Gianni’s at The Villa, South Beach


Yep, Gianni Versace’s mansion.

Before our trip to Miami, we were looking for somewhere special to celebrate my Mum’s big birthday.  We had also become obsessed with The Assassination of Gianni Versace.  These two seemingly unrelated elements led to us discovering that Versace’s former house on Ocean Drive had been converted into a hotel and restaurant so we just had to book a table at Gianni’s – the restaurant at The Villa Casa Casuarina.

The villa has had a complicated history – built back in the 1930s, converted into apartments shortly after and had its ups and downs before Versace bought it in the 1990s who converted back into one mansion.  He also bought the property next door and created a beautiful outdoor space (although not without controversy).  After his death, it continued to have a troubled existence, but seems to have been a little more stable since opening as a hotel a couple of years ago.  It’s definitely earned its iconic status.

South Beach at night really isn’t my style.  I’ve never really been into partying or bar hopping and this is pretty much South Beach’s primary purpose (it’s why we’ve enjoyed our hotel up in Surfside).  But Gianni’s was definitely worth the effort.  We decided to splash out on an Uber Lux, and pulling up to the front of the villa in a big fancy GMC… car (I’m not good with American cars) felt really special.

We were shown in to the restaurant at the front of the hotel – there were a couple of different areas dotted around the ground floor including the terrace and poolside and whilst it would have been amazing to sit out by the pool, it started raining about half an hour into our meal so we were happy to be inside!

Whilst we waited for our food to arrive, Mum and I scampered around looking at the beautiful decor.  It was outrageously over the top and not remotely my taste, but that’s exactly why I loved it!  The staff were happy for customers to walk around, but didn’t allow tourists – one couple were asked to either book a table or leave as it wasn’t a “tourist attraction” which I did appreciate (mostly because it made it easier for us to look around).

The food itself was expensive of course, but very enjoyable.  There’s obviously a premium for being in such an amazing location, but we all ate really well.  I wasn’t going to have dessert, but couldn’t resist trying a red chocolate mousse.  It was phenomenal.

Gianni's red chocolate mousseI will confess that I had fairly low expectations – I had a preconceived idea on what the food and service would be like, but we had such an unexpectedly great evening!  It’s nice to go fancy every once in a while.

After the meal, we took a wander down Ocean Drive to see the art deco buildings lit up at night.

Really very pretty, but the rest of the strip just confirmed what I’ve always thought – South Beach at night isn’t for me.  Interesting, but definitely not for me.  Wow.

 

Surfside and the North

We are not into the exciting, energetic South Beach – sure it’s nice to visit, but when it comes to finding activities to fill our days, we’d much rather have a bit of peace and quiet.  Surfside and the surrounding area meets that expectation perfectly, so we went back to the same hotel(ish) for the third year in a row (I’ve raved on my blog before).  I love the area and would definitely go back – we had a couple of frustrating experiences at our hotel which has put us off staying there again (I’m now on the look out for somewhere new) but the tiny north Miami Beach town remains as awesome as always.

There is genuinely nothing that Surfside is missing for me – restaurants, a Starbucks, a good Publix (where I finally had a chicken tender sub – I had American cheese, mayo, lettuce, olives and pickles.  Forgot to ask for toasted though) and a CVS for me to stock up on SPF 100.  The beach is right there and it’s only a $20 Uber ride to all the main tourist hotspots.


When we weren’t visiting the stores on Harding Avenue multiple times in one day, we took a couple of trips to Bal Harbour – both the incredibly upscale shopping mall and also to our favourite burger restaurant – BH Burger Bar at the St Regis hotel.  The burgers there are crazy good, and despite only visiting once a year, the staff seem to remember us so we get such a great welcome.

We also splurged on a meal at the Grill at Bal Harbour and immediately wished we’d found this place before.  The restaurant was very calm – that sounds like an odd thing to say about a restaurant, but that’s the best way to describe it.  The food and service were excellent and we had a really relaxed meal.  It’s gone right to the top of our favourites list.

Of course, I had to visit the Aventura Mall which has expanded since our last visit.  It was a ridiculous size before, but now it’s even bigger – according to Wikipedia, it’s the second largest mall in America.  I lost my mind in Sephora again, Mum lost her mind in Henri Bendel and poor Husband lost his mind just waiting for us to finish shopping.  I think we ended up walking almost 15000 steps which is too much for a mall.  We briefly considered slumming it at the Cheesecake Factory for lunch, but the queues put us off so we tried the Grand Lux Cafe instead which I LOVED.  It’s like a slightly fancy Cheesecake Factory!

