When I was a kid, I loved going to Miami. My grandmother had an apartment on Brickell Avenue which overlooked the water and all the other high-rise condos, and we’d go with my mother into Key Biscayne for lunch to see where they used to live. It was inevitably hot as hell, and my grandmother wouldn’t always make the most politically-correct comments–in that cringey, IDGAF-way that old people have–but being with family in the place my mother grew up felt so special.
Lo and behold, Erik is from Miami, too! Since we’re such a baby relationship (feels weird to remember that, since I feel like we’ve been with each other for decades), our trip there this summer was our first time visiting together. While planning our South Florida stay, there was one hotel he mentioned over and over: The Biltmore.
Anybody familiar with Miami or with luxury hotels knows about The Biltmore: it’s one of the world’s most iconic, classic properties. (You can see it for miles, thanks to its copper tower modeled after the Giralda Tower in Sevilla, Spain.) It’s slightly off the beaten-path, in the upscale suburb of Coral Gables rather than in the heart of Miami’s South Beach or Downtown craziness, which makes The Biltmore all that more special. It’s a destination unto itself.
It’s the kind of place which immediately transports you back in time to the 1920’s. (Indeed, driving up the long, sweeping driveway to check-in, I felt the need for a convertible, a martini, and a Katharine Hepburn accent.) The Biltmore was built in 1926 and is a National Historic Landmark done by the same architects as Grand Central Station in New York City, so you feel its charm and character everywhere. There are 275 guest rooms, 130 Mediterrannean-style suites, 2 Presidential suites, a golf course, a cigar bar, one of South Florida’s most famous Sunday brunches, and the next-level Palme d’Or restaurant helmed by Michelin-starred and James Beard nominated Chef Gregory Pugin.
And then there’s that famous Biltmore pool. Ohhh, the pool. More about it later.
The lobby is absolutely stunning: tall, hand-painted ceilings, vaulted Cathedral arches, European flair, and two massive mahogany and brass bird cages housing 23 tweeting finches. There are photos in the lobby showing The Biltmore’s history, as well as celebrities who have stayed. It’s been home to just about everybody, from The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Judy Garland, Al Capone, Bing Crosby, Franklin D. Roosevelt (who had a temporary office there), King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, Jimmy Carter, George Bush, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Erik told me that, when he was a kid, he remembers The Biltmore as being the hotel for visiting dignitaries, politicians, and celebrities.
Erik worked a little bit of the Courtney charm, and we were upgraded to a Junior Suite with gorgeous views of the golf course. The room was extremely large, with a double-sided floor-to-ceiling bookcase that partially set the bedroom off from the sitting room.
And just look at the views from our balcony. Stunning!
Downstairs, it’s all dark wood, candles and drama, so I think we were expecting the same over-the-top vibe upstairs. But it’s less The Phantom of the Opera…more your grandmother’s sitting room in Boca. (Well, it is Florida!) Still, the bed was insanely comfortable, the sheets were soft and feather pillows were plump, there was a fruit basket brought up for us, and the bathrooms featured Frette robes. We agreed that with more lighting, darker furniture, and a few more decorations on the walls, the room would have been even better. Yes, apparently, we have become interior decorators.
Any issues were purely cosmetic (and mild ones at that)–and if you’re at The Biltmore, you’re probably not going to be spending a lot of time in your room. (Unless you order room service one night, like I did! Erik went out to visit an old friend, and I plead exhaustion, relaxing with a delicious room service hamburger and Friends reruns.) There’s so much to do and explore on the grounds, it would be a waste of an experience! Psst: all rooms offer complimentary wi-fi.
If the sun is out when you arrive, the first thing you need to do when you stay is change into your swimsuit and zip down to the pool. I mean, I could write poems about this pool.
It’s one of the world’s largest and apparently still the biggest pool in the continental US at a half-acre. Back in the day, Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller was a swimming instructor and they used to have water ballet performances for guests. The pool is surrounded by magnificent archways, each featuring a Greek/Roman statue, giving the whole thing a terribly grand “bring me more grapes and champagne!” appearance.
There are several cabanas nestled among the palms, bougainvillea, and hibiscus, each with outdoor rain showers, banana leaf ceiling fans, teak wood chaises, and flat-screen TVs. A couple of them even have pool beds and dining tables. They’re available from 9am to 5pm for a fee; you can reserve one here.
While the pool is unquestioanably the piece-de-resistance, the Biltmore also features an 18-hole, par 71 championship golf course designed by Donald Ross. (Hey, this is Florida, after all!) Other notable amenities: a 12,000 square-foot spa, and 10 lighted tennis courts. This is a hotel tailor-made for a wedding or anniversary, by the by.
Finally, if you love haunted houses, The Biltmore is right up your alley. There have been numerous repeat ghost sightings over the years, including mobster Fatty Walsh, a ghost on the 13th floor, a dancing couple in the ballroom, and a mysterious “woman in white”. (There’s always a woman in white.) Don’t worry: the Biltmore doesn’t have a spooky feel to it. While, yes, it’s quite dramatic and majestic, there’s still a pleasant, peaceful vibe. I’m sure any ghosts who still live here have been mellowed by the Florida sun.
Coral Gables, The Biltmore’s home, is about 20 minutes away from South Beach by car. It would be easy to literally never leave, but if you’re coming from out of town and hoping to use the hotel as a base for Miami exploration, plan accordingly. I think The Biltmore shines best when it’s a destination unto itself.
On the whole, we were thrilled to spend the weekend at The Biltmore. Next time you’re in Miami, add it to the list!
Disclosure: While we were guests of The Biltmore for two nights, as always, all opinions remain my own.