A leg­end re­born in the Hol­ly­wood hills


The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

THIS is what I call a power break­fast. All around are tables of Hol­ly­wood movers seal­ing deals, shuf­fling pa­pers, spoon­ing up seven-grain gra­nola and Greek yo­ghurt parfaits and slurp­ing tum­blers of bloody marias — a twist on the orig­i­nal, with jalapenos and basil.

A few faces al­most look fa­mil­iar but most would be screen­writ­ers, di­rec­tors and pro­duc­ers. The women among them are glis­ten­ing, per­haps freshly popped from the man­sion-sized Spa by La Prairie (where a White Caviar Il­lu­mi­nat­ing Fa­cial costs an un­earthly $US1000).

The menu de­clares my ta­ble nap­kin is of­fi­cially ‘‘lint­free’’ and I am asked for my ‘‘wa­ter pref­er­ence’’ as I slouch at a semi-cir­cu­lar booth be­side ter­ra­cotta pots of bougainvil­lea, pert laven­der and lit­tle le­mon trees on the ter­race of Cal­i­for­nia chef Wolf­gang Puck’s res­tau­rant and bar at Ho­tel Bel-Air in the hills of Los Angeles.

It re­opened 12 months ago and was touted as ‘‘a leg­end re­born’’. It took two years to make over this 103-room land­mark ho­tel in Stone Canyon with sub­stan­tial re­build­ing plus fresh in­te­ri­ors by Alexan­dra Cham­pal­i­maud; a favourite of the owner com­pany, the Sul­tan of Brunei’s Dorch­ester Col­lec­tion, she re­designed the epony­mous Lon­don flag­ship prop­erty.

The orig­i­nal Ho­tel Bel-Air opened in 1946, in­cor­po­rat­ing a res­i­den­tial es­tate and sta­bles, and it still has a vin­tage Hol­ly­wood feel, as if at any tick Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe could sur­face in the swim­ming pool (where she was a reg­u­lar; her last por­traits were shot here by Bert Stern for Vogue in 1962, just a few weeks be­fore she died) or Joan Craw­ford could ap­pear to kick some­one’s ass.

Cham­pal­i­maud has used a clas­sic pal­ette of black and white against wooden ceil­ings and stone floors (a touch of Span­ish mis­sion), and oc­ca­sional ac­cents of fuch­sia and cherry in cush­ions and throws. There are new Canyon View Suites with plunge pools, seven spe­cialty suites (one named for the ef­fort­lessly el­e­gant Grace Kelly) and at least 10 de­sign themes (in­clud­ing lofts and pink-painted cot­tages); reg­u­lar guests re­quest spe­cific rooms, I am told, with Oprah Win­frey hap­pi­est in the Chalon Suite, with its hand­painted wall­pa­per and pri­vate gar­den.

But no mat­ter which room cat­e­gory you choose, all have the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, free WiFi, whoosh-bang Ja­panese toi­lets with heated seats, and La Prairie toi­letries. And you’ll feel en­folded within this 5ha es­tate of grand old oaks, red­woods and sycamores, of log­gias and bridges wrapped with creep­ers, of tiled foun­tains and me­an­der­ing path­ways. Un­ex­pect­edly, there are fruit trees (or­anges and guavas, apri­cots and peaches) and white swans Chloe and Athena glid­ing like show­girls (on the ho­tel’s so-called Swan Lake, of course) and haugh­tily ig­nor­ing lone male Her­cules Jr.

Even if not stay­ing here, book for Sun­day brunch. It’s a gen­er­ous three-course menu based on sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents from lo­cal farm­ers mar­kets (go for the Mary­land crab cakes with pesto and tomato rel­ish and the macadamia waf­fles with co­conut syrup) and in­cludes a bellini or glass of cham­pagne ($US68).

At the end of the day, most guests head to the bar for clas­sics and cock­tails (a Mon­roe’s Pas­sion, per­chance). Or­der a Be­spoke Ne­groni and it’ll come over a solid chunk of ice in a Riedel tum­bler. Could that be Tom Cruise on the next stool? Too cool.

above left Ho­tel Bel-Air re­opened last year af­ter a re­fur­bish­ment above right Ter­race at Wolf­gang Puck’s res­tau­rant

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