated bathrooms are large and most with double sinks, large rain shower-heads and tubs, along with radiant-heated floors and luxury amenities. Plush robes and slippers are provided and the quality of the fluffy cotton towels feel quite indulgent.

Each guest is welcomed with a complimentary bottle of wine from one of the local wineries. In general, a white wine is offered in the Spring/Summer season and a red wine is offered in the fall/winter season. Each room offers a coffee maker, mini-bar amenities and complimentary wi-fi.

I stayed in room #2601, which is a spacious unit located on the lower level of a two-story bungalow. The room is bright with two sets of French doors and a patio. A seating area in front of the fireplace creates a cozy place to relax. I would definitely recommend this bungalow as I liked its size and location; and although I was on the bottom level, I didn’t hear anyone walking around upstairs, I only heard them when they came down the exterior stairs.

Other units that are highly requested are the Hummingbird {#1001} and Wishing Well bungalows {#1201/#1202 ~ there really is a historic wishing well on property}, as well as the Oaktree Suite which arguably offers the most private setting on the property. Bungalow #401 has a large private deck and an original circa 1920 fireplace surround that I thought was charming.

Something to note is that due to how the bungalows are situated on the property, most bungalows have garden views, with a select few bungalows offering peeks of the ocean. I did not have an ocean view but I found the garden views very pleasant. A hammock near the wishing well looked quite inviting for a nap or a leisure read, but unfortunately for me, I never made it there.

Dining

Dining at El Encanto is a pleasurable experience for both hotel guests and locals alike. The Dining Room offers an elegant indoor setting for a more refined dining experience, offering California-coastal cuisine paired with a sophisticated wine list.

@2016 Susan Edel

The Terrace offers spectacular ocean views and outdoor seating for a relaxed atmosphere and has an inviting ambiance with lamp-style heaters, sophisticated outdoor furniture, friendly service, and is a perfect place to plant yourself for a leisurely evening of lively conversation, or maybe a romantic tête-à-tête. But let’s not kid ourselves, the lead attraction here is the stunning view of the Santa Barbara harbor and Pacific Ocean beyond.

For a light meal, The Bar offers appetizers and a limited menu. Live music is performed on Friday and Saturday nights.

A special treat offered each day at El Encanto is the Afternoon Tea located at The Lounge. Enjoy scrumptious pastries and scones made from scratch while sharing special time with friends or family. This is such a perfect way to celebrate a special occasion or enjoy some one-on-one time with your favorite person. Reservations are recommended.

In-room dining is an option as well. As much as I enjoyed dining on the terrace, and as much as I wanted to explore the local eateries, I had brought my girlfriend on this trip and quite honestly, sometimes you just want to curl yourself up in a comfy robe, kick your feet up and chat the night away. It felt quite self-indulgent!

Spa

As you enter the spa reception, the elegant design is quite impressive with its soothing colors, marbled walls, and delicate orchids throughout. The full-service spa offers seven treatment rooms as well as one couple’s room with a vast array of treatments including water therapies for a full pampering and relaxation experience.

All hotel guests are welcome to use the spa facilities including the relaxation lounge, steam rooms, and showers at no additional cost. The spa is open to the public for day use, so do make reservations for any treatments you desire.

This elegant spa is a perfect way to relax and rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul.

El Encanto also offers a state-of-the-art Fitness Studio with treadmills, exercise bikes, and ellipticals for those who cannot miss their cardio workout.

The saline pool is perfect in its simplistic elegance. The beauty is in the exceptional and vast ocean view beyond. Sitting at a certain angle, it may even feel that the pool spills into the Pacific Ocean. The pool is open year-round with cabana service on the weekends. A perfect way to spend a lazy day on the American Riviera.

Activities

There are endless possibilities for staying active throughout your trip in the Santa Barbara area. Starting at the resort, here are a few of the top activities that come to mind:

Bike Riding: The resort lends their guests complimentary regular or electric bikes, the electric bikes are a nice perk with the surrounding hilly terrain. I had never ridden an electric bike before and I found this such an enjoyable way to see the Mission and ride around the surrounding neighborhood with such ease. It was quite pleasurable. A bike ride to State Street or the beach, approximately 1 mile away, is a popular excursion as well.

Tennis/Golf: For tennis and golf enthusiasts, the El Encanto will make arrangements for you to play at a local club.

Shopping: A visit to State Street is a must when visiting Santa Barbara. State Street is lined with both unique shops and national brand stores, restaurants, galleries and much more. This is a fun way to get a feel for the city and spend the day. For additional excursions, visit the quaint and charming towns of Montecito and Summerland for adorable shops and restaurants.

