There are places where celebrities are seen and there are rare places where celebrities are not seen. However, there’s only one place that has gracefully encased celebrities in its 30-acres of seemingly secret gardens for more than 70 years: the Hotel Bel-Air. The Prince of Wales reportedly said: “I slept better in the Presidential Suite at the Bel Air than in any other hotel in the world. Tom Cruise once said, “I have stayed at the Hotel Bel-Air and I always feel very comfortable there.” What is it about this classic hotel, complete with gliding swans and no less, that is considered Hollywood’s paradise? I think I discovered it during a recent stay at the Hotel Bel-Air.
The highest quality required to exist as a celebrity retreat: discretion by design. Although it’s only about a mile from Sunset Blvd, the drive to the Hotel Bel-Air is nondescript along a narrow street marked by colossal hedges and chic gates that cloak the mansions and estates that Bel-Air is known for . A few subtle pink signs indicate the direction of the property, but apart from those cues, Hotel Bel-Air just around the corner feels like any house in a neighborhood. Except, of course, that this neighborhood is Bel-Air and almost no house sits casually on a street.
The friendly valet will take your car and you’ll walk over a small footbridge, maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of one of the property’s swans (Chloe, Athena, Hercules or Odette) skating on the hotel’s ponds. There is a massive mature tree that literally appears through the walkway bridge and 12 to 15 foot tall white birds of paradise, small yellow daffodils, billowing red bougainvilleas and orange blossoms frame the walkway. The splashing of water from a fountain can be caught somewhere. No one seems to be around, and that’s on purpose. This is the moment I have had several times during my stays over the years at the Hotel Bel-Air, but especially on this visit: a precise moment to go “over the rainbow” (or at least the hotel’s bridge) and to feel a bit transported into a sparkling, secret world.
Across the bridge, one meanders right into the hotel lobby (understated, again by design) or through the open-air restaurant owned by Wolfgang Puck, who often swings alone to greet guests on their way home a few blocks from the hotel. I’ve always found that endearing (and met him twice in the restaurant), and that’s another reason why the Hotel Bel-Air maintains not only its discretion but also a remarkable cordiality: it’s an irresistible feeling to come home. Celebrities still get it. Long after the stints of Marilyn Monroe, the Beatles, Richard Nixon, Doris Day and countless others, Hollywood’s elite still find their way back to the Hotel Bel-Air. Fashion kings Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Isaac Mizrahi and Oscar de la Renta are said to be often linked. Russell Crowe hosted his 2001 Oscar night party in one of the hotel’s 45 suites. Oprah Winfrey hosted the cast of Friends for their final interview at the hotel, and Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston were the last friends to have lunch at their 2015 reunion. As Prince Charles once described, the Hotel Bel-Air is like “at a rich friend live”. Even if you are rich and famous, anyone can enjoy such a treat.
The Hotel Bel-Air’s warm friendliness continues in its 103 guest rooms and suites, thanks to the all-star design eye of Canadian-born Alexandra Champalimaud. My suite had an actual fireplace that was set up and lit by a doorman each night, curved patio doors, heated limestone floors, and a small bottle of lavender pillow spray to lull me to sleep. Other suites have two-piece fireplaces, private infinity whirlpools, and the most luxurious bathrobes imaginable. Given the large number of suites with their individual design motifs, such as For example, the Grace Kelly and Chalon suites, it is a good idea to ask the reservations team for recommendations on which suite or room to book. Consider the number of rooms as another perk of rich friendliness, which it certainly is.
Some people visit a hotel once, perhaps for a business trip or vacation. I like to think of the Hotel Bel-Air, as I’m sure celebrities do, as a luxurious home that people return to often. Maybe your rich friend owns it, but that dear friend still welcomes you. With its utmost discretion and cordiality, Hotel Bel-Air remains such a treasured place.