Luxury Hotels

This luxury resort has the best water-front in the USA

The beach is magnificent

In Florida’s Sunny Isles Beach township, king of the proverbial castle is  Acqualina Resort and Spa on the Beach, which  was deemed on Friday, August 4th, 2017, by readers of USA Today to be their favourite water-side resort in the whole of the enormous US of A. Loyalists of this multi-facetted hotel think of themselves as Acqualinas, people of a culture that is very very special, with a DNA that has many unique features. And, goodness, they do have these Acqualina followers – at the so-influential Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas this Monday, August 14th, 2017, Misty Belles Ewing told an assembled group that her kids simply want to go back to Acqualina every year (no, they do not want to try anything new). This is, says the gal, a luxury hotel that breaks all kinds of records. Over 50% of guests, for a start, are repeaters, many of them coming back again and again. What are the attractions? See the video below to get an idea of the views, from rooms that go up to the 44th floor of the centre of three towers, the outer towers housing a total of 188 residences.

Look up in the lobby

And, as often on early mornings along the eastern coast of Florida, sunrises, as seen above, are spectacular. Facilities are pretty amazing. For only 97 hotel rooms, there are three major outdoor pools, one adults only, and there are kids’ facilities galore, and an outdoor and outsize chess set that just asks to be played. A lot of Acqualina, by the way, is on a grandiose scale. High from the main lobby’s barrelled ceiling hang six chandeliers, each three-tiers deep, with six lights at the top, twelve in the middle and eighteen on the lowest level.  In general, Acqualina’s colour is a dark tomato hue, and many of such etceteras as beach umbrellas and even covers for the required disability hoists by each pool are exactly coordinated. Someone, I suspect the detail-oriented CEO, Deborah Yager-Fleming, has gone to a lot of trouble to avoid having anything that is not perfect in this overall design.

Christof Pignet

Bedrooms, by contrast, are what I call Hollywood platinum and taupe, and I loved the elegance of having fur-look throws across each sofa – this is a hotel that flaunts its Bergamot-scented ESPA products, both in bathroom toiletries and in the spa. Talking of fitness, by the way, the 24/7 Technogym is more than satisfactory for really keen fitness enthusiasts, with plenty of bits of equipment, well-maintained and continually cleaned, and supplies of polished green and red apples and also water bottles, rather than annoying little paper cups to put under a tap. After a good work out, I dined with Christof Pignet, the Austrian Acqualinist who runs the hotel, in Il Molino, one of my favourite Italian brands anywhere in the world.

An art work (actually cream cheeses)?

Started by Fernando and Gino Masci, Il Molino now also handles this luxury hotel’s casual AQ restaurant. Since my last dinner at Il Molino little has changed: you still enter a dark sanctum, mature waiters still ply you with pre-meal delectables, Parmesan chunks from a whole cheese, and spoonful after spoonful of cubes of tomato flesh, their version of bruschetta, and irresistible thin courgette crisps. Breads are cubes of focaccia topped with tomato, or olive, and so on. Best-sellers include a superb tuna carpaccio, which went jolly well with Emmolo Napa Valley 2014 Merlot: around us, every table was taken, mostly I think by permanent residents. Interestingly, from the hotel guest viewpoint this Acqualina lifestyle is decidedly relaxed. I was first in to breakfast, in AQ – not a single one of the cream cheese balls, to go with a variety of bagels, had yet been touched. Thoughtfully, there are complimentary coffee stations so after signing a $46 check for the buffet (eggs to order, but I had hot items from the induction chafing dishes) I took a styrene cup back up to the Hollywood-style abode. SEE IT, IN THE VIDEO BELOW.

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Luxury Hotels

A Bal Harbour hotel has the luxury of an undeveloped beach

A beach-look restaurant

Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour should, if anything, add the ‘beach’ word to its name as this is the one luxury hotel within half an hour’s drive north of Miami Beach that flows, as the photo above shows, out on to undeveloped beach. What are they going to do with this area? The gal first knew this place when it had just opened, in 2008, as Regent Bal Harbour, but then it lost its name and became One Bal Harbour and then it gained new owners, led by Paul Kavanos and Diego Lowenstein, and a new name, Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour, which was actually a natural evolution since Messrs Kavanos and Lowenstein also own Ritz-Carlton South Beach. The two properties are now run in tandem, offering mutual support, and both are overseen by arguably the most famous Macedonian in the business, Sase Gjorsovski, usually known as Sasha.