I did find it odd that the Aventura Mall has America’s first Carsten Holler slides.  I don’t really understand why.  No one was going on them because they were wet, but I guess they’re popular?

We also did a couple of other trips away further afield on this trip, but more on that later.

For us, the most important thing after wandering around Aventura, down at South Beach, or back on the mainland, was that we had some tranquility to come back ‘home’ to, which is something Surfside excels at.  It’s not for everyone, but that just makes it all the better for us.

Surfside, you are my perfect vacation town – never change.

Miami in the Rain

What do you think when you read the words “Miami Beach”?  Turquoise waves, beautiful sandy beaches, blue skies – am I close?

That’s certainly what you get when you Google image search, and is definitely the experience we had both in 2016 and 2017.  2018?  Not so much.  More like grey skies with some ever-so-slightly irritating rain.

It’s always a risk going to Miami in May – the hotels do drop in price, but you’re right up against hurricane season which runs from June to November.  As we got closer to our departure date, I began manically refreshing my Google Weather app, which every day showed me some variation on the following:

I started to research “What to do in Miami in the rain” and to be honest, didn’t come up with much.  Don’t get me wrong – Miami has loads to do inside, but it wasn’t anything I wanted to do.  My list of things I wanted to achieve on this holiday included:

  • Lounge around on the beach

Urm, that was it (we did end up doing a little bit more than this – there’ll be a separate post on that – and we used Time Out and Thrillist for a bit of inspiration).

None of the locals seemed that bothered (checking on Reddit and the Trip Advisor forums) and were reassuring that Miami rain isn’t like “normal” rain.

And they were right.  It isn’t like normal rain at all.  It rained on Saturday a bit, but we were going to spend the whole morning in the Aventura Mall anyway so I’m not counting that as a problem.  Sure, there was spotty rain when we were down on the beach, but we didn’t even bother going inside.  Sat it out like a pro.  It rained loads overnight when we were asleep, and a couple of times in the evening when we were in restaurants.

Considering they were predicting non-stop rain, we were only really affected one afternoon for about an hour when it did this:

The sea is down there somewhere.  We went up to our balcony to watch it for a bit, had a shower, and in the time it took for us to get ready for dinner, it had passed.  The following day, we’d gone back to this again:

So if it’s predicted to rain on your trip to Miami, don’t fret too much.  Take it a day at a time, have a look at a good weather site every once in a while (we liked the dramatically named Doppler 6000 on the NBC website) and just relax.  You’re still going to have an amazing holiday because you’re in freaking Miami!

Unless there’s an actual hurricane, in which case I have no good advice for you.  Sorry about that.

Returning to Surfside, FL

A few months ago, Mum decided she want to treat me and my brother to a ‘do-nothing’ holiday, and asked my opinion on where we should go.  The first place that came to mind was Surfside, Florida after falling in love with it last year.

I knew my Mum would love it – she’s a sun worshipper, loves the beach and a bit of shopping, but ultimately looks for peace and quiet on her holidays which is what Surfside excels at.  Fortunately, she adored it as much as I do and is even making some plans to return next year.  My brother and sister-in-law equally had a wonderful time, and my little niece took to Florida like a pro, strutting round the place with her sunnies and beachwear.

We stayed at the same(ish) hotel as last year as well – the Grand Beach Hotel – but instead of staying at their beachside property, we chose the sister building across the road.  Because there were six of us, we ideally wanted the three bedroom suite that could only be found at the West building which was a bit of a shame as we would have loved a balcony overlooking the ocean.  There were definitely benefits though – as it was smaller, the second hotel is much quieter and we hardly ever saw anyone else.  It also meant that we had the rooftop pool to ourselves most of the time so it felt much more exclusive.  Never a bad thing.

There aren’t any catering facilities in the West building so you have to plan ahead, but that didn’t cause us any problems at all – it’s slightly closer to the shops in Surfside so we were in the Publix and CVS every day (I think I actually went to Publix three times on one of the days – I bloody love it).  The main hotel is barely a two minute walk, so when we weren’t sunning ourselves on the roof, we were in the palm garden or eating quesadillas in the restaurant.It was pretty damn hot most of the time, but once again we beat the weather with only one tiny storm making us change our plans.  Last year, I read an insane amount of books, but I was so dedicated to relaxing this time round that I couldn’t even manage to hold my kindle.  I am genuinely struggling to remember how i filled 8 hours in the garden – it was next level ‘do-nothing’.

