You don’t have to have a closetful of Lilly Pulitzer dresses or manage a multibillion-dollar hedge fund to enjoy a romantic getaway in this pedigreed, perfectly manicured South Florida resort area. Sure, it helps to have a little cash – after all, the Town of Palm Beach is the wealthiest in America with at least 22 billionaires and untold millionaires among its 10,000 year-round and 30,000 seasonal residents. Still it’s possible for even non-moguls to enjoy a relaxing stay at one of the 13-mile-long island’s top resorts – unless, of course, you can wrangle a personal invitation from Donald Trump to overnight at his 20-acre historic beachfront estate Mar-a-Lago.
Don’t know the Donald? How about conservative pundits Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter? (I didn’t think so.) Perhaps mystery writer James Patterson? Or what about rockers Rod Stewart and Jimmy Buffet? All call this tony, hedge-lined enclave home for at least part of the year. And as Palm Beach emerges from the shadow of its most infamous former resident, jailed Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff, who swindled his posh neighbors out of millions in the last decade, and prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in grand style in 2011, you, too, can be part of the scene. Well not really, but at least you can watch from Worth Avenue’s sidewalks, which are quite lovely. I recently spent a whirlwind visit touring Palm Beach and its top resorts – which range from intimate to grand and from posh to playful. Which best suits your style?
Intimate: The Brazilian Court Hotel & Beach Club Nestled downtown, just a short stroll from the designer emporiums of Worth Avenue, this historic yet hip 80-room boutique hotel delivers some of the best style per square foot in Palm Beach. Built as a European-style retreat in 1926 and renovated with panache in 2008 by interior designer Leslie Schlesinger, its loggia-like public spaces and rooms designed in six color-saturated palettes (shown at left; courtesy of The Brazilian Court) are ideal for a low-key romantic rendezvous where ambience takes precedent over ocean views. Outside, a series of lushly landscaped courtyards evoke a bygone era and lead to a tranquil chaise-lined pool – pack a good book and a bikini, order a glass of Veuve Clicquot and you’re good to go. And when hunger strikes, simply walk a few steps to Café Boulud (see below) for a lunch or dinner to remember. There’s a Frederic Fekkai Salon on premises, too, should you need a beauty fix, from $199/night through mid-December 2010, and $464/night from January–April 2011.
Grand: The Breakers Couples looking to step back gloriously in time – but with all the modern amenities – should consider this grandiose, 140-acre, circa 1926 Italian-Renaissance masterpiece with its twin belvedere towers and 540 guestrooms. The first impression as you step into the massive vaulted lobby, inspired by the 16th-century Great Hall of the Palazzo Carega in Genoa (shown at right; courtesy of The Breakers), is one of jaw-dropping awe. Privately owned, the resort has invested $250 million into its revitalization and expansion over the past decade – including renovating all rooms and suites – and it shows. And yet the property’s sheer size does mean certain sacrifices: It has a bustling ambience and is quite popular with both families and groups. But if you like a lively vibe with lots of daily activities and plenty of dining options (there are 10, eight on property, including the romantic fine-dining L’Escalier), you’ll find lots to love: Florida’s oldest golf course, a 20,000-square-foot spa, and a Beach Club with five heated oceanfront pools, four whirlpools and luxe beach bungalows and cabanas for daytime rental. Oh, and there’s also a half-mile of private white-sand beach, from $499/night from January–April 2011.
Posh: The Four Seasons Resort, Palm Beach (www.fourseasons.com/palmbeach) There’s something inherently soothing about a lobby with sleek tan marble floors and crisp textured stone accents– and that’s just the beginning of the understated relaxation you’ll feel at this sophisticated resort set on six oceanfront acres. A just-completed renovation has turned the 210 rooms and suites into blissful havens (shown at left; courtesy of Four Seasons Resort, Palm Beach), with sleek furnishings – tufted headboards, immaculate white linens and contemporary dressers – set against whisper-soft pale blue or subtle gray-green walls. The makeovers completed a property transformation that also updated the plush and serene spa (with its couples’ Sea Grass Room with private steam room and rain shower) and the palm-lined oceanfront pool area with its heated pool and whirlpool. Dining is available at three venues: The Restaurant, serving contemporary seafood in a refined setting, and two more casual eateries overlooking the pool and beach, from $245/night through Decemember 19, 2010 and $479/night from January–April 2011.
Playful: The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach Recently revitalized with a lighter palette – the once dark wood lobby is now awash in elegant tones of pale gold and serene ecru but with decadent crystal chandeliers and luxe fabrics offering a nod to its ritzy environs – this 270-room resort’s major addition was its whimsical, show-stopping Eau Spa by Cornelia (www.eauspa.com). At 42,000 square feet, it is unlike anything in the region, a decadent and glamorous fantasy land of wellness for adults (while their kids are occupied by the extensive AquaNuts programs) that incorporates a mystical wishing well, a self-centered Garden with hanging loungers and an oversized chess board, a Scrub & Polish Bar for mixing your own personalized body elixir, a Bath Lounge (with rubber duckies in the whirlpool) and 19 Spa Villas (including an opulent Couple’s Villa). You can spend hours there, but don’t miss out on the resort’s other signature features: a freeform pool with Jacuzzi (shown at right; courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach) with rentable oceanfront cabanas (literally, as the beach is quite narrow), four restaurants, including Eau Spa Cuisine (actually more decadent than healthy) and Temple Orange (an inviting and contemporary space serving breakfast and lunch, followed by Italian specialties for dinner), plus private oceanfront cabana dining, customized to your tastes, from $279/night though mid-December and $499/night from January–April 2011.
Fine Dining Finding a good meal is easy in Palm Beach. I can personally recommend Café Boulud, the Palm Beach outpost of New York City-based chef Daniel Boulud located in The Brazilian Court and overseen by James Beard Award-nominated executive chef Zach Bell. Not only is the seasonally inspired menu exemplary, but the dining room, punctuated by vibrant paintings by artist Mark Bowles, is a visual delight. Also mixing fab food and stunning surroundings is Michelle Bernstein at The Omphoy (www.omphoy.com/indulge/michelle-bernsteins/). Miami native and 2008 James Beard Award winner Bernstein’s Palm Beach eatery in the chic and modern Omphoy Ocean Resort features floor-to-ceiling ocean views (a reason to dine early) and a seafood-heavy menu chock full of unexpected flavors; and the German chocolate cake is one of the best desserts I’ve ever had.
An Unexpected Delight Do yourself a big favor and book an entertaining and informative tour with 20-year Palm Beach resident Leslie Diver of Island Living Private Tours (www.islandlivingpb.com). You can hop in her VW Beetle for a three-hour tour ($60 per person) or peddle along with her for two hours on rental bikes ($35 per person, not including bike rental) as she offers up not only fascinating historical and architectural details about this rarefied zip code, but also all the best gossip about its most notorious scandals. Leslie will point out the mansions where the rich and famous reside (heck, everyone here is rich) and lead you to some fabulous spots (like the Four Arts Gardens) that you may not find on your own.
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