Sasha Gjorsovski, Nikki Berry

He has a Manager there permanently in the 124-room hotel, a Floridian called Nikki Berry, and we all exclaimed at the beauty of the main restaurant, Artisan Beach House, which flows out on to a big silver-columned terrace overlooking the beach. The designer is Petra Hausberger, who specialises in retail and residential and here she has put in a real beach feel, with taupe colours, a certain number of shell displays and, sensibly, a curtained off area that could even host small weddings. Some tables are high-set, communal tables. Why are these so popular? Why do singles sit with strangers at a high-up table when they would not dream of sharing at a low-set table? Both Nikki and I said immediately that a high-up table offers an immediate exit strategy if needed.

Paula DaSilva

The food at Artisan Beach House, or ABH, is overseen by Boston-based Seth Greenberg, who was born in the locale here and has a good reputation in the Miami area, which is always good to attract non-hotel residents (all the hotel’s 124 letting rooms are condos, which means their owners come and use them on a regular basis and they are similarly attracted by a big name chef, and by food produced here in ABH by Seth Greenberg’s colleague Paula DaSilva). Through September, another attraction is the local Miami Spice promotion in leading restaurants, including this one. And any time, a major attraction at this luxury hotel is Bal Harbour’s shops, five minutes away by house car.

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Luxury Hotels

Back to Miami Beach

Steak tartare, on a long board

The gal had her share of eggs at Miami Beach’s literary hotel, The Betsy, straddling Ocean Drive and, now, Collins. If luxury is coming into an ambience with aspidistra-type greenery and comfy seating, and a sports bar to the right side and a really attractive brasserie to the left, and overhead fans and well-chosen music, and a sign announcing today’s poetry reading, here it is. And after flying in from Lima, it was more than time for dinner. Laurent Tourondel now handles all food for The Betsy direct – this includes a new Italian restaurant, Poeti, opening on Collins this November and according to The Betsy’s owner Jonathan Plutzik tastings of light-as-air pizza have been, well heaven. This night, however, it was the LT steak tartare, divine, light-with-egg-white, and the yolk on top.

Rooftop pool, 408 below, right

At breakfast, the avocado and pea toast on seven-grain, with feta, sprouts and lemon zest, could have smoked salmon added or, as here, a poached egg (have a Betsy set breakfast and it includes eggs and fruit, for $26, and you might be listening to I’ll Be Your Love as you drink La Colombe coffee and read the New York Times and Wall Street Journal that are placed a-plenty). As I knew from previous visits, The Betsy has food for the brain in overdrive. I was in 408, the Skyline Penthouse literally underneath the rooftop bridge pool – the one-room suite is named because it is approached via an L-shaped outside walkway, flanked by greenery, which reminds Jonathan Plutzik of New York’s Highline. I had a grand piano, and hard-cover reading that could best be described as eclectic.

Chandelier, from Vienna via Harare

In alphabetical order I could have read Neil Baldwin’s Henry Ford and the Jews – The Mass Production of Hate, or Rory Carroll’s Comandante; Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, or Michael J Fox, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, or Bruce Turkel’s All About Them: Grow Your Business by Focusing on Others. I could also simply have lain on the bed and looked up at the giant chandelier. This, Jonathan Plutzik had told me last night, is an exact copy of one in Vienna’s opera house. The grandfather of his wife, Lesley Goldwasser, had taken this copy with him when he relocated from Vilnius to then-Salisbury, Rhodesia, in 1939, and it was retrieved by the Plutzik-Goldwasser pair, a couple of years ago. (They were on a trip to southern Africa which took in not only Zimbabwe but also Namibia, where they both fell in love with the amazing landscape; above all beds, including mine, are six-foot-wide blowups of sand dunes that they shot with their iPhone-7s).

Cory Randolph and Yusely Ramos

The Betsy, Miami Beach, is one of only two hotels among the ten companies, across all industries, being honoured by the nonprofit Americans for the Arts organization in New York on October 11th, 2017 – both GM Cory Randolph and a Puerto Rican colleague, Yusely Ramos (now supervising front desk, she started five years ago as a housekeeping attendant) explained how everyone is so proud of this: interaction with artists- and writers-in-residence, and the inclusion of different communities, is phenomenal, they said. The entire hotel, it seems, is one giant performance area. It does, in fact, now encompasse two former hotels. On Ocean Drive, what is now called the Colonial Wing is the original Betsy, once The Betsy Ross Hotel named in honour of the woman who sewed an American flag for George Washington, and whose name became a symbol of patriotism in WWII. An air-bridge through what is a giant egg, or orb, leads to the one-time Carlton on Collins Street, now called the Art Deco wing. My lovely room was on top of this. Head down various staircases and elevators to the Collins Street ground level and there are meeting rooms, yoga spaces, a second breakfast venue for bijou continental buffets (no avocado-pea-toasts here) and this is where Poeti will open. As I know from previous visits, there is always something happening at this one-off luxury hotel.

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