Old Mission Santa Barbara: The historic Old Mission Santa Barbara is a highly regarded attraction for this area. Founded in 1786, the mission’s magnificent architecture makes quite a statement and the collections of colonial-era art, sculptures, artifacts and gardens are worthy of your time.

Wineries: Santa Barbara’s growing wine region is becoming a destination in itself. There are numerous tours offered or drive yourself around this beautiful region and explore the local wineries {listed here}.

Beach: And of course, there’s always the beach. Santa Barbara has a long stretch of sandy white beach perfect for spending the day playing in the surf and building sand castles.

As an added convenience for transportation, the resort has a house van and offers their guest complimentary rides within a five-mile radius.

Summary

This property is truly a five-star retreat without any pomp and pretense. It’s a secluded hideaway that feels more like staying in a luxurious guest house than at a hotel. This resort has a casual elegance that is warm and inviting, and yet feels like a decadent splurge.

The property is child-friendly but in my opinion, it feels better situated for adults. I think this property would be an ideal romantic get-a-away, girl’s spa vacation, family or friends reunion site or even a business retreat. Fido is also welcome as this is a pet-friendly resort.

For a secluded retreat offering sheer luxury and spacious comfort, I think you will find this sanctuary a pleasant escape from the ordinary.

L’Auberge de Sedona | Sedona, AZ

Discretely nestled along the banks of Oak Creek in the breathtaking Red Rock region of Sedona, ArizonaL’Auberge de Sedona has created a secluded, luxurious and tranquil setting located steps from Uptown Sedona.

@2016 Susan Edel

Property

The configuration of this property is situated such that it starts creekside then dramatically elevates up the hillside, offering guests the option of staying either by the tranquility of the creekside or on the hillside that offers panoramic Red Rock vistas. The property is intimate with a serene ambiance that almost feels like a well-kept secret from the rest of town. However, when you’re ready to explore all the unique shops, galleries and restaurants, you are just steps away.

One of the most appealing aspects of this property is how much it has to offer. There are several distinctly different accommodations available, an on-site spa/fitness and pool, award-winning dining options, wine bar, and an Artist’s Cottage. It’s no surprise why this resort has been named one of the top hotels by Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, Zagat Survey and has received the Award of Excellence from DiRoNa and Wine Spectator.

Check-In

The resort is tucked stealthily a level below the town’s main street, so keep your eyes open for the modest entrance sign which leads you down a narrow driveway. The driveway opens to a small round-about at the Lobby entrance. Vallet and Bellman are ready to assist you upon arrival.

The cozy lobby is warm and inviting with its reclaimed wood walls, leather chairs and artwork by local artisans. The casual elegance of the lobby is only enhanced by the staff in their professional ensemble along with their friendly and helpful demeanor.

Guest Rooms

A really unique feature of this property is the fact that it offers a number of distinctively different types of accommodations, offering something for everyone.

The property consists of 88 units which include Creekside Cottages, Vista Suites and Cottages, Spa and Garden Cottages, the Creekhouse, and a Lodge with 21 rooms.

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Photo Credit: L’Auberge de Sedona

Creekside Cottages/Suites: The Creekside Cottages are situated on the banks of Oak Creek offering a direct view of the flowing creek and are surrounded by lush trees and vegetation providing a comfortable shaded setting. These cottages have lovely creek views but do not offer direct views of the Red Rocks.  These individual cottages are luxuriously designed in a clean, contemporary style and feature wood-burning fireplaces, king-sized beds, cedar outdoor showers and large outdoor decks. I would say these cottages are perfect for the person who enjoys being outdoors and taking in nature ~ with these units you can sit on your outdoor deck and listen to the babbling creek as it flows by. These cottages are closely located to the creekside restaurant and lobby. The difference between the cottages vs. suites is that the cottages are a studio and suites offer a separate bedroom and living room. Recommendation for best cottages are #6 and #7 along with Creekside Cottage Suite #5.

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Photo Credit: L’Auberge de Sedona

Vista Cottages and Suites: In contrast to the Creekside Cottages, the Vista Cottages and Suites offer a completely different view, these individual cottages are located hillside with panoramic views of the beautiful Red Rocks but do not see the creek. The rooms offer the same clean, contemporary design as the Creekside Cottages with over-sized picture windows, gas fireplaces, soaking tubs, outdoor cedar showers and a large deck to enjoy the views.

As with the Creekside Cottages, the difference between the Vista Cottages and Suites are that the cottages are a studio and the suites are a one-bedroom unit. Another difference between these two categories is that the Vista Suites sit one row higher in elevation above the regular cottages. The advantage to the suites sitting higher is that you’re at a slightly higher elevation for the views {although both categories offer great views} but also that the suites have a little more privacy from their decks because the row of regular cottages below mask the view of the main entrance to the hotel where everyone comes in and out. The regular cottages overlook the main entrance. I would say that these room categories are perfect for the person who enjoys expansive views and enjoys witnessing stunning sunrises and sunsets.

