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03/27/24: Hooked on the Classics

A private island getaway retains its allure decade after decade; The Beverly Hills Hotel never looses a step; California's beloved property The Ranch comes to Upstate New York.

March 27, 2024 By MAURA EGAN
Photo: Courtesy The Beverly Hills Hotel.

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Travel editor Maura Egan in Mustique.

There are some places worth visiting again and again. My guilty pleasure is to tell people where not to go or that a certain hotel is overrated or too noisy, which is my ultimate pet peeve. But I also am happy to endorse a place I have been lucky enough to visit over and over. Recently I found myself in two beloved spots: Mustique, a small island with a big reputation, in the Grenadines, and The Beverly Hills Hotel, whose reputation precedes it. They are tried-and-true, and they pay homage to the past, but with all the modern conveniences that make visiting them all the more pleasurable. —Maura Egan

From left: The Pink House gift shop; a view of the Mustique coastline. Photos: Courtesy The Mustique Company

Who might you spot on Mustique? Sir Mick Jagger, for one, at the opening of a new hotel gym (at the lovely Cotton House) on a recent Friday night in March. The legendary singer, who’s had a house on the island for decades, isn’t a rare sighting. Who won’t you find on Mustique? Megayacht owners, tech bros, paparazzi, or Gen Z influencers.

I recently returned to Mustique (which I first visited in 2018) and was immediately charmed by the island’s old-school vibes, not unlike Comporta in Portugal or the Adirondacks in New York. There are only about 100 homes on this verdant paradise, and all the owners—whether it’s Bryan Adams or Tommy Hilfiger—know their neighbors. The island doctor is a friendly British man named Michael Bunbury, who was trained as a medical officer in the British Army. His wife, Lotty, runs Pink House Mustique, the only gift shop on the island. There are no ATMs or traffic lights, and everyone tools around on “mules” (golf carts) to dinner parties, to hidden idyllic beaches, and of course to Basil’s Bar, a favorite watering hole that was renovated and expanded by Philippe Starck in 2018. It feels like you’ve stepped into a John Cheever short story if it were set in the Caribbean rather than the Northeast. You could almost imagine Neddy Merrill, the main character from “The Swimmer,” happily pool-hopping from house to house.

Of course, Mustique had a more infamous history back when Colin Tennant (Lord Glenconner) purchased the island in 1958 as a bohemian escape for his circle of friends, including Princess Margaret. In fact, Tennant gave the late royal a plot of land on the island as a wedding gift. Soon after, Princess Margaret built Les Jolies Eaux, a charming property designed by Oliver Messel, a British architect who was also the uncle of her then husband, Lord Snowdon. The neo-Georgian property features five bedrooms, two swimming pools, and some of the island’s best views. At the time, there were only a dozen families on the island, so the princess could indulge in a rather decadent lifestyle of late-night card games, whiskey drinking, and dance parties. In 1976, Tennant threw himself a 50th-birthday bacchanalia, spraying the famed Macaroni Beach and the surrounding palms in faux gold, which drew everyone from Mick Jagger to Robert Mapplethorpe, who was there to document the party for Interview magazine.

These days, the island feels tamer—although there is a curious sculpture of two copulating turtles (courtesy of the late Maxim publisher and party boy extraordinaire, Felix Dennis) on the way to the tiny airport. But there’s still this wonderful let-your-hair-down, anything-goes quirkiness to the island. It’s a place where you really can get away from it all—whether you’re a celebrity or just someone wanting to avoid the glare of social media for a week or so.

During my recent visit, I stayed at Sienna, an opulent Italian-inspired gem overlooking the Atlantic coastline. There were six bedrooms spread among various villas, two pools (nestled on top of each other, both overlooking the water), and a lovely staff headed by Jerry, who was at the ready with fresh squeezed juice in the morning and a perfectly composed Negroni at cocktail hour. There’s something about long mornings enjoying a leisurely breakfast and interesting conversation with friends in a spectacular setting that feels like luxury these days. The rest of the day was divided into dips in the pool or ocean, a game or two of tennis, and jaunts to hidden beaches and coves. Rinse and repeat for the week.

And then there was my favorite pastime: looking at real estate. On my last trip, my favorite property was Zinnia, one of Messel’s original buildings, a bright green gingerbread-style property with hand-painted murals and beautiful gardens. This time my favorite was Obsidian, one of the island’s original villas, which feels very old-school British with a blue and white palette, a billiard room housed in a tiny white cottage, and an expanse of land that drops right down to Obsidian Bay. Then there’s Casa Dalla Valle, a collection of Balinese-style tree houses connected by a labyrinth of wooden walkways. The six-bedroom property includes a glass-sided dining pavilion. The Carissa villa is a contemporary Caribbean design with Hollywood Regency accents, a gazebo bar, a pool table, and flood-lit tennis courts for late-night matches. There’s really a house for every visitor here, whether you want a birthday blowout or a quiet retreat with friends.

