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R BlockBoutique Boomtown

The Westin? Love it. The Intercontinental? That’s a “10.” The Ritz-Carlton? There must always be a Ritz-Carlton.

And yet, if a critique is to be had, it is this: If you’ve been to one Westin/Intercontinental/Ritz-Carlton, you’ve been to them all. Which, if you’ve been to one, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it allows for only a very borderline exposure to the flavor and flair of the locale you are in.

This may explain the astonishing proliferation of boutique hotels. Small, local, and able to absorb native quirks without the “trying too hard” look, these more-intimate establishments offer up an experience in-sync with their surroundings. Not surprisingly, Miami, whose pastel-colored culture is a true blend of American muscle and Caribbean zest, is a veritable 101 on the concept:

 

The Betsy

Overlooking the titanium white sands of South Beach, the Betsy Hotel (named for Betsy Ross) is something of a grand dame of the Magic City, having opened all the way back in 1942. Easy to spot with its Florida-Georgian Colonial facades in a sea of Art Deco, the Betsy’s 61 rooms and suites are private havens for the senses. Interiors are tropical, airy, elegant, and as low-key as a dawn breeze off the Atlantic. A courtyard pool sits off of a lobby awash in natural light, and the rooftop deck offers a Wellness Garden with a range of treatments and massage therapies, while therapies of a different sort await at the lobby bar.

 

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Photo: The Betsy Hotel

 

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Photo: The Betsy Hotel

 

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Photo: The Betsy Hotel

 

A darling of Condé Nast reviewers and actors ranging from the Rat Pack to James Franco, the Betsy culiminates its experience in the Royal Suites. Featuring palatial king-size bed, separate living/entertaining area, ocean views, and cathedral ceilings, it is here that guests are ensconced in rarely seen stately side of Miami. From walk-in closets to large baths with showers and double vanities, this mini-manor delivers the extra luxury necessary for short visits and spacious comfort for longer ones.

 

The Palms Hotel & Spa

With 251 rooms, this is one big boutique. Visitors enter through massive, double height colonial doors, and the sweeping vastness of the property takes off from there.

Guestrooms draw upon the soft hues of sand and sea: Custom designed wood furnishings, fabrics in shades of brown, cream and turquoise with orange accents, and pillow-top mattresses and 400-thread count Egyptian cotton linens. Spa-inspired bathrooms feature all-new fixtures including a rain showerhead and mosaic tiles. Two junior suites offer a seating area and a balcony overlooking the city while two one-bedroom suites include a spacious living room and oceanfront balcony.

 

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Photo: The Palms Hotel

 

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Photo: The Palms Hotel

 

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Photo: The Palms Hotel

 

A 4-diamond hotel, The Palms epitomizes seaside tranquility, and just to prove the point, the on-site Aveda lifestyle spa reduces a lucky few to a liquid state with treatments and rituals delivering a highly personalized experience influenced by ancient Ayurvedic holistic philosophy.

When asked about the Palms Hotel “experience,” PR manager Vanessa Lopez paints a picture: “Close your eyes. The sound of the ocean, a soft breeze caressing your face, a lush tropical garden with palm trees, birds of paradise, orchids and bougainvillea embracing you.”

 

The Hotel Astor

Because there had to be some Art Deco in this somewhere, and there is no place better than here.

A bodyslam back to the days of speakeasies and the Charleston, The Astor lounges smack in the middle of sensuous South Beach, and dashes its rooms and suites with just enough modernity to keep your footing. Coastal Living magazine enshrines the Astor as the best boutique hotel in town, and unique features such as the original 1936 Vitrolite wall panels and cut-coral façade seamlessly blend with very modern amenities like multilingual staff, free WiFi, and waffle-weave bathrobes.

 

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The top of the top is 1,100-square-foot Astor Suite, a man-made Arcadia where grandeur and decadence walk hand in hand. The emerald granite bar-top, the deep sofas, the oversized marble bathroom, the terrace with views of the courtyard—this might be the one place that actually outdoes the city of Miami Beach itself.

And why not? The rooms are luxurious enough, and with the new Casa Fiorentina restaurant bringing in all the tastes of Tuscany, guests may actually throw a “no-wanna-go!” tantrum when it comes time to leave.

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