Travel feature: Miami, Florida
With its mix of iconic art deco architecture, unadulterated glamour, vibrant Cuban culture and a sprawling city playground in the backdrop, Miami Beach is a tropical beach paradise like no other.
Known as a playground for the rich and famous and a place where superstar music artists headline one of the many nightclubs on near enough a daily basis, the Floridian gem was every bit as slick, glitzy and indulgent as I had anticipated.
In fact, the place lived up to every one of its stereotypes – hyper-tanned models sauntering along the pristine white sands of the picture perfect beach, bikini-clad roller bladers gliding along the boardwalk and hipsters hanging out in the many sidewalk cafes and bars, with flash cars and bling at every turn.
Anointed the “American Riviera”, South Beach – which forms a large chunk of the Miami Beach peninsula – is lined with St Tropez-chic boutique hotels, cool bars and dusk-till-dawn nightclubs, and it formed our base for the week.
It’s also home to the pastel ice-cream shades of the whimsical architecture in the Art Deco District, the backdrop of Al Pacino’s Scarface and hit 80s show Miami Vice.
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With 800 protected buildings from the 1930s and 1940s, it’s the largest concentration of such architecture in the world. South Beach’s most famous restaurant, Espa�ola Way, is in the north of the district and looked resplendent, lit with neons at night.
You didn’t have to venture far to soak up the Cuban culture characterising Miami since the mass exodus from the Carribean island in the 1960s, either.
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We stayed at Shelborne Hotel – a reborn 200-room art deco hot spot in a prime location in South Beach which has recently undergone a $20million renovation. It’s selling points include a chic pool area which hosts a massive party every Sunday afternoon, and was taken over by The Rock and his entourage for filming another day.
But nothing epitomises South Beach glamour quite like the famous Nikki Beach Club, which has gone on to open many other luxury oceanfront bars around the world with its signature white sunloungers. Diners flock here every Sunday for its famous all-you-can eat brunch. There’s a serving station for everything from omelettes, pasta, freshly carved meats and paella to waffles and crepes – all cooked to perfection.
There’s a party vibe which continues until the next morning, with the brunch giving way to an all-day beach party before revellers ramp up the glam and hit the dancefloor of its nightclub, which proved to be our favourite nightspot of the week with its classy yet unpretentious atmosphere.
We also visited Nikki Beach for its Gypsy Nights event, where elaborately-costumed fire dancers entertained diners tucking into the special – and very reasonably priced – whole lobster feast, washed down with white sangria. Other good nights were had at SET nightclub and LIV at celebrity favourite hotel Fontainebleu which, for the moment, has the reputation of being the most exclusive club in Miami.
But many of the entry policies were as superficial as Miami Beach’s humble beginnings as a man-made island on top of a coconut plantation, with surly doormen parading up and down the line taking their pick of people to allow in – you just had to accept it for what it was.
And anyone seeking the brash and outgoing atmosphere of a party holiday resort only has to head for the contrasting Ocean Drive – South Beach’s main strip – lined with cheesy bars without any uptight entry policies. No trip to Miami would be complete without a trip to frozen daquiri bar Wet Willies, which has every flavour imaginable.
Many would argue that Miami City has taken over on the nightlife front – and the sprawling city skyscape certainly provided a refreshing change of scenery.
The journey to the mainland also brought one of the best meals of the holiday – at the Azul restaurant within the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and Spa, spectacularly located on a peninsula overlooking the city.
With floor to ceiling windows showcasing incredible bay views, it’s hard to imagine a better place to spend an evening in the city – and the European, American and Asian-fusion food was even more impressive.
With dishes including seared tuna with avocado for starter, and scallops, crab, halibut and melt-in-your mouth steak on the main course, all the dishes had an imaginative twist and demonstrated why the restaurant is among the most highly regarded on the city’s food circuit.
It was the perfect way to round off an incredible trip which, with its winning combination of cutting edge urban chic and old world Florida, only left us wanting to return.