By Candace Poole
Writer/Contributor, Candace Poole, has traveled the globe from Hong Kong, Thailand, and Israel to almost every state in the great USofA. With an expert background in interiors, when reviewing five-star properties, she brings her fine eye to Jaunt Magazine.
Ty Warner is to historical property restoration what the very best plastic surgeon is to the rich and famous. As my sister and I made our entrance to the Four Seasons The Biltmore in Montecito, the favorite haunt of our parents during their young marriage, the property met us with one of those wonderful remembrances of time having stood still.
A glamorous escape to the 1930’s, you can almost imagine secret liaisons behind silk drapes and dark wood floors. There is good reason why this property is home to high-end weddings and romantic escapes. I hadn’t been back in years so, on this assignment, Jaunt Magazine wanted to know, “Is the Four Seasons in Montecito really as romantic as they say? Has the restoration truly held onto its integrity?” The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’
Mr. Warner, the current owner, has managed to show yet another side of his multi-faceted life. The dazzling success of the restoration of the hotel (redesigned and improved by Reginald Johnson in 1927) has indeed been brought into state of the art amenities without one trace of the operation. No keloid scars, no surface pulled too tight. Even the approach from the street had been altered and it took me awhile to put the changes together. Now the entire surface of the drive is brick and Santa Barbara sandstone and the valet parking area has been lowered to enhance the ocean views of Butterfly Beach. There is a beautiful fountain designed by Ty Warner and Susan Van Atta. Once inside, I was taken aback by the beautiful murals. Over the front desk and the Concierge desks, in graceful arches, are beautifully rendered paintings of the Channel Islands.
We went to our room we were delighted with the detail of the Spanish Colonial Revival décor delivered with grace and dignity. The tiles reflected the subtlety of the fabrics and furnishings and we made special note that even the air vents of the room were sculpted cutouts in the plasterwork with the Spanish and Moorish influence of the building being honored. There was not an unsightly metal vent to interfere with the flow of the space. We were also shown a cottage on the property with its deep walnut floors and tastefully designed eclectic group of antiques and antique replications appropriate to the style of the original hotel. Even the Asian influence, so part of the Arts and Crafts movement, was not ignored. Beautifully designed silk hand knotted rugs abound. In the past, there were long-term guests who lived in these cottages at the back of the property.
Our first stop after checking in was to the terrace of the Bella Vista Restaurant where we nibbled tuna tartar and rested our eyes on the beautiful Butterfly Beach view, the same gently rolling lawn to the wide boulevard and onto the beach that our parents enjoyed so long ago. At one point, my sister exclaimed, “Look! Porpoises playing along side that boat in the harbor!”
It was a perfect welcoming to the bounty we were about to receive. Bella Vista’s comprehensive wine list emphasizes local Santa Barbara County producers, featuring big reds like a 2006 Babcock ‘Grand Cuvee’ Pinot Noir and an esteemed 2004 Curran ‘Black Oak’ Syrah, which could not disappoint the most sophisticated connoisseur.
While strolling the grounds with Gena Downey, the PR Director, she informed us of the many rare plants that abound the 24-acre ground. There were gardeners everywhere, keeping things tidy and Mr. Warner again, has brought in an array of rare and exotics that are flourishing. From the Morton Bay Fig Tree, about 120 years old, to the 3,000 species of plants, it truly is a place of refined beauty and peace. There is even an English country garden filled the various sundry herbs and flowers that are used by the chefs!
The walk around the pool was yet another adventure in attention to detail. The actual pool tiles, Tyles TM, were developed by Mr. Warner and we marveled at the effect of the special iridescent tiles of his own design as they spilled like a million diamonds on the surface of the water’s reflection. Along side the pool, are two separate hot tubs of differing temps to please the desire of the guest. State of the art technology allows for no chlorine! Even the deck of Sweetwater sandstone is a first. It is the first natural stone to be approved by the health department. The natural teak chaises were designed by Ty Warner as well (and trademarked as such, The Biltmore Chaise TM).
When we were then shown the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, I knew where the action was. While the hotel seemed so quiet and peaceful, the happy noise of young people splashing about in one of the largest pools I’ve seen at any hotel, I knew we were seeing the great effect of the changes made. There were young families and couples everywhere and so many activities that a weekend would not be enough of a stay. There is biking, boating, and beaching, and kids have their own special place for hanging out while their parents might be off on a tour.
If you’re imagining a perfect family or romantic get-away, it is here.
Dinner at the Tydes was the highlight of the stay. We dined outside on the deck with its stunning view of the ocean. As the Southern California sun set, the happy noise of diners surrounded us. Our server, Frank Rios and Alessandro Rossi, the Restaurant Manager, performed beyond all expectation. With the Four Seasons, one receives nothing but the best service, but Frank was there for every need without breaking into our own private celebration. Before we began, the chef delighted us with the compliment of the freshest Cucumber Soup. Absolutely perfect. I had the Sea Bass, floating on a bed of sweet garlic potatoes and spinach, with clams forming the moat. My sister had the duck and fennel pasta (she waxed poetic over it). It was, as she said, like ‘angels bathing in her mouth.’ The fennel was subtle and the hint of garlic was faint as to cause nothing false. Perfectly al dente and snapped with a punch.
Naturally, we wanted to appear to be civilized when the dessert menu arrived. That was a hard one! Everything sounded wonderful but we eventually decided upon a selection of tastes. Each one was, in all honesty, amazing. But now hear this, we had passed on the house specialty, being the greedy little diners we are, but they sent us one anyway. Perla, a white chocolate clam that opens when a warm raspberry sauce is poured across the mouth of it! Inside sits on one side, a chocolate pearl, silver/white on the outside and deep mocha inside. Filling the other half shell is a beautiful tropical sorbet and tapioca. I wanted all of it to myself! It swam in a raspberry sauce and foam. It seemed almost wrong to eat it. We readily overcame that thought.
A perfect quarter moon hung low in the night sky and the light from the reflection on the water was out of central casting. I could not imagine what more to ask. It had to end and we did not cover nearly what is offered. The Spa was one goal we missed. We were able to view one room and I fixated on the Venetian plaster on the walls, so beautiful I had to keep adjusting my gaze to see it. Another visit can’t come soon enough.
So, whether you’re a swooning honeymooner or two sisters experiencing a special place that their beloved parents shared together, The Four Seasons Santa Barbara The Biltmore is one location not to be missed.
Rooms start at $525/night and starting November 1st, 2009 rates will begin at $375 for the winter season.
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