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.

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.

 

Four Seasons Scottsdale | Scottsdale, AZ

When visiting Scottsdale, Arizona, I generally stay near Camelback Mountain so I was excited to visit the Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North {FSS}, located approximately 30 miles from the Phoenix airport on the outskirts of town.

I knew the FSS was located farther out from town and I wasn’t sure what to expect or if I would like the location as much. However as I approached the property, I knew I had made the right decision. The FSS is located in an exclusive area nestled into the foothills of Pinnacle Peak surrounded by indigenous Saguaro Cacti and the beautiful Sonoran Desert landscape. The inherent setting is a peaceful and tranquil environment.

@2015 Susan Edel

Property

The FSS sits on a 40-acre property with an elevation that provides gorgeous views. This was a pleasant surprise as none of the other properties that I have visited in Scottsdale has ever offered a panoramic view of this type. Due to the resort’s location, it offers the advantage of looking towards the city of Scottsdale showcasing its beautiful city view in the evening.

The property offers a unique setting with its location adjacent to Pinnacle Peak and it sits at the base of the Crescent Butte mountain range with its striking golden boulders. The natural landscape of beautiful boulders, cacti, and brush surrounding the resort make the property feel very private. This is exactly what I look for when choosing a property. I want to feel as though I am experiencing the local culture and environment and staying someplace special that reflects the surrounding region. This property offers that feeling.

@2015 Susan EdelAs I strolled the grounds, I enjoyed the unexpected touches throughout the property such as decorative pottery arranged within the plantings, antique wooden doors tucked against walls, and pops of color in the natural landscape. It’s quite beautiful and makes it a joy to walk around the property. The evenings take on an enchanting ambiance with strategically placed wood-burning chimineas and glowing candle lanterns scattered throughout the property.

Check-in

For the first time, I used the FSS resort app to check into the property prior to my arrival, and I have to say I liked it!

At the time I was filling it out, I wasn’t sure if it would have any real benefit but as soon as I drove up and presented my name, I was told that the Bellman had the keys to my casita and we were ready to go. I was actually caught off-guard and if it weren’t for the fact that I wanted to speak with the front desk personnel, I would have been whisked away immediately. I was very impressed and I highly recommend using the resort app to check-in prior to your arrival.

Guest Rooms

@2015 Susan EdelThe resort offers 210 casitas/suites which are tastefully designed with a southwestern flair {some single level rooms but most located in two-story buildings}. The casitas range from the basic rooms called the Desert Garden and Sonoran Casitas to the Premier Casita Rooms. These rooms are all similar in style and size with the difference being the view and the Premier Casitas are slightly larger.

The suites range from one-bedroom {900 sq. ft.} to three-bedroom {3,000 sq. ft.} units and offer a separate living and powder room along with the additional bedrooms. See {here} for a comparison of all room categories. Some casitas also offer the option of private patios with outdoor spas.

As with all things in life, you sometimes have to make choices. While booking my stay, I was torn between reserving a casita with a panoramic view or booking one with an outdoor spa. The spa casitas are located on the ground floor and have a privacy wall surrounding them so the majority of these rooms do not offer expansive views.

In the end, I chose to book a room with the view instead of the spa because my fear was that I would feel closed-in with the privacy wall. However, when I toured the property and saw a spa casita in person, it did not feel closed-in at all. The particular casita I saw {#2004}, I thought was very nice although this unit happened to sit below the pool so it might not be the most private option. There were some spa rooms located at the base of the Crescent Butte that I felt would offer some privacy and nice boulder views {Bldg 3}. After all is said and done, I was very pleased with my gorgeous view but I would also consider booking a spa casita next time.

As always, I try to give some insight into what I believe are some of the more desirable rooms. I stayed in Building 4, room 415 {2nd floor} and I truly believe I had one of the best views at the resort overlooking the pool and city view beyond. Building 2 located next to Building 4 also offers very nice views. Building 8 backs up to the Crescent Butte and offers a nice setting. I was told that Building 10 is highly requested as well. Having said that, all of the property is beautiful and surrounded by gorgeous landscape.

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The rooms offer comfortable bedding, lush, thick towels with L’Occitane bath amenities. Each room has a stocked mini-bar with snacks that are available at cost…and as always, my favorite amenity ~ a Keurig coffee maker with real cream so I can wake up and have my early morning coffee on the deck with the birds. That quiet time in the morning is always such a peaceful way to welcome the day.

Dining

The resort offers several great dining options. During my stay, it appeared that many locals seem to frequent the restaurants providing for a lively atmosphere.

Talavera: Talavera is the finer dining option on property serving a seafood and steak style menu. The restaurant has a nice ambiance and offers both inside and outside seating. I did not eat here so I can’t speak about the food but from what I saw it looked wonderful and it was a full house. Resort attire. Dinner only.

DSC_9437Proof: {I could move to Scottsdale just to eat here…often!} Proof is the resort’s main restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with both indoor and outdoor seating. They call it an American Canteen serving comfort food with a twist and it’s full of character. The decor is a unique design, filled with rustic charm. Some of the table bases are made from actual train components and there are railroad tracks embedded in the hardwood flooring which allows the tables to move around. Fun Edison style bulbs hang from the ceiling, and the bar is designed as an old-fashioned soda fountain. The food is terrific and the menu offers fun options such as Fried Green Tomatoes, Duck Fries and other creative dishes. Try their micro-brew beers as well and I highly suggest trying their breakfast buffet. Casual attire.

