Brides and grooms are a target market for the resort. "We seek to be a worldwide destination for weddings," Grippo said. An Italian wedding rotunda overlooks the ocean, an indoor chapel, La Cappella, and several reception rooms.
The resort has shuttle service to nearby Crystal Cove State Beach and to Fashion Island for shopping or dining. Sensitive to the economy, it is offering a $745-a-night bungalow-golf-spa package through mid-March. The recession is challenging but, Grippo said, "This is a resort that's not built for next month or next year."
Montage Beverly Hills
After I pulled into the glass-roofed porte-cochere, an attendant took my name and relayed it to the front desk. A doorman in top hat and waistcoat stood at the alert. I was escorted immediately to my room, to register in privacy.
Wanting to enjoy the spa the next day, I asked for 4 p.m. checkout. No problem.
Within minutes, a bellman brought my luggage and explained the room features, including bedside control to open and close the draperies.
The 201-room Montage, a sister hotel to Montage Laguna Beach, was built to evoke Hollywood's Golden Age. Room decor in this $200-million edifice is traditional, with dark woods and a gold and white palette.
My spacious king-bedded room ($395) had a pleasant interior courtyard view, a small terrace and a sitting area with a diva-worthy fringed chaise longue.
I found a silky terry-lined robe in the closet off the foyer. Brown velvet slippers were set out in the decidedly luxurious bathroom, which had double sinks, good lighting and a stall shower. A flat-screen TV was recessed in the wall at the end of the deep soaking tub.
I poured bath salts, ran a hot tub, nestled my head against the bath pillow and clicked the waterproof remote control. Alas, from my low angle, the people on the screen were either green or fuchsia (a hotel-wide problem that hadn't been fixed).
One other little glitch: At lunchtime, the sun streaming through the filigree divider between the rooftop pool and the Conservatory Grill had guests fumbling for their sunglasses and maneuvering their chairs to avoid the glare. As a stopgap measure, someone had tacked up a blanket.
But overall there was little with which to find fault. I loved the wide corridors and the lobby loggia with its inviting seating area. The Spanish Revival architectural influences reminded me of the grand hotels from South Florida's Gilded Age. There is exquisite attention to detail; even the bathroom glasses are set on little linen napkins.
The lobby lounge is far too grand to be called a bar -- a lovely big room with a garden view and sink-into sofas. A harpist plays during afternoon tea; in the evening, a pianist takes over.
The mezzanine restaurant, Muse, seemed a bit rich for my blood, so I chose Parq, where I was served an expertly prepared sea bass and had a pleasant view of topiary gardens. If I were a captain of industry, I would choose the Chef's Table, a cozy 12-seat room tucked behind the glass-walled kitchen. There, guests relax by the fireplace and watch the preparation of their custom meal.
The next morning I was at the spa, a 20,000-square-foot, two-level oasis that, with its arches and mosaic tiles, brought to mind a sultan's hamam. As soft music played and a filigree lamp cast a web of light on the walls, Miss Victoria's magic hands kneaded out the kinks. I hadn't yet had coffee and jumped at the offer to have continental breakfast brought to the spa's coed lounging area. The coffee was hot, the orange juice freshly squeezed, the china Villeroy & Boch.
Seven years in planning, Montage is new from the ground up but decidedly Old World. In a few months, people "will think the hotel's been here for centuries," said Ali Kasikci, managing director.
It already feels that way.
SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills
Paris-born designer Philippe Starck's signature touches abound in the whimsical decor of SLS. A horse sculpture balances a lamp on its head. The 177 chairs and 20 not-so-serious chandeliers are delightfully mismatched. Undulating curtains divide public spaces into cozy nooks. I loved the outdoor living room with its illuminated Plexiglas deer head.
My room ($395) had a nice terrace opening onto an interior courtyard. It was contemporary and so sleek that the bellman had to tell me that the Sony flat-screen TV was hidden inside a wall of smoky mirror. The king bed had Porthault linens, and tucked behind its glass headboard was a desk. The room, which had a tufted leather settee and table in one corner, was nicely arranged.
The 297-room SLS, a $225-million top-to-bottom renovation of the former Le Meridien, is decidedly playful. Looking closely at my white armoire, I saw that one of the bronze reliefs was sticking out its tongue.