@2016 Susan EdelI stayed in Vista Suite #94 and found it to be a great location. I woke up each morning and drank my coffee on the deck and watched the sunrise, and in the evenings watched the incredible sunsets. The Vista Suite I was in is one of the best rooms for that category and the best Vista Cottages are #87 and #88 – these are located towards the end of the row, not directly overlooking the resort entrance.

Spa Cottages: The Spa Cottages are located in the middle of the property between the Creekside Cottages and the Vista Suites. The rooms are located close to the on-site spa and offer an outdoor terrace to enjoy the garden landscape. These cottages don’t have views of either the creek or the Red Rocks. The Spa Cottages offer many of the same amenities as the other rooms with maybe a bit more of a residential flair to them.

Garden@2016 Susan Edel Cottages: The Garden Cottages are similar to the Creekside Cottages in design and amenities, offering wood-burning fireplaces but do not offer the outdoor showers and are located one row back from the Creekside Cottages. The Garden cottages offer a serene setting overlooking the beautiful landscape. Some Garden Cottages are pet-friendly.

Creekhouse: The Creekhouse is ideal for large gatherings with 2,500 square feet of communal space and five bedrooms – each with its own private bath. This house is ideal for wedding parties, business retreats and group reunions. To book this house you must go through the Sales Department.

The Lodge:@2016 Susan Edel Lastly, there is the Lodge. You could almost call this a resort within a resort. The two-story lodge offers a warm and inviting communal space {lobby} evoking old European charm with a large stone fireplace, wood-beamed ceiling and an antler chandelier along with 21 rooms consisting of standard lodge rooms and {2} suites each with their own patio or private balcony. At the time of my visit {March 2016}, the lodge was closed for renovation so I did not get to see it in its final state ~ the lodge has since re-opened. These rooms do not offer the same amenities as the cottages such as in-room fireplaces and outdoor showers but this accommodation would be perfect for the individual who enjoys being in a cozy lodge setting, or possibly if you are traveling with a group and would like to be in close vicinity to each other. The Lodge does not have a separate check-in, you check-in at the main lobby on property.

All accommodations on property offer:

  • Complimentary high-speed Internet
  • Daily newspaper delivery (upon request)
  • Gilchrist & Soames hair and skin products
  • Italian linens
  • Down bedding and pillows
  • Nightly turndown service
  • Complimentary coffee/tea selection
  • Voicemail
Dining

One of the most magical aspects of L’Auberge is the unique dining experience it offers. There are a variety of options that offer a little something for everyone. The creekside restaurant and bar is a local favorite because of the fine dining and unique setting offered.

Cress on Oak Creek: offers fine dining and provides an almost fairytale setting with its outdoor, creekside setting.

Creekside Reserve: is the most romantic outdoor private gazebo, canopied in dripping ivy and a crystal chandelier. The perfect place to celebrate a special occasion or to pop that special question!

Etch Kitchen & Bar: Etch offers a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere with tapas style dishes and a variety of great libations.

Chef’s Table: For the true “foodie”, reserve the Chef’s Table for the ultimate culinary experience.

Wine Cellar: Not to be missed is the award-wining Wine Cellar, a recipient of Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” 22 consecutive times.

L’Auberge’s dining experience has been named “One of the Top Ten Restaurants in the Southwest” by Condé Nast Traveler, and one of the “Top 100 Al Fresco Dining” spots in the U.S. by OpenTable.

DSC_2008Spa/Fitness/Pool

Upon entering the L’Apothecary Spa your senses are immediately awakened by the fragrant offerings presented at the apothecary bar. An interactive station allows you to select ingredients, herbs, oils and local botanicals to create personalized bath soaks and body scrubs to be used in your treatment or to take home with you.

This full-service spa offers a variety of treatments* and wellness classes to rejuvenate your body and spirit. Experience the spa’s more unique offerings such as a moonlit meditation, daily yoga and hiking the stunning Red Rocks around the property. Be sure to visit SpiritSong, the highest point on property, for a little spiritual rejuvenation.

*With only 4 treatment rooms, reservations are highly recommended.

Located next to the spa is a nice fitness room consisting of treadmills, stationary bicycles and weights available to all guests. The room has a cottage style feel with french doors overlooking the pool.

Unique to the Property

A few special events that are unique to this property are:

The Artist in Residence Program: This program brings local Sedona artists on property to interact with guests to share their techniques and artistry and offers some art classes that you can participate in. You will find the local artisan’s artwork throughout the resort.

Summer Music Series: The resort offers an exclusive summer music series featuring talented singers and musicians every Friday and Saturday evening in May and June. The live music is complimentary and open to the public. Quite a treat to experience an intimate musical performance in a beautiful setting.

