Rancho Valencia | Rancho Santa Fe, CA

Rancho Valencia is an award winning, Relais & Chateaux luxury resort located in Rancho Santa Fe, a suburb of North San Diego, CA. The resort has garnered a reputation as one of the most highly-rated five-star resorts and spa destinations, not only in the U.S. but worldwide. The property is annually recognized as one of the top resorts on numerous distinguished award lists such as Forbes Five Star, Travel + Leisure, U.S. News, Conde Nast, AAA Five Diamond, and has the unique distinction of being the only Relais & Chateaux property in Southern California.

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Carmel Valley Ranch | Carmel, CA

Many of us know Carmel, California for its beautiful coastline, storybook-style architecture, fine art community and abundance of hotels, restaurants, and shops. The beauty of this area draws people from around the world and is perhaps one of the most beautiful places on earth.

What many people don’t realize is that there is an entirely different side of Carmel. Just a few miles from downtown is what could be considered the rural side of Carmel, known as Carmel Valley. Carmel Valley offers a distinctively different experience with its serene countryside setting, rolling hills, vineyards, golf courses, equestrian trails and so much more that make this a perfect destination for the outdoor and wine enthusiast wanting to experience the peaceful, slower paced lifestyle of this beautiful region.

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Ritz-Carlton | Denver, CO

There is something exhilarating about being in Denver, Colorado…maybe it’s that crisp Rocky Mountain air, maybe it’s the 300+ days of sunshine a year, or maybe it’s the laid-back urban vibe that the city evokes. Whatever it is, the Mile-High City {nicknamed so because its elevation is exactly one mile above sea level} offers a nice juxtaposition between the urban Financial District with its high-rise buildings and the remanence of its old-west history with its historic neighborhoods and iconic landmarks.

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As most of my regular readers know, it is always my intention to stay at the most luxurious accommodations in any given area I visit as well as my preference to stay in a unique, boutique-style hotel; however, when I’m in an urban area, I admit that I enjoy staying in a high-rise that allows me to have a birds-eye view of the city and the bustling activity below. In looking for a luxury hotel in the Denver area, I knew that the Ritz-Carlton Denver would be a great choice. I appreciate the reliability of a luxury brand such as the Ritz-Carlton Hotels that I know I can count on to offer consistent and dependable quality in luxury accommodations.

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Allegretto Vineyard Resort | Paso Robles, CA

When someone mentions the California Wine Country, I’m pretty sure Napa Valley is the first place that comes to mind for most people. However as some wine lovers are aware, there has been a quiet evolution going on in California’s Central Coast for the past decade or so that is offering a viable alternative to Napa Valley…if you are not already aware of this area, let me acquaint you with the Paso Robles Wine Region.

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The Paso Robles Wine Region is located approximately equal distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles and is home to more than 200 wineries, most of which are family owned and operated, and has the perfect climate for producing award-winning premium wines. The Paso Robles AVA {American Viticultural Area, a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States} is acknowledged for its wide range of grape varietals including ZinfandelBordeauxCabernet Sauvignon, and most recently the Rhône varieties, including the first Syrah planted in California. Paso Robles is also receiving recognition for its original Paso blends that are unique to the area.

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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!

Beach/Pool

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.

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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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