Cocooned by 12 acres of gardens in one of America’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, Hotel Bel-Air feels like a private country retreat — yet ritzy Rodeo Drive is just a ten-minute drive away.
This is a hotel that can truly lay claim to being one of the most iconic in the world. Walking through its winding paths, surrounded by redwoods and palm trees, I couldn’t help feeling I’d stepped onto the set of an Old Hollywood movie. The ambience is elegantly understated, deeply glamorous and (surprisingly) relaxed.
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Built in 1922 as a stable complex and reimagined as a boutique hotel in 1946, Hotel Bel-Air has welcomed some of Hollywood’s brightest stars as regulars, including Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn. Oprah Winfrey held her 50th birthday ‘slumber party’ here, Tom Cruise managed to dodge paparazzi in a Bel-Air bungalow, and Prince Charles once said a visit to Hotel Bel-Air is “like staying at a friend’s home”. Today, it’s the place Hollywood celebrities escape to when they don’t want to be seen (the word is, they head to sister property The Beverly Hills Hotel when they do want to be seen).
Hotel Bel-Air is nestled by Stone Canyon in the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains in Los Angeles’ most rarefied residential neighbourhood, Bel Air. This five-star hotel is the only one permitted here, tucked away amongst homes owned by the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Beyoncé, and Jennifer Lopez. Bel Air is an oasis of parks and nature, of winding roads, and the largest mansions I’ve ever personally seen. It feels a million miles from contemporary Los Angeles.
When Dorchester Collection took over in 2008, management decided this historic hideaway deserved an extensive makeover. It was a considered project, managing to celebrate the hotel’s fabled legacy while creating an effortlessly fresh and modern feel. The iconic pink Spanish Colonial architecture remains and the beloved residents of Swan Lake (pictured above) are still a major drawcard, especially for couples. But today you’ll also discover an understated and contemporary sense of luxury. Think seamless outdoor-indoor spaces for public areas, a heated outdoor pool, and sleek interiors with clean lines, neutral design and all the mod cons, including Bang & Olufsen entertainment and an iPad that runs everything from the curtains to room service.
Best room for two
Honestly, you’d be happy with any of the 58 rooms or 45 suites at Hotel Bel-Air. The rooms were a primary focus of the renovation with interiors inspired by 1930s, 1940s and 1950s Hollywood. Our room was so lusciously comfortable that we seriously had trouble dragging ourselves beyond the French doors to the delightful garden patio.
On our first night we couldn’t resist staying in for a movie (yes, the room was that good!), enjoying room service and the crackling fireplace. The patio looked out to masses of greenery which brought an element of seclusion, and the bathroom was huge with rainfall shower, deep bath and a flat-panelled TV. French brand Anne Semonin toiletries were also a treat.
The restaurant, Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air, has one of Los Angeles’ most famous chefs at the helm. The menu is centred around locally-sourced ingredients and lives up to the hype a celebrity chef inspires. Even the seemingly humble vegetable soup we had delivered to our room was a culinary game changer. Breakfast is worth lingering over, relaxing around the fountain on the patio and surrounded by beautiful gardens. At night, the terrace is lit with sparkling lanterns and food moves to a slightly more formal affair, with offerings including Keluga Caviar and Marcho Farms Veal 'Wiener Schnitzel'. As one might expect, there is an extensive wine list.
Couples will love
Spread across expansive lush gardens, plenty of nooks and crannies offer a dreamlike setting for stealing a little time together outside of the room. Hotel Bel-Air is a straight-out-of-Hollywood kind of escape, and a romantic candlelit dinner at the restaurant followed by a signature cocktail at the swanky bar would be hard to top when it comes to making an impression on somebody special.
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