Guided Star Gazing: Sedona offers the perfect environment to explore the night sky and L’Auberge takes it a step further by providing an astronomer to guide you through the brilliant star formations.

The resort also offers a car service within a two-mile radius of town.

In Summary

I found L’Auberge de Sedona to be a lovely, serene property offering a true luxury experience along with a plethora of unique activities that reflect the flavor of this incredibly beautiful region. The staff is friendly, professional and always willing to help. The Bellman are happy to tote you around the resort in the golf carts to get you from one location to another. I found all staff members to engaging and interested in my well-being at all times. You won’t find better service than this in Sedona!

L’Auberge de Sedona offers the idyllic location from which to explore Sedona, visit the ever-growing Verde Valley Wine Trail, or to just relax and pamper yourself on property.

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Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn | Sonoma, CA

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa, located in the Sonoma Wine Region of California, is a unique property that sits atop a natural, thermal mineral spring that was discovered by the Native Americans in the early 1800’s.

The Native Americans considered this site sacred healing grounds and as word spread over the years, a hotel was developed and people began to visit the property to “take-in the waters”. The thermal mineral spring is still active and a defining spa element at the hotel to this day.

@2016 Susan Edel

While this property is no longer the newest and trendiest resort in the Sonoma/Napa wine region, there is something to be said about a resort whose history runs deep and who has earned their rightful stature over the decades as a destination spa resort. There is a respective grandeur to the property that can only be derived through time due to a commitment to quality and service. This hotel’s allure is its rich heritage and to this day, is one of the only luxury spa resorts in the country with its own source of thermal mineral water.

Property

The California Mission style architecture of the main building, built in 1927 after a fire destroyed the original structure, has a serene and tranquil ambiance that is echoed throughout the property.

A historic water tower with a beautiful scrolled SMI monogram stands proudly over the main building. The beautiful and inviting lobby has great detail in the large wood beamed ceilings, carved corbels, wrought iron light fixtures and large fireplace.

Although the resort is located only a mile from downtown Sonoma, the beautiful grounds along with the large majestic trees that inhabit this property create a private oasis that makes you feel as though you are in an isolated sanctuary. Once you enter the resort, there is no need to go beyond as it offers a state-of-the-art spa, gift shop, afternoon wine-tasting, and Michelin rated restaurant…although the charm of Sonoma’s downtown square should not be missed.

Guest Rooms

@2016 Susan EdelThe Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn {SMI} offers 226 rooms with most of them still utilizing the hotel’s original antique headboards.

As a complimentary welcome to each guest, a bottle of  Trinity Oaks Wine is placed in each room. This is not only a nice gesture for the SMI guest but it’s also a nice gesture for the environment as Trinity Oaks plants one tree for every bottle of wine purchased. This is one of the ways SMI maintains it’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Love it! That’s a win-win in my book.

The resort offers a variety of accommodations, ranging from the quaint Fairmont Rooms to the Signature Suites located throughout the property.

The Fairmont Rooms are located in the main historic building along with the Lobby, 38 North Bar and Santé Restaurant. These rooms are considered the entry level rooms on property. They have been nicely renovated and are the smallest in size, there are no balcony rooms but some do have fireplaces.

Something to keep in mind with these rooms is that there are some rooms on the first floor in this building that are located by the entrance and have windows facing the walkway to the lobby where all guests arrive and walk in and out of the lobby. If you are someone who appreciates a little more privacy, I might suggest asking for a second floor room. Otherwise, consider upgrading your room to a Deluxe category located in some of the separate buildings on property. See description of the guest rooms {here}.

@2016 Susan EdelI stayed in an ample Deluxe room located in one of the separate buildings on the third floor with a small balcony facing the foothills. My room faced toward the front entrance but it was set back enough which made for a pleasant setting {room 361} and I found it quite peaceful. The rooms are clean and the interior design is stylish in keeping with a historic property.

There are 60 suites on property ranging from Junior suites to Signature One-Bedroom suites. The suites are scattered throughout the property located in a quiet and serene setting. The suites are very nicely decorated and have a lot of charm and character.

My favorite suite is the Mission Suite elegantly decorated with a four-poster king size bed, separate seating area with a wood burning fireplace and a two-person oversized jacuzzi tub. All of these suites feature patios or balconies with French doors, arched doorways and Saltillo tile accents. See descriptions of all suites {here}.

This hotel has a very pet-friendly policy, providing dog beds and other amenities for your furry friends, so feel free to bring them {pet fee applied}. I will admit that this is one of the main draws for me because of how accommodating the staff is and the roomy grounds…the concierge even arranged for a dog sitter {additional cost} to take care of my dogs one day while I was away from the resort. It was very convenient and quite comforting knowing that my dogs were being cared for.

