There are places that celebrities go to see, and there are rare places where celebrities don’t go to see them. There is only one place, though, that has wrapped celebrities in style in its secret 12-acre garden for more than 70 years: The Bel-Air Hotel. The Prince of Wales supposedly said, “I have slept better in the presidential suite at the Bel Air than in any other hotel in the world.” Tom Cruise once said, “I have lived in the Bel-Air, and have always felt very comfortable there.” What What characterizes this classic hotel, full of gliding swans, and no less, which is a Hollywood haven?In my recent stay at the Bel-Air Hotel, I think I figured it out.
The highest quality required to endure as a celebrity retreat: discretion by design. While it is located only a mile from Sunset Blvd, the drive to the Bel-Air Hotel is nondescript along a narrow road that features massive hedges and luxurious gates covering the mansions and estates for which Bel-Air is famous. A few subtle pink signs indicate the direction of the property, but other than these indications, the Bel-Air appears just around the corner like any home in the neighborhood. Except, of course, this neighborhood is Bel-Air, and there’s almost no home on the street.
The friendly valet takes your car and you’ll walk over a small lane bridge, perhaps catching a glimpse of one of the property’s swans (Chloe, Athena, Hercules, or Odette) skating over the hotel’s pools. There’s a huge old tree that actually appears across the walkway bridge, 12 to 15-foot white birds of paradise, tiny yellow daffodils, flowing red bougainvilleas, and orange blossoms. Drops of fountain water can be picked up from somewhere. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around, and that’s on purpose. This is the moment I’ve had at the Bel-Air Hotel many times now throughout my stay over the years, but especially on this visit: a minute moment of passing “over the rainbow” (or at least the hotel bridge) and feeling a bit into a shimmering secret world.
Over the bridge, one can meander into the lobby to the right (sober, again by design) or pass through an open-air restaurant by Wolfgang Puck who often swings by himself to greet guests on his way home located a few blocks from the hotel. I’ve always found this endearing (and met him twice in the restaurant), which is yet another reason why Bel-Air maintains not only its appreciation but its wonderful warmth: it’s an irresistible feeling to come home. Celebrities still get it. Long after the stays of Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles, Richard Nixon, Doris Day, and countless others, Hollywood’s elite still finds their way home in the Bel-Air Hotel. Fashion “kings” Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Isaac Mizrahi, and Oscar de la Renta hang out a lot. Russell Crowe threw his Oscar night party in one of the hotel’s 45 suites in 2001. Oprah Winfrey hosted the team of friends for the final interview at the hotel, and Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston had lunch as last girlfriends’ reunion in 2015. As Prince Charles described their Once upon a time, the Bel-Air is like staying at a rich friend’s house.” Even if you are rich and famous, everyone can enjoy such a bonus.
The Bel-Air’s rich friend’s warmth continues inside its 103 rooms and suites, thanks to the all-star design eye of Canadian-born Alexandra Champalimaud. My suite had a real fireplace, assembled and lit at night by the doorman, sweeping patio doors, heated limestone floors, and a small bottle of lavender cushion mist to coax me to sleep. Other suites have two-panel fireplaces, private infinity spa pools, and luxury bathrobes that one can fathom. Given the selection of suites with their own design motifs, such as the Grace Kelly and Chalon suites, it’s a good idea to ask the reservations team for recommendations on which suite or room you want to book. Consider the other group of rooms that a wealthy friend has the advantage of warmth, which is definitely.
Some people visit a hotel once, perhaps on a business trip or vacation. I like to think of the Bel-Air Hotel, which celebrities also do, as a posh home that you return to often. Your rich friend may have it, but that dear friend still welcomes you back. With utmost secrecy and warmth, The Bel-Air Hotel remains a cherished place.