This legendary Miami hotel is packed full of history and tales from days gone by. When you see the imposing building, you are taken right back into the past, and you almost expect to see Al Capone and his cronies drinking cocktails at the bar, or even President Franklin Roosevelt drifting past on a gondola along the canals. The Biltmore is a long way from everything, so it is not really the ideal place to stay if you wish to experience the hectic activity of Miami Beach.
The Biltmore is located in a residential district called Coral Gables, where peace and quiet rule supreme. The hotel's immediate surroundings consist of little other than well-to-do houses and several churches, one of which stands just in front of the hotel. Once you have got settled in at the Biltmore, you will need to take a taxi to get to the lively tourist districts that Miami has to offer. When it comes to shopping, Miracle Mile, a long avenue where you will find just about all the big-name shops, is only a short taxi journey away. The airport is about 15 minutes from the Biltmore by car.
During the golden age of the Biltmore, a network of canals was built, inspired by Venice, and gondolas were imported from Italy so the celebrities of the day could come and enjoy a frivolous time here. Unfortunately, the waterways no longer exist today.
This 1920's hotel building is truly imposing! The Biltmore is the symbol of the golden age of American jazz and that particular era when Al Capone was running his organised crime syndicate. The hotel itself was the ambitious project of a financier who wished to open such an establishment in the virtually unspoilt Coral Gables district in order to enjoy life playing golf and tennis, and lunching with friends...
Back then, the land around Coral Gables was almost untouched, and there were only a few other houses in the area. When the Biltmore opened in 1926, a throng of stars including Gingers Rogers, Judy Garland and many others, as well as crowds of ordinary people, flocked to see the magnificent building that some compare to a Spanish castle, others to a Venetian palace. The hotel has lived through turbulent times and has not always been the happiest of places. During the Second World War, it was converted into a military hospital, and it later became a veterans' hospital. It then lay abandoned for about ten years. In 1983, the city council decided to renovate it and restore it to its original function as a hotel. After 4 years of work, it reopened its doors once more. Then, in 1990, it closed its doors once again and underwent another 10 years of work to restore it to its former splendour.
Today, the Biltmore looks just as impressive as it ever was, and the feeling of wonder continues when you step into the lobby. It is a magnificent, imposing room in which the arches take the centre stage. With its majestic fireplaces, antique furniture, stone columns, chandeliers and heavy wooden doors, you almost feel like you are in a medieval castle.
Everything here was built to a grand scale. Take the swimming pool, for example: it is the biggest hotel pool in the whole of the United States. It is truly impressive, and a quick dip is hard to resist. Little private huts are concealed in a space next to the pool for added privacy. If you like to keep busy on holiday, you should find the Biltmore is right up your street, with its tennis courts, golf course, cookery classes, gym, massages, hammam and sauna. There is also a full schedule of activities for children, with golf lessons, tennis lessons and cookery classes to choose from, depending on their interests.
The hotel's 273 guest rooms are not up to the standard you might expect to find in a member of the Leading Hotels of the World. There are no tea or coffee-making facilities, no iPod dock and the televisions are not of the flat-screen type. The quality of the soundproofing is also so shoddy you'll be able to hear your neighbours snoring, walking around or even blowing their nose. You would be well advised to bring earplugs. On the other hand, the bed is very good quality. There is nothing really special about the decor, which looks a bit cheap and doesn't really have much class. Attempts have been made to make the old fashioned style of the place an original feature, but the result is disappointing. The bathrooms are not very practical, because there is nowhere to put your things and the toilet is just next to the bathtub. To sum up, you might expect a hotel with such a reputation to set its sights higher.
As far as meals are concerned, there are no fewer than 4 restaurants to choose from. The main restaurant, the Fontana, is located in the little inner courtyard, and is planted with luxuriant vegetation that helps take a bit of the heat out of the air. The design of the patio and the fountain with exposed stonework is reminiscent of the Mediterranean style. As for the cuisine, you can enjoy Italian dishes like pasta and pizza here, as well as grilled fish and meat. All the ingredients are grown locally. Breakfast is taken either as a buffet or à la carte. On Sundays, be sure not to miss the Champagne brunch. There are many buffet counters offering sushi, oysters, seafood, caviar, paella, grilled meats and fish, tapenade, cheese, cold cuts of pork, pastries, salmon and even sweets, a chocolate fountain, and endless other options. In addition to this immense choice of dishes, you can drink as much Champagne as you wish.
The restaurant with the best reputation, the Palme d'Or, resembles a little slice of France in Coral Gables. Jeans and t-shirts are not allowed here; dinner jackets are a 'must' for gents, and ladies must come in evening dresses. The cuisine is, of course, French, and the quality is refined. You can even order an excellent fish soup prepared in the French Mediterranean style. The decor alone is eye-catching. The atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties has been captured to a tee, and it could hardly be a more stylish setting.
The other two restaurants are near the golf course and swimming pool. The swimming pool restaurant, the Cascade, serves French and Caribbean cuisine. The golf course restaurant, the 19th Hole, serves meals with a panoramic view over the course. Various menus intended especially for children are available in the restaurants. You can enjoy pre-dinner drinks in either of the hotel's two bars, and tea is served in the lobby in the afternoon.
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