Horse Sense

The 1,000-acre Alisal property is unmistakenly reminiscent of a simpler time and place.

Easy Ride

Payne and her team worked with a Santa Barbara-based spa consultant, Julie Menicucci, to develop a spa menu that features the essentials—Swedish and Thai massages, facials, teen skin treatments, and scalp and hand treatments. The spa’s individuality reveals itself with Western-themed treatment names such as the Trail Blazer and the Sundowner. In general, however, the menu is kept manageably low-key. “Our guests are multi-generational, so we’ll see a grandmother, mother and granddaughter all coming to the spa together,” Payne says. “We didn’t want to offer so many treatments that it gets difficult to choose—just a range of treatments that everyone could get excited about. They book their treatments together, they talk about it throughout their stay, and then they all come in together. The spa experience is something they share. It’s a chance for more memories to be made.”

Not surprisingly, Alisal’s marketing is decidedly understated. The resort’s website includes spa photos and a treatment menu, and there are spa menus placed in private guest rooms. And, even though neighboring Santa Barbara residents would no doubt love to be pampered here, for now the spa is available to resort guests only. “We want to make sure that the spa doesn’t become so overbooked that our guests aren’t able to partake in the services,” Payne says.

Less than three years from its inception, the spa has fared well, with guests now calling ahead of their stays to book favorite therapists and treatments. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in business,” Payne reports. “I’ve gotten a lot of guest responses and they all say they’re very happy that we now have a spa.”

I’m pretty happy to have spent the weekend at the Alisal, riding the trails on a shiny brown horse named Apache, wandering around the 100-acre, spring-fed lake and petting pot-bellied pigs, rabbits and Indian cows in the children’s yard. And just like the afternoon I spent catching wild trout and placing their shimmering bodies out for the nesting bald eagles to feed to their newborns, my sage-scented visit at the spa felt like a luxury, a necessity and an indelible memory rolled into one.

Alison Singh Gee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and author.

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