Sunday, June 30, 2013

New Kids on the Block: El Encanto Resort in Santa Barbara and the Shangri-la Bosphorus Istanbul

I had the opportunity to spend a few days at the newly re-opened El Encanto resort in Santa Barbara, California. It is a beautiful resort located high in the hills above the downtown, with sweeping views of the Pacific coast. The cottages on the property were originally built in the early 1900's to house faculty at a nearby school. It was later transformed into the El Encanto resort. Orient-Express hotels purchased the property in 2006, investing well over $100 million dollars to completely renovate the resort while keeping many of the historical elements in tact. It took this many years to complete the project, and it re-opened to welcome guests again in March 2013.

Meandering pathways connect the rooms and suites which are spread out over the lush landscaped grounds. The colorful varieties of greenery and flowers make the surroundings beautiful and attract the local butterflies and hummingbirds.  I felt like a celebrity staying in one of the secluded bungalows perched on the hillside. Each bungalow and suite is a little different from the next, with no two rooms being exactly the same. This adds to the uniqueness of the resort. All of the rooms and suites are completely new on the inside, many with fireplaces, and all having luxurious marble or travertine baths.

The infinity edge outdoor pool offers magnificent views of the city and coastline. The same views are also afforded by the restaurant and bar - with indoor/outdoor seating at tables with either comfortable sofas or chairs. It is a hopping place that the locals are enjoying as much as the resort guests. The menu features California cuisine with Asian and French influences. I enjoyed my scrambled egg whites with avocado for breakfast while my dining companion had the Japanese breakfast of steamed rice, vegetables and miso soup. The dinner menu is varied with choices of seafood, grilled meats, pasta and vegetarian options. Everything I tasted was delicious and prepared to perfection. Save room for the salted caramel ice cream dessert!

If you do go for that dessert, you can eat it guilt-free because there is an excellent, fully-equipped fitness center at the resort. In addition to all of the cardio and weight machines, there is a separate room where they plan to offer fitness and yoga classes.

The full service spa offers a peaceful and calm atmosphere for their wide range of beauty treatments. The therapists are all excellent and I can't think of a better way to wind down at the end of the day than with a relaxing massage.

There are lots of things to do while staying at El Encanto: whale watching, visiting nearby wineries, shopping in downtown Santa Barbara, beaches, biking, hiking or just sipping a mojito on your private terrace and watching the sunset.

Call us to book your next stay at El Encanto Resort and receive a complimentary room upgrade, continental breakfast daily and a $100 resort credit.

Another new stand-out is the Shangri-la Bosphorus, Istanbul. This beauty just opened in May with a gala filled with the movers and shakers of Istanbul society. The hotel has already hosted several weddings, which is not surprising given the opulent ballrooms with glittering chandeliers. With the pale blue carpets and silk wall coverings, I was reminded of Cinderella going to the ball.

The entrance to the hotel is quite secure and guests must pass through metal detectors upon arrival. The lobby is spacious and welcoming with gleaming marble floors. The adjacent Lobby Lounge is a popular gathering place which serves breakfast, lunch and has an afternoon tea service.

The 186 rooms and suites are large (average over 500 square feet for the Deluxe rooms) and very well-appointed. Several have views of the Bosphorus strait, just out the back of the hotel, and all rooms include complimentary wifi. Marble baths with heated floors and tv's in the vanity mirror are a plus. The in-room Nespresso machine might just tempt some people I know.

French chef, Fabrice Giraud, presides over the kitchen at IST TOO, the more casual of the two restaurants at the Shangri-la. Turkish, Mediterranean and Asian delicacies can all be found here. The warm bread served fresh out of the oven is worth the trip alone!

The perfect location on the Bosphorus, the gracious service and the spectacular rooms all make for a must-stay destination for your next trip to Istanbul. The Shangri-la is definitely going to give the "old guard" properties in Istanbul a run for their money.

Book your stay with us and receive a complimentary room upgrade, full breakfast daily and a $100 credit to be used toward food and beverage or in the fabulous spa.

Contact the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel to reserve your stay today!

Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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