Hotel Bel-Air: a home away from Hollywood

The Hotel Bel-Air in California has long provided sanctuary to the stars

Hotel Bel-Air exterior
(Image credit: © Hotel Bel-Air)

Like the morning after a glamorous Hollywood launch party, a period of recuperation from the carousing of Christmas is in order. The Hotel Bel-Air, set in the hills west of Hollywood, has been offering just such sanctuary to the stars since the mid-1940s. It’s now part of the Dorchester Collection, bedfellows with the prestigious Coworth Park in Ascot and, of course, The Dorchester in London.

When you cross the little bridge that connects the entrance and valet parking to the hotel and its 12 acres of tended gardens, you are leaving the world behind. Below, swans glide across the still waters of Swan Lake, the centrepiece of the gardens. Proceed through the warren of courtyards and cloisters and you will notice the old photos of famous guests dotted around the pink walls like slightly fuzzy memories.

Here, John Wayne pets his horse before the Bel-Air’s Spanish mission-style arches as if he were still on the set of one of his Westerns. Over there, Farrah Fawcett and Lee Majors walk arm-in-arm from their “bohemian” wedding, held here in 1973. And by the outdoor pool, Marilyn Monroe laughs and flicks back her blonde curls while leaning on the diving board 20 years earlier, in a white bathing suit and stilettos.

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The pool at the Hotel Bel-Air

Many a film star has relaxed by the pool
(Image credit: © Hotel Bel-Air)

As you stop to admire the swimming pool, squint a little through your sepia-tinted sunglasses. You might just be able to make out the cast of Hollywood’s Golden Age, spread out on sun loungers, reading, napping, playing, ordering another margarita and otherwise “not being famous”. You can watch Dean Martin getting a soaking in the 1966 film The Silencers. Or else take yourself off to the spa.

The menu is comprehensive, offering facials, treatments and massages, using products from Swiss luxury skincare experts Valmont. Lie down for a relaxing signature or hot-stone massage, or, if the festive season really took its toll, the “Ultimate Escape” – a three-and-a-half-hour indulgent full-body pampering. By then, you should be ready for a sundowner.

Californian cuisine

The walls of the stylish bar and lounge display larger-than-life black and white photos of celebrities, such as Cher and Tina Turner, taken in the 1980s by Norman Seeff. My partner and I were installed in a cosy booth at the Wolfgang Puck restaurant next door, surrounded by candlelight, sipping on a “Samurai Sword” of Japanese whisky, honey syrup, lemon juice and ginger. The restaurant menu is a Californian take on Mediterranean cuisine.

My artichoke and Williams pear soup was gently warming, and I continued the pear theme (this time Asian pear) with the thick-cut Colorado lamb chops, served with the pureed fruit, a smoked yoghurt, and an almond “snow”. Delicious. My dinner companion selected the meaty American wagyu “Butcher’s Butter” steak, seared on the outside and rosy in the middle, which came with a rich Armagnac sauce. A piping-hot, yet airy, lemon soufflé, served in its own little copper saucepan, with blueberry sorbet, rounded things off.

Wolfgang Puck restaurant at the Hotel Bel-Air

Mediterranean meets Californian at Wolfgang Puck
(Image credit: © Hotel Bel-Air)

The living room of our junior suite was decked out in the creams, tans and browns of the Dorchester Collection. Against the wall, beneath the television, was a mid-century drinks cabinet with minibar and coffee machine. A coffee table sat in the centre of the room surrounded by a sofa and armchairs.

The bedroom gave out onto a little conservatory with a writing desk, and through the further doors lay a private mini patio garden big enough for two to sit outside with a drink, which must be lovely in spring. The ensuite bathroom accommodated a bathtub, the sides of which, along with the bathroom floor, were of polished limestone. A television was set into the wall above the tub for some lazy viewing and, off to the side, there was a separate shower.

Swan Lake at the Hotel Bel-Air

Swan Lake at the Hotel Bel-Air
(Image credit: © Hotel Bel-Air)

The Hotel Bel-Air also has a number of “signature suites”. The Presidential Suite, as you might imagine, is pretty impressive. It comes with its own pool set in a Spanish-style courtyard. King Charles III apparently once stayed and declared it the best night’s sleep he’d ever had in a hotel. Stick around long enough and you might even have a suite named after you. Grace Kelly did. She stayed the night she won the best actress Oscar in 1955 and made return visits after becoming Princess Grace of Monaco.

Tony Curtis was another resident, who, in 1989, felt so at home, he set up his easel on the lawn to paint. Every nook and cranny tells its story. And by making the Hotel Bel-Air your home in the hills, you, too, become a part of that history.

Chris received a complimentary stay at the Hotel Bel-Air. Rates from $695,

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.