Tony Curtis said he would marry it. Oprah and Nicole Kidman have stayed at it. Marilyn Monroe lived in it. The Hotel Bel-Air has been the "It girl” of the Hollywood elite since opening in 1946, and almost seventy years later, she's never been in finer form. Having just reopened in 2011 after an extensive two-year restoration by its current owner, the Dorchester Collection, the iconic luxury hotel remains a glimmering garden oasis within the quiet foothill neighborhood of Bel Air. After a long weekend at the property, I can say this is one of my favorite resorts in California. What follows are just a few reasons why.
The Gardens and Grounds
One of my favorite design techniques is the blending of indoor and outdoor space. Whether it’s haciendas in the desert or high-end “glamping” in the African safari regions, I’m a fan of luxurious living alongside exposed elements, which is well implemented by The Hotel Bel-Air. Alexandra Champalimaud and the Rockwell Group, the design team responsible for the elaborate remodel, astutely ensured all spaces touched the gardens of the 12-acre property. The hotel’s restaurant, Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air, is nearly all outdoors and surrounded by flowering red bougainvilleas. Lemon trees, heavy with dozens of plump lemons, and blooming bird of paradise trees sprinkle pathways and suite patios. I particularly liked the new hillside guestrooms that boast expansive sliding glass walls, outdoor fireplaces surrounded by miniature yellow daffodils and spacious decks with private spa pools. To see the gardens of the Hotel Bel-Air is reason enough for a visit.
The Pool and La Prairie Spa
The oval-shaped pool, poised in the center of the Hotel Bel-Air and heated year-round to 82 degrees, is a delightful garden oasis amenity. Originally the riding ring for the horses of the nearby stables, the pool was opened along with the hotel in 1946. I enjoyed catnapping under the pink umbrellas on a Saturday afternoon, gazing at the 80-foot pool. In the summer, complimentary goodies such as farmer’s market popsicles and chocolate-dipped frozen bananas are handed out along with ice-cold cucumber towelettes. Nearby the pool, the Hotel Bel-Air Spa by La Prairie is another luxurious retreat. I loved the spa's subtle feminine charms, including the silk pink wallpaper, arching ceilings and modern flower decals. I noticed touches like the black bejeweled reception desk—absolutely divine but all-in-all tastefully understated. Unsurprisingly, services featured at this spa are as glamorous as the hotel’s guest history. Try one of La Prairie’s top treatments, Caviar Luxury, a massage followed by a firming facial using a caviar saturated cream. Within The Enclave, a 600-square-foot therapy room featuring a waterfall, patio and bathtub, couples or groups can indulge in a half or a full-day of pampering, complete with a spa butler.
Norman Seeff-Inspired Bar
The Bar at the Hotel Bel-Air is one of my favorites in all of Los Angeles. Locals and guests adore it as well, filling its private nooks on the brick patio, lined by manicured shrubs and inside, near the fire or lacquered grand piano. Just this year, the handsome bar added an artfully dramatic touch with the installment of several black-and-white celebrity photographs (which date back to the 70s and 80s) by photographer-filmaker, Norman Seeff. Timelessly modern and alluringly intimate, it's only perfect that Seeff's photos would find a home at the Hotel Bel-Air— the legendary celebrity retreat. The dozen or so life-size portraits include a shaggy-haired Steve Jobs and a radiant Tina Turner in a 6-shot dancing sequence. The Hotel Bel-Air is even offering opportunities to meet the famed filmmaker and photographer with complimentary public events. At the Bar, Seeff leads guests through interactive demonstrations and discussions about his work from a behind-the-scenes perspective. In the meantime, you can order a Seeff-themed drink throughout the year. My favorite from the holiday season was Baby It's Cold Outside (made with Myers's Dark Rum, Hennessy VS, Cream and Nutmeg) inspired by Ray Charles' portraits.