LOS ANGELES — Walking toward me on a pathway lined with exquisite flowers and blooming bushes was a slight young woman wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, her head bent over her cellphone. I didn’t recognize her, but the burly security guard in a three-piece suit who was trailing closely behind her made me think that I should.
After a visit to the Hotel Bel-Air, it is easy to see why this is a favorite hideaway for the rich and famous.
From royalty to politicians to Hollywood celebrities, the who’s who list of guests is impressive: Judy Garland had a favorite room; Oprah Winfrey held a 50th birthday lunch on the front lawn; Charles, Prince of Wales, was quoted as saying, “I slept better in the presidential suite of the Bel-Air than in any other hotel in the world”; and Marilyn Monroe, a frequent guest, had her last photo shoot here just six weeks before her death in 1962.
Hotel Bel-Air, opened in 1946 and nestled on 12 glorious acres of fragrant tropical seclusion less than half a mile off the Sunset Strip, has seen several transformations over the years. Most recently, it was closed in 2009 for two years to undergo extensive renovations.
Managed by the Dorchester Collection, it was restored by two internationally renowned design teams: Alexandra Champalimaud and Rockwell Group, who retained the traditional ambience while giving the hotel a contemporary feel.
The grounds, with soaring trees, draping branches, and cascading vines, create an intimate and welcoming environment, and the swan-filled pond completes the picture-perfect backdrop for the familiar Spanish Colonial architecture splashed in “Bel-Air pink.” There are 103 guest rooms and suites — including 12 new hillside accommodations with sweeping canyon views, outdoor fireplaces, and spacious decks with private infinity-edge spa pools.
Signature touches include limestone floors and wood ceilings, large windows that open to the soothing sounds of birds chirping and water flowing in nearby fountains, 40-inch Bang & Olufsen high-definition televisions, work desks with integrated media hubs that include an iPad, and beds that beckon with crisp sheets and comfortable mattresses. The bathrooms are outfitted with Italian marble vanities, rain showers, and oversize spa tubs with built-in televisions.
The spacious lobby lounge is warm and inviting, a perfect place to enjoy afternoon tea (don’t pass up the sour cherry, blueberry, and buttermilk almond scones), and the new La Prairie spa with a 24-hour fitness studio is an indulgence that should be enjoyed.
A meal at the onsite Wolfgang Puck restaurant is a must. Surrounded by gardens with an indoor-outdoor patio, diners can spend hours enjoying the ambience and the out-of-this-world cuisine. The sweet pea tortelloni pasta was scrumptious, as was the caramelized white corn with parsley. One dessert stood out: the imperial chocolate, a Columbian chocolate flan with spiced ice cream and warm dark-chocolate mousse encased in a chocolate shell topped with an edible gold leaf.
For those looking to swim off some calories, the oval pool is fabulous, with a casual, laid-back vibe. Even before the renovations, there were few properties that compared to this one. Now, there are even fewer, especially when you factor in the incomparably polite, upbeat, and helpful staff.
HOTEL BEL-AIR 701 Stone Canyon Road, Los Angeles. 310-472-1211, www.hotelbelair.com. From $495.