Author: GEORGE EPAMINONDAS
Photography: the setai
Well-travelled visitors to The Setai might find themselves wondering, "Am I in Miami or Bali?" Rearing up on Florida's sun-drenched coast, the retreat has the unexpected ambience of a South-East Asian sanctuary. Exotic hand-woven rugs and carved jade sculptures grace the foyer. The courtyard, where you might expect revellers noisily quaffing Mojitos, features serene ponds and pergolas. In the spa, bathtubs overflow with fresh rose petals, while the rich suites are adorned with raffia bibelots and luxe body treatments. And then there's the resort's sedate colour scheme, which jettisons Miami's stock pastel hues for earthy tones and teak fixtures.
Welcome to Ubud in South Beach. Zen-like accoutrements create a prevailing sense of tranquillity that, in a throbbing neon-lit city like Miami, is to be cherished. No wonder discerning gadabouts have been making the hotel their base since it opened just over a year ago under the auspices of Adrian Zecha, founder of Amanresorts and the Singapore-based General Hotel Management group. The Setai, a renovated Art Deco building, is equal parts hotel and condominium; fused to the hotel is a 40-storey glass tower of residential apartments, which have sold for about $1.27 million to $15.27 million. The Setai manages 50 tower residences that are available to rent. They have expansive wraparound balconies with hypnotic views of the Atlantic.
The hotel's lavish decoration evokes Shanghai Art Deco, with antique Chinese brick floors, lattice panelling, bronze fireplaces and a tasteful smattering of Asian artefacts and artworks. Modern touches include a mosaic of mother of pearl that embellishes the Champagne bar. In the kitchen, talented Australian chef Shaun Danyel Hergatt extends the hotel's pan-Asian palette with exceptional menus. Hergatt, a 32-year-old from Cairns, is adept at balancing spice contrasts, such as the competing flavours of chilli, ginger and cinnamon. One evening Hergatt dazzled guests with a lush tasting menu that included salt-pressed Tasmanian ocean trout, creamy Dungeness crab soup, green garlic-marinated quail and chilli-brushed king prawns imported from Australia.
The Setai seduces with layers of serenity. Dream on a day bed by one of the three pools, each one a slightly different temperature than the last, attend a vigorous yoga class in the fitness centre, pamper yourself with a Sumatra coffee body polish at the spa or just set up camp at the beach with its carefully raked sand and soothing blue sea. And then retire to your thoughtfully designed room, which comes equipped with Lavazza espresso machine, flat-screen television and Irish linen, while Acqua di Parma toiletries make a dramatic statement against the black granite rain shower.
The chic, designer bar, with its fruity libations and a DJ spinning ambient electro, is busiest on Saturday evenings, but thankfully not too busy. Cool and collected pleasures reign supreme here, which makes it something of a pleasant anomaly in South Beach. If you want to see what you're being sheltered from step next door to the blondes, the bling and the brassy beautiful people at Delano and The Shore Club. The hotel is also a five-minute walk from Lincoln Road Mall and a 20-minute drive from downtown Miami, home to super-clubs such as Space and swank new eateries including Karu&Y. But wherever you wander in this decadent city, there's extra pleasure knowing that you can always retire to the cosseted splendour of The Setai.
The Setai, 2001 Collins Ave, Miami, Florida, +1 305 520 6000, www.setai.com. Studio suites from about $1150 to $7600 for a three-bedroom suite with an ocean view and balcony.
MIAMI HAUTE SPOTS
Lincoln Road Mall is a breezy collection of al fresco boutiques and restaurants but we're partial to Quattro (1014 Lincoln Rd, +1 305 531 4833), a new arrival serving meticulous Italian fare; Ice Box Cafe (1657 Michigan Ave, +1 305 538 8448), a light-filled haunt just off the strip with an excellent brunch menu; and Base (939 Lincoln Rd, +1 305 531 4982) an eclectic store that sells edgy clothing, colourful tchotchkes and CDs.
For upscale fashion labels, take a 15-minute taxi ride to Bal Harbour (9700 Collins Ave, +1 305 866 0311), an elegant whitewashed mall with stores including Prada, Gucci and Christian Dior. Stop here, also, for a bite at Carpaccio (+1 305 867 7777), which offers old-school Italian.
For serious people-watching with fewer clothes, zip back to the beach and cruise up Ocean Drive, a pulsating sliver of hotels, bars and naked flesh.
It's easy to eat well in Miami at places such as Prime One Twelve (112 Ocean Dr, +1 305 532 8112), Casa Tua (1700 James Ave, +1 305 673 1010) and Barton G (1427 West Ave, +1 305 672 8881) are among the best and buzziest restaurants now. The coolest bars? Try Mokai (235 23rd St), from the same people who brought us Mynt (1921 Collins Ave, +1 786 276 6132), and Snatch (1437 Washington Ave, +1 305 604 3644), where Lance Armstrong and Matthew McConaughey partied this summer.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (3251 South Miami Ave, +1 305 250 9133, ) is a historic landmark - it's a stunning palace built in 1916 overlooking Biscayne Bay. Wander through rooms brimming with opulent art and furniture, and witness sublime gardens. Vizcaya is used as a venue for events like the White Party, but the party of the year remains Art Basel Miami Beach, held each December for art lovers and scenesters from around the world.