WiFi is provided throughout the resort and in-room at no cost to Fairmont President’s Club members {Fairmont’s Luxury Loyalty Program}. It’s a free program so be sure to sign up before your stay to take advantage of all the benefits it offers.

All rooms offer a coffee maker with an assortment of complimentary coffee and teas, and a mini-bar {at cost}. Complimentary coffee is also offered each morning in the lobby.

Dining

There are several dining options on property.

Breakfast/Lunch: The Big 3 Cafe offers hearty style meals for breakfast and lunch. Located on the corner of the Inn’s ground, this is a local favorite as well. Apparently their lemon pancakes are a must! Casual attire.

Late Lunch/Evening: The 38º North Lounge located off the lobby offers small plate dishes for a lite fare, mid-afternoon through the evening. I ordered a few small plates and made a dinner meal out of them. The full service bar also serves over 50 varieties of wine by glass. Casual attire.

Dinner: Santé Restaurant, a Michelin rated restaurant, is the Inn’s premier dining room serving local produce, meats, poultry and seafood. Wine Country Casual attire. Reservations recommended.

Other Options include the seasonal poolside dining at The Water Tower, Sonoma Golf Club Grill and In-Room dining that can be delivered to your room or anywhere on property. I had lunch one day delivered to a seating area in the lobby ~ a great way to relax and people watch.

Spa/Fitness/Activities

The heart and soul of this property is the 40,000 sq. ft. Willow Stream Spa which has been rated among Travel & Leisure’s top 25 spas. You know you are at a true destination spa when you see more guests walking around in their snuggly, white cotton robes and rubber slippers than in street clothes.

Today, the spa has developed into a first class destination which includes approximately 25 treatment rooms, mind and body health sessions, the bathhouse, salon and fitness center. This location is now one of the only luxury spa resorts in the country with its own source of thermal mineral water.

The majority of the spa’s public spaces, treatment waiting area and bathhouse is co-ed. There is a comfortable seating area in the waiting room with a fireplace, and a healthy snack bar. The co-ed bathhouse is just off the main seating area and offers mineral water sitting pools, steam and sauna rooms, and exfoliating showers. There are separate locker rooms for the men and women.

Along with the indoor bathhouse, there is a large resort pool, and two outdoor mineral pools. One of the mineral pools is known as the Watsu Pool where you can book a wonderful floating massage. Even if you don’t get the massage, I highly recommend just floating in it for awhile. The water temperature is kept in the mid 90’s and music is piped in under the water. Float sticks are available and this was one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve ever had. I honestly would have slept there if I could have.

@2016 Susan Edel

There is a complimentary fitness center for all guests offering weights, exercise bicycles and treadmills along with the option of booking personal training sessions, yoga classes and more.

Complimentary guided hikes are offered daily throughout the picturesque Sonoma Valley foothills. The resort also loans bikes on a complimentary first come/first serve basis to guests which is a perfect way to head downtown to the Sonoma Square for lunch and some shopping. For the more serious bike enthusiast, scenic Sonoma Valley bike tours through the Wine Country can be booked for an additional fee.

You forgot your workout gear you say…well no worries, with the Fairmont Fit program and as a member of Fairmont President’s Club, guests have complimentary access to Reebok workout gear and footwear, which is delivered directly to the guest room for use in-room, in the gym or to enjoy in the great outdoors. 

Disclosure: The resort does not charge a resort feehowever, there is a $39 charge to use the spa mineral pools and bathhouse unless you book a spa treatment. In my opinion, it’s worth it because you can use the steam room, sauna, minerals pools, and other spa amenities. The outdoor resort pool is available to all guests.

Tennis/Golf

For tennis and golf, SMI guests have access to one of the oldest, private membership clubs in California, the Sonoma Golf Club.  The use of this club is exclusive to its members and Fairmont guests only.

Unique to Property

Aside from all of the above, this resort also offers:

Wine tasting every night hosted by a different winery in the Lobby from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm.

A car service is available to drive guests to the downtown Sonoma Square for a meal or shopping.

Summary

You have many choices when visiting the Napa/Sonoma wine country, so what is the draw of this property over some of the others ones in the area?

Well, this is a true destination spa resort with its own thermal mineral waters, the resort is steeped in history and has been operating under the Fairmont brand since the 1990’s offering personalized service that has been consistent for decades, not to mention that any hotel that has been operating for a century or more speaks for itself.

If you are looking to treat yourself to a nice escape and to enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation, as well as being in the midst of the charming Sonoma Valley, this property is a great choice. New and trendy can be nice, but a resort rich in history offers a warmth and comfort that can only be earned over time.

