Santa Barbara spa resort is where stars come out

Facade of resort reflected in poolSANTA BARBARA, CALIF. – Bacara was buzzing when I visited. It was only days after the cancelled Ben/Jen nuptials. The wedding was planned for Santa Barbara, exact location undisclosed, but Bacara was purported to play host to several on the couple’s star-studded wedding list. The talk amongst the resort’s guests (the staff was discreetly mum) was whether the union was a no or a go.

But while this bit of celeb gossip certainly created an element of excitement, my purpose in visiting was not to speculate but to rejuvenate. I was there to experience “The Spa,” as it’s very simply called.

“Welcome to Bacara (pronounced Ba-CAR-ah),” my husband and I were greeted. “Let me show you around,” said Erin, a friendly local college student and part-time bellman. “It’s somewhat of a maze here and I don’t want you to get lost.”

We climbed into the backseat of a golf cart and were whisked through the up-and-down terrain to our room in building 31, ideally situated next to the Spa.

Reminiscent of a Mediterranean village with winding paths, a villa atmosphere and a sea location, Bacara has a Spanish Colonial style – terra cotta tile roofs, covered archways, wrought-iron chandeliers. The resort defies standard description: it’s secluded yet easily accessible, luxurious but unpretentious, classic as well as comfortable. Understandably the signature flower is the Calla Lily – a matchless symbol of Bacara’s understated elegance.

Santa Barbara is a noted respite from the frenzy of Los Angeles, the trend of Orange County and the sophistication of San Francisco. Though Hollywood recognized its unique appeal long ago, the area continues to beckon those seeking the best. And while it’s reminiscent of a bygone era (it was the setting of the recent movie Seabiscuit, a 1938 tale), it’s in tune with today’s traveler.

Intrigued, I made the five-hour trek to Santa Barbara and its most recent and exclusive getaway – Bacara Resort & Spa.

The directions were simple: travel north on Highway 101 about 12 miles past downtown Santa Barbara, take the Winchester Canyon Road exit and head west towards the ocean, drive past the golf course to the entrance of Bacara.

An opposite turn from the highway towards the mountains would have taken us to the Ranch at Bacara – the property’s 1,000-acre working ranch that borders the Los Padres National Forest. Its private hikes, horseback riding and mountain biking are widely popular with guests, but the ranch is best noted for its several hundred acres of lemons and avocados.

“Hello, I’m Kathy,” said the technician as she led me from the brightly lit second-floor lounge (called a “relaxation library”) to the cozy treatment room for my Citrus-Avocado Body Polish, 50 minutes, $125 (U.S.).

It’s one of the Spa’s four signature treatments (the others are Oatmeal Sage Body Polish, Crystal Sea Therapy and Ultimate Body Blitz). All incorporate the region’s indigenous ingredients. Each was tempting but I was most drawn to the specialty featuring the ranch’s aforementioned produce.

The treatment began with a body polish where I was gently buffed with a lemon-lime sea salt scrub (special attention was paid to areas like my heels, elbows and feet). After the application, Kathy laid a towel trail from the table to the in-room shower (to catch any stray salt particles) where I rinsed off the remaining remnants.

When I emerged and returned to the table, a warm neck roll was positioned under my head and a heated oversized towel was placed over my torso. Ahhh! The finale was the application of rich avocado almond oil; the result was like velvet.

It’s my thinking that the measure of a good spa facility is found in a fundamental treatment – a basic, old-fashioned facial. I tested this theory and arranged for the Classic Deep Cleansing Facial, 50 minutes $130 (U.S.). My aesthetician was Marilyn, one of the best I’ve yet to discover. Her advice was simple but solid. “Ask questions.”

“If you want extractions, ask (when making the appointment) for a technician who will do them.” “Ask which technician is most requested for your treatment – make your appointment with that person.” “Quiz the spa receptionist about what you should or shouldn’t do to maximize your treatment (example: don’t sauna before or after a facial).”

It was close to the day’s end and the sun was beginning to set. I rose from my chaise on the Spa’s private rooftop terrace to return to my room. But first I took a short walk to the ocean.

Its peaceful calm was hypnotic. I was beginning to understand the enduring fascination with Santa Barbara and now with Bacara.

* For more information call 1-877-422-4245 or visit www.bacararesort.com.