Miami - Florida’s Art and Soul
Written by Andrea Seifert
This vibrant multicultural city, with its glistening bays and beaches, sophisticated dining and shopping, rich architectural heritage, and booming arts scene is both laid-back and exhilarating, the perfect holiday destination.
‘Bienvenido a Miami Seorita!’ A gap-toothed grin spreads across the weathered face of my Honduran taxi driver, chocolate-brown eyes twinkling as he hauls my (sizable) luggage into the boot. With over half of Miami’s population born outside of North America, you’re as likely to hear Spanish spoken as you are English. We are en route to a new boutique hotel at the quieter end of Miami’s iconic South Beach, the Metropolitan by COMO, Miami Beach. As we pull up the driveway, I notice the sign across the white-washed 1930s building says ‘Traymore’. The Historic Preservation Board of Miami requires heritage buildings to retain their original name, causing mild confusion for visitors, but imbuing a strong sense of period charm to the sprawling city.
Miami is essentially divided into ‘mainland’ Miami, with its downtown skyscrapers and residential suburbs, and Miami Beach, which is connected via causeways. A leisurely stroll down the legendary Ocean Drive in Miami Beach is the ideal introduction to the city. Packed with rows of art deco marvels, there are over 800 notable buildings in one square mile. Developed by a group of like-minded architects in the 1930s and 1940s, there is incredible diversity within an overall stylistic unity, rendering it a visual spectacle of the highest order.
Art deco aesthetics are characterised by geometric forms such as spheres, rectangles, chevrons, and ziggurat (stepped) rooflines. You’ll see patterns and symmetry in groups of three in stainless steel, chrome, and lacquer, as well as gleaming terrazzo flooring and plenty of neon lighting. Colony Hotel and The Carlyle boast characteristic art deco ‘eyebrows’, which are cantilevered sunshades that sit over exterior windows, whilst The Essex House Hotel’s porthole windows and racing stripes are hallmarks of art deco maritime themes. The Art Deco Welcome Center is a good place to start, as The Miami Design Preservation League offers tours by local historians and architects.
For another architectural foray back in time, the legendary grandeur of The Biltmore Hotel awaits. Old-world charm permeates this sunflower-yellow mansion complex that evokes the palazzos of Italy and castles of Iberia. Originally built in the 1920s by George Merrick, a prominent developer who founded the Coral Gables neighbourhood, The Biltmore’s centrepiece is its soaring 93-foot tower, modelled after the Giralda Tower in Seville. With a championship golf course and a half-acre swimming pool with luxurious cabanas, this is a celebrated historic landmark, and an ideal place to relax.
Miami is a design and art cultural hotspot that continues to evolve. The newly opened Pérez Art Museum Miami is a model for sustainable museum design, with an impressive 200,000 square feet of hanging gardens and mixed media artworks. Not far from there, The Wynwood Art District is also worth a gander. The area was previously filled with crumbling warehouse facilities, but has been reborn as a creative hotbed with artist studios, over 70 galleries, and The Wynwood Walls, a series of outdoor graffiti art murals by renowned street artists like Shepard Fairey. Fiery colours emblazon surfaces, although there is a stark contrast between the panoply of loud visual stimuli and the distinctly quiet, subdued streets, devoid of both foot and road traffic. On a sunny Friday afternoon, I find myself strolling along solo. Wynwood is still under development it seems, although the terrace of The Black Panther, a trendy café renowned for its artisanal coffee, is heaving with artistic types sporting the obligatory beards and brogues of the hipster generation. Here, baristas tell me the area buzzes during ‘Art Walk’, when visitors flock to see what’s new on the evening of every second Saturday of the month. Everything stays open late and food trucks line the streets to feed hungry punters.
Miami is a foodie paradise. One chef who's making headlines and drawing discerning diners for his farm-to-table cuisine is Michael Schwartz, who is at the helm of Michael’s Genuine, The Cypress Room, and Restaurant Michael Schwartz. His Brand Director Jackie Sayet tells me, “Miami has come into its own as a city that loves food.” I dined at Restaurant Michael Schwartz, beautifully positioned by the legendary curlicue pool of the Raleigh Hotel, and loved the easy-going ambience and fresh fare from Michael’s favourite ranchers, fishermen, and farmers. Jackie says, “There are more quality products being grown nearby. And then you have creative young chefs propped up by this new attention to our city and not afraid to experiment and cook the food they want to eat. It's an exciting time to be a chef in Miami, and a diner.”