Property Fact Sheet

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The Quaint Charm of San Juan Bautista

Located just an hour south of bustling Silicon Valley, CA is the quaint city of San Juan Bautista. This charming little town has managed to maintain its humble origins and has respectfully preserved its history and authenticity.

You won’t find trendy stores and Michelin Star restaurants but you will find a town steeped in history, filled with heart and reflective of the people who live here. Small antique stores, art galleries, gift shops along with a few restaurants line the half~mile long main strip of town.

One of the main reasons why this town holds a special place in my heart is because of the historic Mission San Juan Bautista.

@2016 Susan Edel

I adore the California Missions and this is one of my favorite missions because much of the original structure remains and it is the largest California mission church and the only one with three aisles.

@2016 Susan Edel

Musical arts were taught here and the mission owned many instruments. As you tour the mission, heavenly monk style music is piped throughout the corridor creating a serene ambiance. {Click on first image to see slideshow}

A little fun fact: In the fall of 1957, scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1957 production of the movie Vertigo starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, and Barbara Bel Geddes was filmed around the mission.

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Story board rendering for Vertigo.

When in town, be sure to have lunch or dinner at Jardines de San Juan Mexican restaurant. If you’re a fan of beef burritos, their “People’s Choice” burrito is a must!

@2016 Susan Edel

I come to this town sometimes when I want to feel grounded, grateful, and connected. This is the type of place that feeds your soul, not your ego…and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

The Nines | Portland, Oregon

Every once in a while serendipity happens ~ a fortunate happenstance where everything aligns perfectly and you find yourself right in the midst of it. It’s such an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

I feel like this happened to me on my visit to The Nines hotel in Portland, Oregon. In all honesty, I just needed a place to stay for a night before catching a flight home, but of course, I always take the opportunity to inspect hotels in the area.

In doing my research, The Nines definitely caught my attention so I booked my stay there with no real expectations, but from the website I knew I would be in for something a little different.

The only way I can describe this hotel is to say that it is an eclectic infusion of Renaissance Glamour…

meets Contemporary

meets Urban Chic…

meets Breakfast at Tiffany’s…

meets funky flair!

And the answer is yes, all of the above is the same hotel!

DSC_1094The reason I call this a serendipitous experience is because everything on this very short visit fell into place perfectly.

It had probably been about 15 years since I had last visited Portland, and I ‘m not sure if I stayed in another part of town but I certainly don’t remember Portland being as active and vibrant as it was on this last visit. It was very reminiscent to me of San Francisco.

The Nines hotel is located in the heart of downtown Portland next Pioneer Square and within walking distance to the large department stores as well as boutique shops, trendy restaurants, and cultural attractions.

From the moment I arrived at the hotel, it was apparent there was an enthusiastic buzz in the air. The lobby was active and everyone seemed to be in a jovial mood. I quickly learned that the iconic pop star, Madonna, was in town for a concert that evening. I never heard if Madonna was staying at The Nines, but it certainly seemed as though some of her entourage was, as there were several people with make-up cases and large luggage lingering about. The chatter throughout the hotel was all about the concert and it created a fun atmosphere.

Another pleasant surprise was being upgraded to the one-bedroom swanky, Tiffany-inspired suite.

I’m usually more of a minimalist when it comes to design, but I have to say it felt quite indulgent opening my suite door to the living room with a velvet settee in brilliant robin egg blue and matching damask patterned chairs adorned by a dripping crystal light fixture. The decadence continued into the large separate bedroom with another sitting area and large bathroom. The suite, located on the 12th floor, offers amazing downtown city views and is a gorgeous sight at night. It felt like sheer elegance from a bygone era.

The room also came with exclusive access to the Club Lounge, featuring a daily breakfast, evening hors d’oeuvres and a dessert buffet. This is always a fun perk and I made it a point to hit the lounge to enjoy the delightful appetizers {that could easily serve as a meal} and came back for the grand array of delicious desserts later in the evening. My favorite part was meeting a WWII vet who shared some of his fascinating stories throughout the evening.

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Evening view from the suite.

I headed out for a walk around town and to do a little window shopping while enjoying the perfect fall weather. When the dinner hour rolled around, I debated about going to some of the trendy establishments nearby but in the end decided to head back to The Nines to enjoy the rooftop bar and restaurant, Departure…where another serendipitous moment awaited me.

Departure’s rooftop bar and restaurant is a hot spot in the city with prime views of downtown Portland and beyond. The bar’s outdoor deck seems to be an attraction for guests and locals to gather for a drink while enjoying good conversation and the views.

The restaurant serves Asian cuisine in a sleek, cosmopolitan setting with both indoor and outdoor seating and features the largest saké list in Portland. I sat at the corner edge of the outdoor deck for dinner which offered incredible views, but my biggest surprise was looking up at one point and seeing a full double rainbow {the picture doesn’t begin to do it justice}. Everyone on the deck walked over to the edge snapping their smartphone cameras and I have no doubt social media in the Portland area must have spiked through the roof.

