The Biltmore, the Grande dame of Coral Gables, is still a stunning beauty—sometimes impoverished and sometimes in the chips. That’s life. Oh, she has had a few face-lifts and some full body restoration/preservation since the Roaring Twenties, occasionally reinventing herself with multiple personality changes and often empty and abandoned. It was not until 1984 that money and the ability to visualize spoke up. The Coral Gables Biltmore Corporation took over and changed history.
Today, The Biltmore wears the patina of age with dazzling personal style: a triumvirate of art deco, Mediterranean revival and cutting edge modern. Ten Har-Tru tennis courts, a state of the art fitness centre with more than 100 fitness classes a week, Biltmore Kids that is even better than summer camp. One visit, or two, never seems enough.
Fabulous Things To Do At The Biltmore
Dine at Palme d’Or: Chef de Cuisine Philippe Ruiz, a Chevalier De L’Ordre Du Mérite Agricole, the highest honour awarded a French Chef, and Head Sommelier Sébastien Verrier have created one of the finest French restaurants in the world, according to the powers that be. Flavours are emphatic and there are some truly transcendent moments. The intensely perfumed Maine Lobster Bisque “My Way” is presented delicately. Maine scallop mousse ravioli in saffron cream cappuccino is a must. If I tasted nothing else, this would suffice. My attention is drawn to the black and white photos of guests of the past so renowned they are recognizable a half-century later. Other moments to remember: Ruiz braises beef for seven hours to fulfill its texture and flavour and presents it with creamy potato mousseline and organic micro greens. There are no shortcuts taken, no flaws in presentation or balance of flavours, and the wine choices by Verrier, an expert whose palate is intimate with all the nuances of the menu, make dinner here a privilege.
Here’s a chance to experience your best golf game ever, or improve it with instruction from the Pro. The Biltmore Golf Course is an 18-hole, par-71, championship course, designed in 1925 by Donald Ross, a transplanted Scotsman and the pre-eminent golf designer of his era. It has always attracted dignitaries, movie stars and sports luminaries. Variety, strategy and naturalness are the most consistent traits in a Ross design. In 2007, the architect Brian Silva took up the restoration. Bring the kids, because the Golf Learning Center focuses on cross training to improve young players’ skills. Ask about the largest driving/practice area in the southeast. And here’s an amenity that I like: each golf cart is equipped with GPS navigation.
R&R at the Spa
Call on the Spa Concierge to arrange for a mani/pedi or a day or a week at the Spa. Consider a heavenly spa experience for two: The Zen Spa Suite features its own personal sauna, dual rainforest shower and two massage beds to enjoy spa treatments side-by-side. How does a Chardonnay Signature massage sound to you, or an aromatherapy bubble bath? There is a deluxe pedicure station, multi-jet bathtub for two to melt tensions and a relaxation area with lounging chairs to indulge in a restorative nap. Order in for an intimate dinner, and watch a special sporting event or movie. After a day or two of golf, the Spa is a blessing.
Sunday Champagne Brunch at Fontana
A menu of modern Italian specialties appeals to everyone. While there is seating inside, most enjoy dining at a table set in the gorgeous landscaped courtyard centred by a fountain worthy of a square in Rome. The breeze gentles the scent from the wood-burning pizza oven and we hear the birds but don’t see them. Fontana opens at 6:30 a.m., a boon for active guests and early risers. The extravagance of the buffet will stop all conversation. Admire the selections and choose carefully, as you simply cannot have everything. A sampling of smoked salmon and caviar, shellfish and seafood, carved meats, pastas and omelettes made to order. And since The Biltmore is a citizen of the world, yes, there is sushi in this Northern Italian restaurant.
To learn well, get the best teacher, they say. Lourdes Castro, an instructor at NYU Nutrition and Food Studies Department, leads a three-day, totally hands on Boot Camp. Newlyweds, groups of friends, private classes, all will leave knowing how to prepare several dishes very well. The modern kitchens have eight stations and there are even three-hour classes that can fill a morning with wonder. Imagine preparing perfect pan-seared blackened Mahi-Mahi, or braised short ribs in red wine reduction. It’s a good plan for kids birthday parties, team building classes and more.
The World-Famous Biltmore Pool and Lunch at Cascade
Johnny Weissmuller, who became a star as the first Tarzan of the movies, was “discovered” when he worked as a lifeguard at this 23,000 sq. ft. pool, the largest hotel pool in the U.S. The aura of celebrity parties, famous fashion shows and exhibits lingers in this pristine pool. A fitting lunch at the Cascade, poolside, is an order of stone crab claws from the Spa cuisine or French-Caribbean menu.
1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables, Miami, FL, 305-445-1926, 1-800-727-1926
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.