Florida has plenty of places to go for a roaring good time: Daytona, Panama City, South Beach. The destination for relaxation and golf-green quiet, however, is Palm Beach, an island of tranquility and gentility.
When you cross the bridge, Florida is suddenly mannered and understated. This is where south Florida hotels and hospitality were invented and are continually, if discreetly, perfected.
At both its oldest hotel, the venerable Breakers and its newest boutique, the Omphoy, guests can enjoy a suspension of time and stress even while the hoteliers are in a state of constant innovation. In a tough year for hotels, state-of-the-art lodging this summer can cost as little as $250 a night depending on your shopping prowess.
Both hotels sit against pounding Atlantic surf, yet the lobbies and public spaces have an inner peace rare in tourist Florida. Each strives for exceptional food and great staffing. They stress environmental harmony and personal well-being from massages to yoga.
The Breakers is known for its vaulted arches and traditional comfort.
The front of the hotel is greener than ever, although the old croquet lawn seems much the same. A grounds staff of 44 led by ecologists and horticulturalists has irrigated 140 acres with recycled water, planted countless sea grapes and native grasses and installed a bountiful kitchen garden. In season, the herbs
add taste to iced tea throughout the
Along the oceanfront, improvements are dramatic. Beside its beach club, spa and fitness center, the hotel now has five pools, some for kids and one just for
Inside, the Breakers remains a rich castle of coquina stone, the walls hung with medieval tapestries, halls raised high with the vaulted arches of a great cathedral. Its 540 rooms are long on traditional comfort, with overstuffed chairs, figured wallpaper and botanical prints.
You can’t miss the modernized food at L’Escalier, a signature room once known for baroque style and ancien cuisine. Chef Greg Vassos takes the cooking into the new millennium. He uses the latest European techniques to shape-shift foods while intensifying the flavor.
Past Worth Avenue and five miles of crisp-clipped hedges and sharp-quoined mansions and just past the Four Seasons is the Omphoy, a sleek New Age respite built on the footprint of a former Hilton. Only 134 rooms, it is the area’s first oceanfront boutique hotel. Built by the Obadon group, which owns the classic Brazilian Court in town, it imports Miami hipness with a youthful zen rather than frenzy.
The 134-room Omphoy is more Indonesian than Floridian.
Here coquina stone is on the floor but not the walls, the columns in the high-ceilinged lobby are tapers of striped macassar ebony, the entry framed by the signature shinto lintels. The feeling of sheltering shade is immediately cool and serene. Colors are natural dark browns, lapis blue. Hallways are lit by large lantern screens. Floor-to-ceiling windows open directly to the ocean.
Guest rooms are fitted out with the same feel, white linens, big windows, indoor shutters with netting draped at bed corners, bathrooms in hard metals and natural stone — more Indonesian than Floridian.
In a small hotel, amenities are fewer but upscale. The spa is the first Florida location of Exhale, with massages, facials, core fusion classes and a ballet barre for stretching.
The celebrity touch is in the kitchen, where Michelle Bernstein has opened her first restaurant outside Miami and played to solid booking all winter.
For guests at both hotels, the food, the coquina, the breeze and the calming rhythm come from the ultimate Florida attraction: The sea.