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View of the sky from the other direction.

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The hotel also has another restaurant located on the lobby level call the Urban Farmer open for breakfast, lunch and dinner that looked very enticing as well.

All I can say is that in less than a 24-hour period, I feel like I experienced a plethora of unique moments that have now created lifelong memories for me.

Maybe it was the hotel’s multiple personality or downtown Portland’s vibrant city, or simply the serendipitous intervention of all of the above, but my short time here was quite impactful and I look forward to returning for more!

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11 Tips For Reducing Travel Stress

Let’s face it, travel these days can be stressful. Over the years, I have developed some strategies that have actually made traveling fun for me again. I thought I’d share some tips that may help you find the fun in traveling as well.

global pass1. Apply For An Expedited Airport Security Program

We’ve all stood in those long airport security lines watching other people breeze through the Pre-Approved TSA line. Why not become one of them?

There are several programs out there (TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, CLEAR) that are easy to apply for and the application fees are nominal. I think there is a stigma with these programs that it will be a headache to apply for them. This is not the case.

The process is quite simple and the majority of it is done online with the exception of the final interview which is done in person, usually at an airport or local office. The programs all vary slightly so you will want to read the fine print and decide which program best suits you. I chose the Global Entry card because it not only provides TSA PreCheck but also helps expedite you through Customs on international trips (at the international airports, not U.S. airports). Not only do these expedited airport security programs get you through the lines quicker, you won’t have the inconvenience of having to remove clothing items and shoes ~ making for a much more pleasant experience.

2. Get A Travel Reward Credit Card

If you don’t already have one, I highly suggest getting a travel reward credit card. There are so many different types of credit cards, it may seem overwhelming to decide which one may be right for you so I do suggest you do a little research to see which one fits into your lifestyle and your objective for your travels. (See CardHub.com for credit card comparisons – click on “show details” for benefits offered)

My suggestion would be to get a card that accrues points that go towards any airline or hotel brand as opposed to one that only accrues points towards a specific brand. You will get much more flexibility if you can apply your points towards any type of travel or brand. Also, compare the number of points needed when cashing in for travel. Some only require a minimum of 25,000 points for a RT air ticket while others require a minimum of 60,000 points. That’s a significant difference.

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Priority Pass allows airport lounge access.

You will find that many of these cards have annual fees, however, don’t let this scare you off immediately. See what benefits are being offered as it may be worth the fee, and in turn, the fee may end up paying for itself. I personally carry an American Express Platinum card that has one of the higher fees associated with it but when I looked at the benefits of the card I decided that I travel enough that it would be worth it…and I have not regretted that decision.

Choosing this card has made traveling so much more enjoyable for me in the sense that the card allows me airport lounge access (this alone is worth it!), offers travel insurance, reimburses for the Global Entry card fee, reimburses $200 annually for airline fees such as baggage fees, airline food, seat upgrades and more (you must choose a carrier for this option but it can be changed annually), there are no foreign transaction fees, I earn points on all my purchases and even earn points when using points to book my travel..and so much more!

I make it a point to fully utilize all the benefits the card offers. Points accrue quickly when you pay for personal bills that accept credit card payment that you would otherwise be paying by cash. It’s a quick way to rack up those points and you’ll be traveling for free (and in style) in no time. Used correctly, the perks and benefits these cards offer can change the way you travel.

3. Avoid Peak Travel Times 

I realize there isn’t always an option to schedule your travels during off-peak hours, nor is it fun to wake up at the crack of dawn; however, I find that by departing early morning (prior to 7 am) most airports have a peaceful atmosphere with minimal traffic. I also find choosing red-eye flights a good option for the same reason. Avoiding travel on Friday’s and Sunday’s is also a good way to steer clear of the masses as those are heavy travel days. By slightly shifting your schedule, you may have a much more relaxed and enjoyable experience at the airport.

4. Book Direct or Non-Stop Flights

When booking your flight, choose Direct or Non-Stop* flights when possible. Choosing this option reduces the likelihood of running into delays, missed connections, and other inconveniences associated with layovers, not to mention the fact that it’s the shortest duration of travel time.

*The difference between a Direct and Non-Stop flight is that a Direct flight may make a stop during its route but the passenger stays on the plane. A Non-Stop flight is exactly that, a flight that has no stops during its route.

5. Pre-Select Your Seats 

Some prefer the window seat, some prefer the aisle but I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone who prefers the middle seat. If you’re traveling with a partner and feel strongly about sitting next to them, then you don’t have a choice ~ someone will end up in the middle seat but you do have options.