The cabanas at the pool at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Photo: Courtesy The Beverly Hills Hotel

There’s iconic, and then there’s iconic. The Beverly Hills Hotel, that pink palace tucked beneath the palm trees, is still my favorite hotel in L.A., and it’s definitely in my top 10 of all time. It sounds cliché, but it’s what you want Los Angeles to be, really: a dream, a mirage in the middle of a city that is often plagued with too much traffic, smog, and C-list celebrities. Yes, I’ve seen Kris Jenner FaceTiming on her iPad as she strolled through the patio of the Polo Lounge, but I’ve also sat next to George Hamilton at breakfast in the beloved Fountain Coffee Room one summer morning when there was a power outage in the city and it was the only place to get a cup of coffee.

Hamilton, like most Hollywood VIPs, knows there’s only one place to shelter when things in La La Land go awry. I happened to be checking in during one wildfire season a few years back and found myself in line with Jennifer Aniston and Tommy Lee Jones, who were (I assume) escaping their smoky homes. It was mid-December, and the hotel was decorated with Christmas trees and life-size nutcrackers, and I couldn’t think of a more welcoming place to hide out. That evening, I ate dinner next to Sandra Bullock and her son, who were all dressed up and enjoying a pre-holiday meal with friends.

Perhaps the reason that these celebrity sightings feel like no big deal at The Beverly Hills Hotel is that the staff treat every guest like a VIP. I remember the first time I pulled up to the hotel in my Taurus rental (these were pre-Uber days), and the young, pink-polo-wearing valet was as friendly and polite to me as he was to the film executive handing over the key to his Range Rover. Another busy afternoon at the pool (always heated to a civilized 82 degrees), the waiter forgot to bring me my McCarthy salad (their version of a chopped salad). When he realized, he immediately comped the rest of my party’s check. Who does that these days? On another travel assignment where I was lucky enough to hole up for a week at the hotel, I became friendly enough with the staff that one of them quietly disclosed to me that Prince was doing late-night rehearsals for the Grammys in one of the ballrooms.

Sadly, I slept through my 3 a.m. wake-up call, but I felt like I had joined the ranks as a hotel regular. You can understand why celebrities have made this place their home away from home, including John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Princess Margaret, and Elizabeth Taylor, who spent six of her eight honeymoons in the property’s famous bungalows—there are 23 of them spread out across the gardens. But it’s not just the friendly and often discreet staff, although the service is seamless and impeccable. It’s the diner-style counter in the Fountain Coffee Room, where the cooks have been expertly working the griddle making fried eggs and world-class tuna melts since 1949; it’s the Dorothy Draper–designed banana-leaf wallpaper that lines the halls; it’s the bougainvillea-draped cabanas and green and white striped loungers at the pool; it’s the chocolate chip cookies left at turndown.

During this last visit, my eight-year-old son was excited when I quietly pointed out the producer of “Stranger Things” (his favorite show) walking into the Polo Lounge, and Ryan Murphy waiting at the valet. But his eureka moment came when he was handed his own VIP card at check in. It granted him unlimited sodas and juices at the poolside Cabana Cafe for the duration of our stay. He was thrilled. I wasn’t, thinking about an unlimited supply of sugar coursing through his veins over the next few days. But then I remembered, it’s The Beverly Hills Hotel, and this is just part of the fantasy.

The front desk of the Janu hotel in Tokyo. Photo: Robert Rieger

Stay at These True and Soon-to-Be Classics Around the World

The Lana, Dubai
Last month, the Dorchester Group, the same owners of the Beverly Hills Hotel, opened The Lana in Dubai. Designed by Foster + Partners, the 30-story building features an infinity rooftop pool, ideal for taking in the city’s ever-expanding skyline. The interiors are by French duo Gilles & Boissier, and each room has an outdoor terrace and floor-to-ceiling glass windows. This April, the hotel will open a Dior Spa on the 29th floor, the brand’s first one in the UAE.

The Ranch, Hudson Valley, New York
California’s beloved Ranch spa finally comes to upstate New York this spring. Steven Gambrel designed the interiors of this former estate, originally built by J.P. Morgan for his daughter in 1902. Guests can sign up for hiking, strength training classes, restorative yoga, deep tissue massages, and organic plant-based meals. The 25-room property is tucked into 200 acres of forest and also includes a 5,000-square-foot solarium with exercise and pool facilities.

Kalesma, Mykonos
Perhaps the only quiet retreat on this party island, Kalesma has 25 suites and two villas spread across five acres. The rooms are a chic blend of natural materials like stone, wood, and marble, with Rick Owens furniture and horse-hair-wrapped sconces by Apparatus. This spring, the property will open a spa with a hammam, sauna, and cold plunge as well as treatments using Dr. Barbara Sturm products.

Janu, Tokyo
The Aman group has just opened their first outpost of Janu, a 122-room property designed by Pelli Clarke & Partners in the new neighborhood of Azabudai Hills, Tokyo’s newest art and cultural hub. The light-filled interiors are done by Jean-Michel Gathy (who recently designed the Aman New York), and there’s also a 43,000-square-foot spa featuring a boxing ring, hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, and two pools.

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