We did all the usual things on this trip again – South Beach, Aventura Mall, dinner in Bal Harbour and on Harding Ave – with the only new location being Dolphin Mall where I bought a bright pink Kate Spade bag from Bloomingdales which was such a ridiculous bargain.  I felt bad about dragging the poor Uber driver out so far as it was a bit trafficy in Hialeah, but he wasn’t bothered at all.  As is now tradition, we went up to the rooftop bar at the Grand Beach on the last night for some cocktails under the pinky glow of a Miami sunset – there was a glorious breeze and I once again wondered if I should start paying the lottery so I can give up work and just be on a permanent vacation.  Curse you Surfside – you make it so easy to dream about running away from my mortgage!


Until next time (which might be next year, the way plans are going at the moment!)

There are no straight maids in South Beach

DSC_9460Surfside was perfect for us and we could have happily stayed in that area the whole holiday, but we did think we should make the effort to go to the more touristy area at least once.

And South Beach is very touristy.  It was a bit of a culture shock, going from the 5 people walking passed you on Harding Avenue to dozens of people, cars, restaurants blaring music.  It was almost a little too much.

The Parisian Hotel MiamiBut the art deco building were extraordinary so it was worth it.  We could have booked on one of the walking tours but they were so busy, and the written free walking tour guide on the National Geographic website was pretty good so we just used that.   After a quick coffee at a Starbucks on 2nd St. (where we oddly saw two people that we’d seen in Aventura the night before – spies!), we made our way up Ocean Drive.

DSC_9407You trip over amazing buildings all over Ocean Drive and the surrounding area.  It is a real shame that the area isn’t pedestrianised though, as you want to be able to crisscross all over the place but there’s so much traffic.

DSC_9421

It was so hot on the Sunday, unpleasantly so, and we’d duck into shops just to soak up the air conditioning.  We wanted to see what the beach was like so took a quick detour off the Nat Geo walking route, and could not believe how many people were out there.  It was rammed!  After Ocean Drive, we headed for Lincoln Road for the Sunday market (it was ok, nothing special).  I may have stopped by another Sephora as well.

Just after lunch, the heat got to us and after a quick stop at Shake Shack for fries and lemonade, we headed back to our northerly haven for a bit of peace and quiet.

As a neon worshipper, I was tempted to go back at night to see the hotels in all their glory, but we knew that South Beach after dark wouldn’t be our kind of place.

Completely astonishing buildings though – I mean, look at the Gap!  Good old crazy America.

DSC_9445
Coincidentally, one of my favourite jewellery designers – Designosaur Yeah – was in Miami shortly before I was, and has made the most amazing Ocean Drive necklace.  You best believe it’s already on it’s way to my house.

I heard the rainstorms ain’t nothin to mess with

Surfside_2Despite wanting to spend 24 hours a day in our glorious hotel, we did manage to drag ourselves away on a couple of occasions.  We were mostly worried about the rain storms that threatened to spoil our trip, but aside from Saturday afternoon, the promised bad weather didn’t appear (much like our New York stay, the weather forecasts were entirely wrong).

Our most visited location was the heart of Surfside, Harding Avenue.  The shops and restaurants are all situated within two blocks and it was more than enough for us – Starbucks, CVS, and Publix supermarket were there for the necessities (like my 100SPF sun cream), and there were loads of restaurant options to choose from.  We chose Rustiko for the Thursday night where I became obsessed with their tequeños.  It’s a small restaurant but felt very comfortable inside.  On Sunday afternoon, we stopped off at Serendipity Creamery for two cups of delicious ice cream, and ate them outside on the pavement tables just watching the world go by.  We did want to try another couple of places but didn’t get the chance for one reason or another.  Next time.

Surfside_1What we loved most about Surfside was the non-touristy-ness of it.  We joked that it felt just like our little home town, just with palm trees and a nearby beach.  We sat drinking coffee in the morning watching people on their way to work, and the convoys of school buses going passed.  We roamed the aisles of the supermarket for afternoon snacks at the same time as people getting their weekly shop.  Picking up dry cleaning, going to the bank, stopping by the post office – just normal life.  And for a few days, we could pretend that this was our normal life as well.  