I’m an aisle person myself, however, when traveling coach with someone else, my booking strategy is to either choose two aisle seats across from one another or to book one by the window and one by the aisle, leaving the middle seat open. Yes, there is the risk that someone will be seated in between but my comfort for the duration of the trip is more important to me. Small sacrifices can be the difference between being comfortable and being miserable for the duration of a flight.

windowAll planes have seats that have pros and cons to them. The site SeatGuru.com is a great resource for showing you the exact plane you will be traveling on (you enter the airline, flight number, and date) and where the best seats are located on that plane. This will help you choose the best seat possible no matter what class you are flying in. And PS – it never hurts to ask for an upgrade at the airline desk, it might be your lucky day.

6. Check-In Online and Print Your Boarding Pass

Checking in online prior to arrival at the airport offers many benefits such as the opportunity to possibly choose premium seats (some airlines open their premium or emergency exit seats during this 24 hour period at no cost), you significantly reduce your chance of being bumped off the flight should it be over-booked, you will be processed quicker at the airport and sometimes when lines are very long, passengers with printed boarding passes are allowed to go through an express line to check-in luggage only. And no fear, even if you have printed your boarding pass, changes can always be made at the airline desk. Early check-in is always a good idea.

7. Confirm All Reservations A Few Days Prior To Departure

Who knows why, but mysterious things happen. There have been a few circumstances where I thought I had everything in place, only to find out at the very last minute that I didn’t…or the receiving end didn’t. It is much more efficient to deal with a potential problem prior to your departure, then to be standing at a check-in desk and potentially have no reservations. My motto is “check, check and double check”. A little time spent confirming your plans may save you from a major disaster.

8. Arrive Early

Nothing causes stress more than being late. There’s nothing worse than that feeling of having to get through security and run through the airport with your belongings in tow, trying to get to a gate on time…and have you noticed, it’s always the furthest gate away.

We’ve all been there at one time or another. That is why I always err on the side of allowing too much time. I would much rather have a little extra time, grab a cup of coffee and read a magazine than the prior option. Making the simple decision to arrive early can be the difference between being relaxed and in a good mood or being irritated and at your wits end.

9. Carry A Travel Wallet or Folder For All Your Documents

Keeping all your documents in one convenient location eliminates the stress of scrambling for ticket confirmations, forms of ID, etc that may be thrown in a case.

I haven’t reached the point where I fully trust only keeping electronic copies of my confirmations ~ too afraid of my phone blowing up or something ~ so I always bring one folder that houses all my printed trip confirmations from airline tickets, car and hotel reservations to my form of travel ID’s. I even arrange the confirmations in the order of my trip so that the documents I need are located on top, i.e. airport transportation, airline tickets, car rental, hotel confirmation. A little obsessive…maybe ~ but it certainly makes it easy for me to access what I need at a moment’s notice and saves me from feeling flustered when I can’t locate a document with 20 people standing in line behind me. And just in case, I do keep electronic copies of my confirmations handy on my smartphone in the event something gets lost.

10. Wear Comfortable Clothes

This may seem like a no-brainer but somehow it’s easy to become a slave to fashion. And what you think is comfortable at home, may not be so comfortable when you’re running through the airport in four inch heels or wearing tight clothing, pinching your skin, while sitting in cramped seats on a long flight.

Loose clothing, slip-on flats and a travel-size purse with a shoulder strap to keep your hands free make for the ultimate in comfort on travel days.

suitcase11. Purchase A Unique Suitcase and Check-in Your Luggage  

Some of you may or may not agree with me here, but I am only speaking from my experience. I almost always check-in my bag. I find it much less stressful to check my bag in and to not have to worry about the size of my suitcase, whether or not I am carrying excessive liquid amounts, lugging it throughout the airport and then fighting for over-head compartment space. Whether it’s a carry-on or check-in bag, most of us have to exit through the baggage area anyway, and with how quickly luggage is processed off the planes these days, I find it much more convenient to check-in my luggage.

And if you do check-in your luggage keep in mind everyone, and I mean everyone has a black suitcase. How many times have you pushed someone aside to get to the conveyor belt only to discover it was not your suitcase. Oh, but you have a unique tag on yours…yeah, those can come off (I know from experience).

It may not be the most desirable in chic luxury, but I have a bright pink suitcase with a unique pattern on it that I bring on all my trips. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when I see my bright, pink bag rounding the corner while others are scrambling to read name tags on all the black suitcases. Choose to color outside the lines, and get something different. It’s just another way to take a little stress off your plate.

These tried and true tips have truly helped streamline my experience while traveling, and dare I say, even make my experiences enjoyable again. I hope you find something useful in any one of these tips and that they help you to enjoy your future travels. If you have helpful tips to share, I’d love to hear them. Post a comment. Safe travels!