There comes a point when, you've been enthusiastically recommended a place so many times, that you just have to jump in the car and see it for yourself. Never have I heard girls and guys swoon about a hotel so wistfully. San Ysidro Ranch seems to put a romantic spell on all its visitors, and now that I'm one of its newest disciples, here goes my sermon...
It's awards season in LA, (where I live), which means thousands of people flying in from out of town, crazy traffic, non-stop industry events, celebs being papped at every turn, and seven-day working weeks. Exhausting. But what doesn't usually make it into the press, is that a handful of A-list movie stars wanting refuge, will hotfoot it to their favorite luxury escape: San Ysidro Ranch. Less than two hours' drive up the coast in the sleepy coastal town of Montecito (it neighbors swanky Santa Barbara, and is home to both Oprah Winfrey and Rob Lowe), and nestled into the hillside is a collection of cottages. Gwyneth Paltrow got married here, Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball and Vivien Leigh holidayed here, Jackie O shared her honeymoon with JFK here. You name them, they've stayed here. But the property is also steeped in history far more ancient than Hollywood's silver screen. Back in the 1700s, the land was owned by the King of Spain, before being used as a shelter for monks traveling on their pilgrimages, before eventually becoming a citrus farm -- a world away from the quaint and chic environment created here today. Each cottage has its own entrance, roaring fireplace, four-poster bed and private back porch (some with hot tubs and pools). Inside the room, the décor is spot on: homely and elegant, without feeling granny chintzy. I found myself becoming a massive nerd and snapping photos of the rug, the lamps, the pictures on the wall -- I wanted to carbon copy the entire thing and take it back with me!
Candles and poetry books mingle with antique furniture, cowboy rugs and delicious-smelling sprigs of rosemary and thyme, which are neatly tied with a ribbon and left by the sink. The sheets are exquisite -- I'm no expert on thread counts but all I know is, they felt like sleeping on a cloud. It's these kinds of little details that make a place special, combined with the fact that staff were so friendly, relaxed and accommodating. Doggies are fully welcomed with their own visitors book to sign into, and biscuit jar at reception. Room service can be delivered wherever you want it -- I highly recommend mojitos and guacamole by the pool! And do take a stroll around the grounds, to check out the Kennedy cottage (where the famous couple stayed), plus the herb and veggie garden, where the chef picks his daily ingredients. Speaking of which, dinner was like a scene from a Nancy Meyer movie. Twinkling lights and candles out on the deck, the ocean just visible down the hill in the far distance, and the sun setting behind the mountainous backdrop. The Stonehouse restaurant is the more formal of the two places to dine here (the Angel and Plow is a more casual, rustic bar downstairs), but the ambience is full of laughter and romance, nothing stuffy or whispery here. The high wooden beamed ceilings, oil portraits and stone fireplace inside the restaurant might betray a traditional feel, but the menu is refreshingly modern and internationally flavored. I had a light dish of noodles and Big Eye tuna steak in a delicious ginger soy broth, and the Moroccan spiced lamb and roasted Mediterranean Loup de Mer tasted yummy when I stole a bite from my companion.
Rising early the next morning was a must: There are 17 miles of spectacular hiking trails in the surrounding mountains not to be missed, and they'll lend you bikes if you fancy riding down to the beach.
There's a plethora of five star hotels in the world, but hand-on-heart, none like this. It's a celebrity hotspot without feeling remotely like a celebrity hotspot, and I was truly loathe to leave. There's a little bit of magic in the air at San Ysidro Ranch, and now if you ask me for a recommendation for a stylish break in California, I get that same glazed, longing look as the friends who recommended it to me.