It is indeed, especially when one can traverse the globe through its cuisine. The confluence of North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean is what forges Miami’s unique identity. For a taste of Cuba, Versailles in Little Havana is the default grande dame for authentic bites, although if you just fancy a pick-me-up, you can pop into any café for a reviving jolt of sweetened Cuban coffee, guaranteed to kill off any remnants of jet lag. On the main drag of Calle Oche, pop into Azucar Ice Cream Company for a scoop of the iconic Abuela Maria®, vanilla streaked with ruby-red guava, cream cheese, and crispy Galletas Maria. With your cone, head across the road to The Máximo Gómez Park, known as ‘Domino Park’ to watch groups of elderly Cuban gentlemen clad in traditional ‘guayaberas’ (safari shirts) puffing away on cigars and debating politics in spirited Spanish over the clattering soundtrack of dominos. This is a real slice of daily life in Miami.
In addition to food and culture, Miami is all about the great outdoors. There is water everywhere you look, and the legendary beaches really are that beautiful. A great way to enjoy the scenery from another perspective is to take a yacht out for the day, or even a few hours, around Biscayne Bay, as I did. Signs advise that this is a manatee protection zone, although these marine mammals are notoriously shy. Schools of frolicking dolphins are a more common sight, especially at sunset, but sadly they were nowhere to be seen either. If you want to be sure to see wildlife, take a trip to the natural wonders of the Everglades, Florida Keys, and The Biscayne National Park. You’ve also got Caribbean destinations like The Turks and Caicos less than two hours away. There’s just too much to see and do in one trip. I suspect I’ll be back very soon.
The Florida Keys
Although just three hours’ drive from Miami, the Florida Keys are worlds apart from the mainland. Hundreds of islands are dotted like pearls amidst the jade-green waters of a 126-mile string, divided into Upper, Middle, and Lower Keys. Each area has its own character and eco-system. The first, Key Largo, is home to the only living coral reef in the United States, and visitors come to dive, snorkel, and admire aquatic life from glass-bottomed excursion boats. Bordering the marshy wetlands of the Everglades, Islamorada is renowned as a world-class fishing destination, and a gateway to see dolphins, manatees and crocodiles in their natural habitats. Finally, at the very tip, Hemingway’s adopted hometown of Key West is the southernmost city in America, just 90 miles from Cuba. Many of its eclectic inhabitants refer to themselves as ‘Conchs’, descendants of Bahamian immigrants. Kick back and relax with a slice of Key lime pie. You’re on island time now.
Metropolitan by COMO, Miami Beach
Perfectly placed near the action of SoBe, but far from the madding crowds, this new beachfront boutique hotel embodies understated elegance. Soothing colour palettes of sea-foam green and dove-grey accent cool marble and shining chrome, reflecting the building’s art deco heritage. Creature comforts like beach cabanas, a spa and yoga programme and the stellar in-house restaurant The Traymore make this an ideal Floridian nest.
Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa Miami Beach
This award-winning wellness retreat is a veritable cocoon for the body and soul. Rebalance your chakras, scrub down in the Turkish hammam, consult a Chinese-medicine specialist, indulge in a facial, or simply relax in their hydrotherapy facilities. Jenna Grelle-Laramee, Director of Spa & Fitness, advises weary travellers to opt for the 80-minute Muscle Melt for Road Warriors, utilising traditional Thai massage techniques and herbs.
Estiatorio Milos By Costas Spiliadis
Renowned for its fresh seafood with a Greek twist, the restaurant’s chic dining room displays fagri, sea bass, Dover sole and their scaly friends like jewels atop frosty shards of ice. Costas’ inspired menu is dedicated to respecting his carefully sourced produce. Octopus, fish, oysters, and more are available prepared as sashimi, in ceviche, grilled, in salads, or in a sea-salt crust. Don’t miss the creamy Greek honey for dessert.
The real retail mecca in Miami is the upmarket Bal Harbour Shops complex. Well-heeled fashionistas flock to snap up the latest goodies from the world’s finest labels, whilst I simply enjoyed window shopping in the open-air setting lined with lush foliage and koi ponds. The waterfront Bal Harbour village is served by luxury hotels like the St Regis, and fine-dining outlets, so you need never leave this temple to epicurean living.
Distance: 12,342 km
Flight Time: 15 hour, 40 minutes
Frequency: Daily Flights from June 10, 2014