On my skin lies the scent of Sicilian orange extract. I’ve just splashed my face after a long flight and am now taking comfort in this sunny aroma that soothes me into post-travel relaxation. The packaging of this soap is a burnt terracotta – one that matches the wider colour palate and vast external façade of The Biltmore, Miami – a grandiose palace of a hotel I am lucky enough to call home this weekend. Already it is late evening, and as the blue hour arrives, deepening shades of warm night-time sky are offered from my Veronese style balcony. Palm trees in the gardens sway under a bright-white, rising moon, and below, silver Petanque balls knock against one another in quiet competition.
If it wasn’t for our tropical surrounds, you could easily think we were in Southern Italy, such is the predominant theme and overall ambience of our setting. From the wooden panelled ceilings and open stone-walled fireplaces of the luxuriant entrance hall, to the beautiful cortile loggia – an alfresco, internal courtyard home to the suitably-named ‘Fontana’ restaurant, the Italian effect is not lost. Coupled with the myriad of cheeky statues that line North America’s largest outdoor (half a square mile!) swimming pool and the linen-clad quality of the hotel’s guests, this place speaks of elegant, European finery at it’s very best.
Often dubbed ‘the man who made the Gables’, the Biltmore Hotel was established in 1926 by the visionary Florida statesman George Merrick. Pre ‘gentlefication’, these outlier plains of Miami were once replete with citrus groves. Today, the neighbourhood of Coral Gables is now home to large, Spanish-styled mansions and wide streets, lined with enormous, sweeping Banyan trees. From the outset, this place was intended to be a centre for high society to come and play sport and host talked-about social gatherings. One such evening is now immortalised in a large black and white panoramic photograph displayed on the walls of the hotel’s lower lobby. The scene captured befits a Gala ball – synchronised swimmers perform amidst flamboyant plumed headdresses, black-tied musicians dazzle with their play – reaching out over to other glamorous attendees in top hats and additional costumed garb. To the lower right of the photo, the most VIP of party guests can be seen arriving on Venetian styled gondolas, propelled by handsome stripy gondoliers.
Not just the stuff of Venice, Miami too has a network of canals, built in the early 1900s on which many of its residents would have once travelled. Today they offer opportunities for bass and butterfly peacock fishing. The Coral Gables includes other landmarks such as The Venetian Pool – a Venetian style lagoon, carved out of coral rock, complete with bridges and waterfalls – an open swimming pool that welcomes guests year-round. Another must-visit is Villa Vizcaya – a beautiful old Italian style palace and quiet haven owned and constructed by the industrialist James Deering. The formal gardens are modelled on the Italian renaissance, whilst the exquisitely decorated interior takes more specific inspiration from Mediterranean revival throughout the Veneto and Tuscany. Grazing the ocean to the front of the property is the semi-submerged stone barge – shaped in the form of a wooden boat, complete with stone-maidens gazing out to sea, awaiting their rich merchants from afar.
With similarly genteel intentions, on our penultimate evening we order cocktails in the Biltmore Bar prior to dinner. Back then, laughter from actress Ginger Rogers, or the mellow tones of Bing Crosby might be just two voices we’d have heard next to us. Today, and since then, it seems the same calibre applies. From the eponymous Al Capone Suite that spans the 13th and 14th floor to photographs of the Duchess of York, presidents Roosevelt, Clinton, and Obama, and rumours of a more world-class pop-star kind, it can certainly be claimed that The Biltmore has entertained its fair share of the global rich and famous. Today, thrice-daily society weddings, baby showers and millenary-dressed afternoon teas are all too frequent occasions on The Biltmore’s expertly arranged social calendar.
In addition to the quiet charm and rapture, it is not only the ambience that attracts. The world-quality golf course and spa offer the height of all things wellness (including ‘benessere’ Chardonnay massages). Those with a more vested interest in wine however will come here from far and wide to fine dine. At the Palme d’Or, The Biltmore’s premier restaurant managed by Michelin stared chef James Pugin, General Manager Gregory Zarzycki will welcome you into arguably one of Miami’s best culinary establishments. Unmissable treats on the varying tasting menus include ‘Sea urchin custard with poached langoustine, golden ostrea caviar and Granny Smith apple gelee’, Frogs legs tempura, ‘seared foie gras with strawberries, home-made Madeline (cake), duck jus and elderflower emulsion’, followed by an array of sweet breads, scallops, quail and Kobe beef. Petit fours are something magical whilst fromage-ophiles will go wild for the all-encompassing cheese trolley.
The wine list reads like a well-thumbed book, with a strong leaning towards France and California, whilst the Italian theme is reasserted with gala dinner events, in the past held by such prestigious names as Tuscany’s Marchesi Piero Antinori. Outside of dinner, Sunday Brunch at The Biltmore in a private Cabana or otherwise is a much coveted (and instagrammed) affair. And if all this isn’t quite enough, those with a penchant for what has or has yet to be consumed can try their own hands at Florida ‘fusion’ cuisine at the Biltmore’s very own Culinary Academy – handily located next door.
On January 16, 1926, the Miami Daily News review of The Biltmore read: “It attracts by its sports, its art, its climate and its atmosphere of romance. All these constitute an ideal vacation and the Miami Biltmore Hotel is the ideal home in which to spend it.” 90 years later and I find it difficult to argue with this original appraisal. A hallmark of a hotel bursting with character and heritage-infused personality, and a part of Miami that is altogether surprisingly, beautifully serene.
For more information about the Miami Biltmore, visit www.biltmorehotel.com.