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People-watching on Miami's South Beach

12:00 AEST Fri Oct 21 2011
Miami conjures up many images. Beaches, very tanned people, mansions, fancy hotels, luxury resorts, flash cars and a dollop of crime and vice. When Kelly Landry knew she was going there her thoughts were pretty much the same and she couldn't wait to have a good look around.

One of the first things she noticed was the beautiful art deco architecture. Miami created its own version in the 1920s and 30s. It is called "Miami Modernism" or "MiMo" and is one of the world's best preserved and most delightful examples of the style. Its National Register listing recognises its importance.

Miami sits on the very south-east coast of the long state of Florida. Its proximity to South and Central America has made it the biggest Latin American outpost in the United States.

When Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in the 1950s, many Cubans fled and settled in Florida. It's worth taking time to wander around the Little Havana neighbourhood. It's noisy and colourful and good coffee is cheaper there than anywhere else in Miami.

Many Americans retire to the warmer climate of Florida — others are lucky enough to have a home there and spend winter away from snow and ice.

South Beach is a great place for people watching and to stay. Every block has pastel-hued buildings, chic restaurants, bars, really hip clubs and plenty of shops. Whether it's three o'clock in the morning or afternoon, it's always lively.

South Beach is the location for countless films, television programs and fashion shoots so on your first visit much of it may look familiar.

It's not easy to choose a hotel with 60,000 rooms available in the city, but Kelly has come up with some choices.

The Setai

Miami's most expensive accommodation is a mix of South-East Asian temple architecture. Rooms are chocolate teak and furnished with Chinese and Khmer embellishments. Each floor has 24-hour butler service.

The Penthouse on the 40th floor covers 930 square metres and is the optimum in indulgence. It has four bedrooms — one can be used for the nanny or maid! There are two jacuzzi tubs, steam shower and guest powder room. There are two living rooms and a music room with a Steinway piano which Beyoncé and Jay-Z no doubt made good use of when they stayed.

The terrace has a rooftop eternity pool and jacuzzi and a butler is on around the clock for all your needs. The list of celebrities who have stayed there is very extensive.

Fontainebleau

Having recently had a $1 billion renovation and expansion, you would hope Fontainebleau would be swanky.

The Fontainebleau is on nine hectares and rises 305m above Atlantic Ocean beach. It opened in 1954 and has always been a spectacular blend of the glamorous golden era and modern luxury. In the 1960s it was the favoured hangout for Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack.

The hotel has nine restaurants, cafes and nightclubs. Three of the restaurants have signature chefs and are open for dinner only. Solo, the bakery, is worth a trip. The pastries and chocolates are divine. There are boutiques selling top designer clothing and accessories and a fabulous pool area. There's a large free-form main pool, European pool, multiple dipping pools and an interactive children's waterscape. Cabanas come with 32-inch televisions, butler service, refrigerator and a safe.

The Villa by Barton G

On Ocean Street, this magnificent 1930s villa was created as Casa Casuarina. It was built by architect, philanthropist, author and political reformer Alden Freeman as homage to Alcazar de Colon in Santa Domingo, the oldest house in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1937 it became The Amsterdam Palace and ran as an apartment building. In 1992 the late Italian couturier Gianni Versace restored, expanded, embellished The Villa and added a south wing, a pool with a thousand mosaics and garden areas.

The combination of Mediterranean-inspired architect Barton G Weiss and Versace could only produce such a pretentious residence. Sadly it is also where Versace was shot to death on his steps in 1997.

The Villa is off-limits to tourists but you can certainly dine there or book a room for the night. There are 10 paint-box coloured suites dotted around an internal courtyard in Italian, Persian, Egyptian, Wedgwood and baroque styles. Furniture and furnishings are lavishly appointed — there are Versace fabrics, Frette linens and Bose music systems.

Back in the real world, the buzz increases as the sunlight gives way to neon lights.

Location

Miami in Florida on the south-east coast of the United States.

Cost

The Setai rooms start at around $670 a night. The Setai Penthouse is around $30,000 a night.

The Villa by Barton G rooms start at $920 a night. The Villa Suite starts at $2500. Personal butler, Villa nibbles, use of two private lounges, priority reservations at the three Barton G restaurants and exclusive use of the Thousand Mosaic Pool are included.

Prices correct at October 22, 2011.

For further information

Setai
2001 Collins Avenue
Miami FL 33139
United States
Ph: +1 305 520 6000
www.setai.com
setai@ghmamericas.com

Fontainebleau
4441 Collins Avenue
Miami FL 33140
United States
Ph: +1 305 538 2000
www.fontainebleau.com
info@fontainebleau.com

The Villa by Barton G
1116 Ocean Drive
Miami FL 33139
Ph: +1 305-576-8003
www.casacasuarina.com
info@thevillabybartong.com

Visas: Most Australians do not need a visa, providing they have a machine-readable passport with at least six months' validity after the departure day, have a round-trip non-refundable ticket and do not intend to stay longer than 90 days. Australians need to complete a pre-travel authorisation at www.cbp.gov/esta.

Electricity: 110V to 115V at 60Hz. Outlets take two parallel, flat prongs. Australian visitors will need a US adapter and converter.

Time zone: Florida is GMT -5.

Currency: The American dollar.

International dialling code: +1.

It is recommended travellers see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and best discussed with your doctor. For further information visit www.smartraveller.gov.au.

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