Saguaro Blossom: Saguaro Blossom is the poolside dining option. A perfect lunch/late afternoon option for a casual bite offering salads, sandwiches and great fish and chips. Limited hours. Very casual attire.

Onyx Bar & Lounge: The Onyx Bar & Lounge is a perfect place to have a cocktail before or after dinner or you can order a lite meal. This is a perfect spot to watch the sun set or enjoy the gleaming city lights in the evening. The lounge also offers live music. The evening I was there, I chose to eat a lite meal overlooking the city lights and listened to a lovely singer with a very creative spin on some cover songs.

24 hour In-Casita dining is always an option.

Spa

Indulge at the full-service spa. The spa offers several signature treatments such as the Pinnacle Facial and Jojoba and Pickly Pear Polish. Guests are welcome to relax and use the spa facility even when a treatment has not been booked. Enjoy a steam shower, sauna or de-stress in the relaxation room. The spa also offers salon services and treatments for Kids and Teens and a 24-hour fitness facility. The spa is open to the public so reservations are recommended.

Pool

Ah yes, the pool! One of my favorite spots on property.

The FSS has three pools to enjoy ~ the main pool, an adult pool and the kids pool with the Crescent Butte boulders commanding your attention in the background. The pools are nicely configured and I must admit, at a family friendly resort, I always do appreciate the option of an adult-only pool.

DSC_9516Music is piped in throughout the day and poolside service is provided which includes food and beverage orders along with complimentary water, snacks, and suntan lotion. There are numerous cabanas located around the pools that are first come, first serve, with the exception of two luxury cabanas that have a TV and come with a fruit platter which merit a fee. If you want to guarantee that you will get a regular cabana {they do go quickly}, you can reserve one of them for a nominal fee which can be a reassuring option during those peak periods. The cabanas have misters that help alleviate some of that Arizona heat during the summer months. In the evenings, the pool is illuminated with colorful lighting and is available for use 24/7.

Unique to Property

What is most unique to this resort is the Sonoran Desert landscape which gives the property such a distinctive feel. No matter where you are on property, there is a gorgeous view. There are walking trails throughout the resort and up to Pinnacle Peak that everyone can enjoy.

The resort also offers numerous on-site activities and the concierge desk can help with any plans ~ how about being a cowboy for a day, enjoying some family adventures or romantic retreats, maybe you prefer a few rounds of golf or a game of tennis. It’s all available for you.

And take time to do a little star-gazing. In the evenings, this is a perfect location to star-gaze. Being in a remote location away from the city lights means the sky is dark and the stars are bright. Nothing like having a drink on your patio searching for shooting stars.

A nice little perk is the use of a guest washer and dryer on property. I really felt that this was a useful guest feature, especially if you are staying the better part of a week or have children with you.

The hotel also offers some nice boutique shops, wedding consulting services, meeting venues and more.

But none of the above mean a thing without a staff that provides you with excellent service, and this is what the Four Seasons brand excels at! In my opinion, what makes a resort stand out above the others is how special they make you feel, how they go out of their way to accommodate {or even anticipate} your needs to ensure your comfort and satisfaction. I found the staff here extremely friendly and accommodating and I feel that my experience here was enhanced by the gracious staff. I find this to be true and consistent at all Four Seasons resorts.

In Summary

In summary, don’t hesitate to visit this property! I would come back here in a heartbeat. I found everything about it to be beautiful and enjoyable. It may be a little farther away from downtown Scottsdale but in my book, that’s a plus. I truly enjoyed the indigenous landscape surrounding the property and the relaxing atmosphere it offered. This resort is a Sonoran Desert gem!

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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!

Exploring The Russian River Valley

Napa Valley and Sonoma are world-renowned for its wines, fine restaurants and luxury accommodations. A person could spend weeks and weeks exploring this region and only scratch the surface. So with as many times as I have been to the Napa Valley wine region, it was refreshing to discover yet another sector that I have never visited…the Russian River Valley.

On my drive to the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville (see here for the full review), I drove through the town of Sebastopol and stopped for lunch at The Barlow, a 220,000 square foot culinary and art center. There were many intriguing choices but I went with the Zazu Kitchen+Farm recommended by a friend. It was an excellent choice with unique menu items, open air seating and surrounded by fun and funky art sculptures.

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The Russian River Valley is in the heart of Sonoma County and has become most well-known for producing world-class Pinot Noir wine. Although Napa Valley is the more popular and polished destination, the historic RRV offers a rustic charm with an exciting incoming infusion of sophistication, fun and funk.

On the concierge’s suggestion at the Farmhouse Inn, I drove the proposed route going through several charming towns, some so small if you blinked you would miss them, but full of character just the same.

The town of Graton, now well-known for its Casino* (see hollyhan77’s comment below) seemed to be a pit-stop for cyclists who wanted to take a break at some of the coffee shops, there are a few antique and art stores and the Paul Mathew wine tasting room.

Unfortunately the Bambú Tea House wasn’t open, but it sure looked full of personality.

Freestone was one of those “don’t blink” towns but the colorful market and beautiful landscape are sure to catch your attention.

The largest (in relative terms) town on this route is Occidental. This bohemian town offers several restaurants, shops, a church, market and a hotel. I stopped for lunch at the Howard Cafe and the food was fresh and tasty…just keep in mind, you’re on “bohemian” time here so sit back and relax. 😉

It’s always a fun journey to discover new and unexpected places, and I’m definitely feeling the love for the Russian River Valley now.

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