Low-Key Luxury in Los Angeles

Taking a step back in time at the Hotel Bel-Air

By: By Deanna Ting


Hotel Bel-Air
701 Stone Canyon Road
Los Angeles, CA 90077

Commission: 10 percent
Guestroom rates range from $395 to $695 per night, while suites range from $875 to $4,500 per night.

Fresh Scents of Bel-Air

Photo: Halcyon Blue Bath Products // (c) 2008
Halcyon Blue

Longtime guests of the Hotel Bel-Air may have noticed something new this fall in their rooms, well bathrooms, to be exact. In August, the hotel officially began carrying Halcyon Blue bath and body products, an exclusive, U.S.-only line from Australian businesswoman Val Harding.

Harding is no stranger to the hotel toiletries business: Her company, the Val Harding Collection, distributes Molton Brown and Gilchrist & Soames hotel amenities and is also responsible for its own bath and body line, Serendipity, which can be found in some of Australia’s most exclusive hotels and spas. The Halcyon Blue collection was Harding’s first entry into the U.S. market and a welcome addition to the storied Hotel Bel-Air, the first hotel in the States to carry the line.

While I don’t usually feel compelled to write about hotel amenities such as lotions or shampoos, the Halcyon Blue line was unique and different. Each product in the line uses essential oils and fresh, appealing scents such as bergamot, mandarin, peppermint, orange and grapefruit; nothing was overly heady or feminine — a welcome change from the usual hotel room offerings — and the products leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed.

Harding herself described the line as “clam, peaceful, tranquil and blissful.”

Even better, all of the products came in a generous 100-milliliter-sized tube, so I didn’t feel guilty indulging in a second lather of shampoo or another application of the creamy body balm. Each tube also featured a different logo variation, so I could easily spot the difference between my shampoo and conditioner. In all, there were five different Halcyon Blue bath products to be found in my room: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body balm and boxed shea butter soap that didn’t dry out my hands like most hand soaps do. And, for clients with sensitive skin, the line is especially well-suited since it is free of artificial colors and sodium lauryl sulfate, a common foaming detergent that can cause skin problems in some people.

Harding hopes to have Halcyon Blue in more hotels and resorts in the coming year, but until then, your clients can experience it exclusively at the Hotel Bel-Air.

Val Harding Collection

“Bel Air” conjures up a number of images for most of us, whether it’s notions of grandeur, or even remembrances of a certain television sitcom from the '90s. Either way, one thing is for certain: Associations with the Los Angeles neighborhood share two key ingredients — exclusivity and luxury.

I should know, having recently stayed at one of the neighborhood’s most iconic establishments, the Hotel Bel-Air. The hotel encapsulated all of those elements, but without the pretentiousness you might expect from a Mobil Five-Star property and member of the prestigious London-based Dorchester Collection. Now, I understood why so many celebrities and dignitaries — from Marilyn Monroe to the Clintons — have chosen to stay at the hotel for the past 62 years: It offered a kind of low-key luxury that is hard-to-find and even harder to execute.

Photo: The Hotel Bel Air // (c) 2008
Hotel Bel-Air

Driving to the Hotel Bel-Air, I passed familiar grounds — including my old alma mater, UCLA — but as soon as I started climbing along the winding road that led up to the property, I felt like I was in a whole different place, a part of Los Angeles I had never really experienced. Those feelings stayed with me for the entirety of my stay; even though I was only five miles from my home, I felt like I truly was on vacation.

And the hotel’s attention to details — from my green tasseled room keys to a Welcome Tea spread complete with fragrant fruits and pastries — made it feel more like a home than a stuffy, packaged hotel stay. In fact, none of the hotel’s 91 rooms or suites is exactly the same; each has its own layout and furnishings so your clients are guaranteed a different experience whenever they stay.

My room was tucked away in a remote corner of the hotel, so one of the hotel staff members personally guided me to it as soon as I had finished checking-in. As we walked toward my room, I felt like I was taking a step back in time, especially when I caught a glimpse of the hotel’s iconic oval-shaped pool. The hotel was modeled after a traditional Spanish Colonial style, albeit with pastel pink stucco exteriors and red-tiled roofs, and all its rooms were surrounded by numerous water fountains and lush gardens. In fact, there are so many different plants at the hotel — more than 200 to be exact — that it could probably double as a botanical garden, complete with its very own Swan Lake. An 8,600-square-foot herb garden supplies basil, rosemary, oregano and mint for the hotel kitchen. Such verdant grounds make a stunning setting for weddings, too.

And while I also felt immersed in Hotel Bel-Air’s rich history, I also caught a glimpse of its future, including the construction site of its new $6 million, 12,000-square-foot spa. The spa is a first for the hotel: While Hotel Bel-Air guests could always request in-room spa treatments during their stay, the hotel never housed its own spa facility. All that will soon change next summer when the spa officially opens. The spa will feature 10 individual private spa suites, a yoga and Pilates studio, an organic juice bar, a 1,000-square-foot fitness center and the addition of three residential spa suite guestrooms (for a total of 94 rooms). In the interim, two converted suites will serve as the hotel’s fitness center. And, in true Hotel Bel-Air style, each 350-square-foot treatment room will feature an outdoor shower and plunge pool, an open-air private garden, a personal sauna, steam and Swiss shower.

I had no sooner placed my purse down in my room when I was greeted with complimentary Welcome Tea — a perfect way to spend my afternoon. I decided to take my tray outside and soak up the sun on my private patio, complete with iron-wrought chairs and a table.

The room itself was spacious and felt more like a Tuscan bed-and-breakfast; the decor consisted of soft pastels and floral patterns, accented with rustic terra-cotta, glistening marble and a cozy, wood-burning fireplace. The bathroom was bright and airy, and I appreciated the separate vanity counter space and well-lit mirror. I also had two closets, which was more than enough space for my belongings. Finally, after settling onto the plush bed with 440-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, I never wanted to get up.

Eventually, however, I mustered enough energy to head out for dinner at the hotel’s award-winning restaurant. The Restaurant, one of only two Los Angeles restaurants that belong to the Relais & Chateaux collection, did not disappoint. I savored my appetizer of soft-shell crab and shrimp tempura, as well as my entree of succulent huckleberry short ribs. My companion’s bouillabaisse was filled to the brim with fresh seafood and a rich tomato- and saffron-based broth poured directly from a tea kettle. We dined al fresco at The Terrace, taking in the serene, candle-lit atmosphere, watching old friends reminiscing, families celebrating birthdays and couples toasting to anniversaries. Even if your clients don’t choose to stay at the hotel itself, I’d recommend its restaurant for an evening of fine dining they won’t soon forget.

And the same could be said for my stay at the Hotel Bel-Air: it was a one-of-a-kind experience and, quite possibly, one of the best places to get away from it all, even in the heart of Los Angeles.