To all intents and purposes, it was a hotel and restaurant; a nice one it has to be said, but a hotel and restaurant nevertheless. But the minute it was pointed out to me that The Carlisle was where Don Johnson stepped out of his red Ferrari in the opening shot of the very first episode of Miami Vice, it took on a whole new meaning for me.
Hands up, I confess I was hooked on Miami Vice. I even contemplated getting a pet alligator once.
Don’s place on Ocean Drive, Miami Beach is in good company, just next door is the Cardozo Bar & Grill, owned by Gloria Estefan, and just a bit further on is the mansion once owned by Versace, now a very exclusive boutique hotel called The Villa by Barton G. ( I had a sneak look inside The Villa and all of Versace’s ostentatious interiors are remarkably retained in all their garish glory including the infamous shower room, but that’s another story).
The renaissance of South Beach and its jaw-dropping collection of original art deco buildings is all down to the Miami Design Preservation League founded by Barbara Capitman in 1976 who lobbied for years to get restoration funding to bring South Beach back from its crumbling dope riddled decline. Today it is just a magnificent stretch of holiday real estate.
I wanted to experience more of South Beach’s charm, to experience and taste its melting pot of cultures, and there’s no finer way to do that than spend your time walking and eating. Miami Culinary Tours conducts a 3-hour walking tour, stopping off at many hidden local restaurants where the accent is most definitely on diverse cuisine. Everything from a Cuban sandwich to a Lobster bisque all with an entertaining historical repartee from your guide.
Away from South Beach’s charms, you could be forgiven for falling in love all over again if you take yourself to the Edge Steak and Bar on the 7th floor of the newly renovated Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Miami. Here, Chef wizard Aaron Brooks is let loose, conjuring up one glorious dish after another in an impressive display of both style and substance. Sitting out on the terrace seven stories up, you really do feel the whole of Miami is at your feet, while Aaron’s team tend to your every need.
Whilst we’re on the subject of top quality, The Biltmore Hotel at Coral Gables is a must-see too. Another one of those famous edifices that fell off their lofty perch, The Biltmore in the ’20s and ’30s was once the haunt of the rich and famous; even Capone was a regular. After years as a derelict building, The Biltmore, now under private ownership, has been rejuvenated and this legendary hotel, complete with its stunning 18 hole golf course is a majestic example of a time gone by. Just imagine yourself sipping a cocktail, lounging in a private cabana next to the huge pool. Glorious.
Back in South Beach, there is an air of the alternative here. You hear Spanish everywhere; proof of Miami’s huge Hispanic community, but tucked away on 6th Street, at The Uhuma Spa, Portuguese is the language of choice. Brazilian Marco Almeida has created an urban sanctuary of well being where the only smoke you’ll encounter is from scented candles and the tea will do you only good and no harm. Taking one look at me he suggested a tea that would address my fluid retention levels; that said, his therapist then conducted a master class treatment that will live long in the memory.
South Beach is a 24-hour town catering for just about everybody and every type of holiday. If you just want to sit on the beach and soak up the sun you can. If you want to eat well you can. If you just want to party. You can.
Me, I just want to hire a red Ferrari, put on my white pants and play Crockett and Tubbs.
Virgin Atlantic flies daily to Miami from London Heathrow. Prices start from £260 plus £356 tax. For more information please visit www.virgin-atlantic.com or call 0844 209 7777