Bal Harbour Retreat

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ONE Bal Harbour
We were sitting on the bustling patio of Carpaccio, the place to dine at the Bal Harbour Shops, the top-selling retail center with the highest concentration of designer shops in the country. In front of me was a steady parade of limos, Rolls, Mercedes and other cars owned by people with no concern about rising gas prices. Behind me was the founder of the community, 93-year-old Stanley Whitman. Across the street was the brand-new St. Regis Bal Harbour,where the lobby was constructed of commissioned marble and African wood, the elevators are magically controlled by the room keys, and the artwork cost $4.5 million. After so many years of can-it-get-worse economic news, it was rather refreshing to be in Bal Harbour, a place where the word recession just means an indentation in a wall where a handbag that costs more than my car is displayed.
A section of the lobby at the new St. Regis Bal Harbour. I felt like I was inside a disco ball.

Cheryl Stephenson, the marketing manager for the Shops and our dining companion, shared with us the story of Stanley Whitman founding the Shops, calling him the Walt Disney of the shopping center industry. It does take a visionary to take a 16-acre property that once housed World War II barracks and transform it into a community founded by fashion. “Only my mother believed in my plan,” he said.

And like Disney World, you may not want to live there all the time. But it sure is fun to visit. After lunch Cheryl took us on a brief tour of the shops. We straggled along being blinded by the gold of the Gucci storefront, awed by the museum-like display of objects in Hermes and a bit stunned by the Harry Winston earrings with the $310,000 price tag. We took a minute to feel the buttery soft non-leather handbags in Stella McCartney. Cheryl asked if we were familiar with Calypso St. Barth. “Of course,” I answered confidently because they had done a line for Target. There we made our last stop on the tour. I instantly felt more at home and managed to snag a gorgeous cashmere sweater at 40% off.

My introduction to Bal Harbour, a small community about 15 minutes north of South Beach, started the day before with a stay at ONE Bal Harbour where my room had one of the most gorgeous bathrooms I’ve ever seen. Along with the museum-quality bathtub, view of the ocean, and TV embedded in the mirror was a huge closet that opened to both the bedroom and the bathroom.

The spa here is a celebrity favorite and although time didn’t allow us to have a treatment we did get a tour. My favorite feature was the pedicure stations that rose up out of the floor.

The view from my huge balcony at the St. Regis.

So perhaps my move to the over-the-top luxury of the St. Regis was a little easier to adjust to. And the glass of champagne at check-in eased the transition to my huge guestroom with two bathrooms where even the toilet paper was displayed on its own stand. In addition to my view of the ocean, I could also see the nine acres of gorgeous gardens. The 210-square-foot balcony was furnished with a table and chairs and two beyond-comfortable lounges where I enjoyed relaxing and reading one afternoon.

Guests here can relax in the Bar and Wine Vault, while dining options include the Spanish cuisine at Atlantico and the Jean-Georges Vongerichten French-Asian restaurant J&G Grill, where we dined one evening on black truffle pizza, parsnip soup and local red snapper.

Other hotels in Bal Harbour include the 27-suite Quarzo, with beach access through an arrangement with ONE Bal Halbour. Every suite has a kitchen with grocery delivery available. The European-style property Sea View is the oldest in Bal Harbour and hosts the Bal Harbour Beach Camp with the Miami Children’s Museum for anyone staying in Bal Harbour. The pool is gigantic and the milkshakes from the Sea View Coffee Shop are reported to be the best around.

If you tire of shopping or lounging poolside at gorgeous hotels (yeah, right!), stroll or run along the beachside Jogging Path, lined with native vegetation. Or take a free beach Pilates or Yogilates class, offered several times a week at the northern end of the beach. Free movies are shown on the beach monthly from November to April.


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