Bal HarbourOn the Friday night, we discovered that the restaurants on our Surfside short list were closed for Shabbat, so we took the short walk into Bal Harbour, and to BH Burger Bar.  The burgers were crazy tasty (if not a bit expensive) and I very much enjoyed my salted caramel milkshake.  Situated in the very fancy St Regis resort, the bar was relatively quiet which suited us down to the ground.  We took the beach path as the sun set on the way back (above) and went past a cordoned-off turtle nest.  We were a bit too early to see the babies, but Surfside and Bal Harbour do their best to ensure that they’re protected until they hatch (I used my zoom on the photo above – they encourage people to stay far away from the nests).

Aventura Mall is further north still, and we took a $12 Uber ride to get there during the only rain storm we actually encountered.  Unfortunately, everyone else had a similar idea and the mall was insanely busy, but I did manage to get what I needed from Sephora.  It’s a fairly big mall, with stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom and lots of places to eat and people watch.  I’m almost a little ashamed to admit that we dined at the Cheesecake Factory that night – during our Las Vegas years, Husband and I had a tradition of eating at CF and taking dessert back to our room, and I still have a bit of nostalgia for that time.  This visit was lacklustre and whilst you do get a whole mountain of food, it’s decidedly average.  When there are so many other places to eat, it does seem a bit of a shame to spend the evening here.

Aventura cheesecakeI didn’t even manage to finish my cheesecake.

The only other outing we did was down to South Beach, where we walked along Ocean Drive and down Lincoln Road – I took lots of photos which I’ll save for another post.

¡Bienvenidos a Miami!

Surfside Sunset

We have just returned from such a ridiculously blissful holiday in Surfside, Miami.  So blissful, that I almost immediately loaded up Google Flights when we got back home to figure out when we’re able to go back.   We essentially did nothing for 85% of the time, but we did nothing in one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed at (more on that in this post).

It was a holiday with a couple of new experiences for me which was very satisfying considering we had no plans whatsoever, which brings me to number one on my First list:

Holiday without a spreadsheet
A bit of hyperbole as we don’t always have our holidays planned down to the minute (although, our New England spreadsheet was magnificent).    This holiday was the first beach/resort/do nothing holiday that Husband and I have been on, and it’s pretty much the only holiday of this type I’ve ever been on.  I was a bit anxious to start with as I thought we’d easily get bored, but I managed to work my way through 8 books and just as many naps.  It was wonderful.

Mini Fab

Mini Fab!

Virgin Atlantic Flight, and on a 787 Dreamliner
Virgin have always been just outside my price range for the times I’ve been across the Atlantic, but I managed to grab a cheap(ish) pair of flights to MIA a few months back and we did actually notice a difference in service.  I think it helped being on the Dreamliner – we were by an exit so had more space than we knew what to do with, the humidity and air in the cabin was so much better than older planes so I didn’t leave feeling disgusting, the engine noise was so quiet, and the mood lighting was very fun.  I’m convinced that my complete lack of jetlag is because of the 787.  The food was edible, and the flight attendant sat opposite really looked after us (oddly, she lives in the next town over from us).  They started boarding the plane an hour before the flight in Heathrow, so we had such a relaxing flight on the way out – none of the cliched scrum as they board row by row.  Plus, I got a mini-Fab!

Uber ride
Living in The Country, where my house is a 10 minute walk from the station and a 20 minute walk into town, I haven’t really had much need for an Uber.  Miami was the perfect place to try it out.  We took five rides in total (and should have tried to get one from MIA to the hotel, as it worked out half the price of the regular cab!) and really enjoyed talking to the different drivers we had, including one who had a very nice BMW 5 Series.  It was quick and easy, no worrying about finding the cash, and no irritating TVs playing ads on loop on the back of the passenger seat.  And for $12 from Surfside to pretty much anywhere in Miami Beach, it seemed crazy to not get an Uber.  I’m a convert.

Hat
I am not a hat person.  I hate hats.  But my very first hat probably did save my skin and allowed me to have a much more comfortable trip.  I bought this Uniqlo hat with inbuilt wearable sunscreen and it just meant I didn’t need to worry about my scalp.  It also meant that there are very few photos of me from the holiday because I really hate hats.  I can’t say that I’ll be getting more – how do hat people not have constant anxiety about their hat blowing away in a gust?  My unique paleness was further preserved by the judicious and liberal application of my new favourite SPF, Neutrogena Dry Touch 100 SPF.  Yeah, that’s right, 100 SPF.  I love it.

Surfside beach‘Swim’ in the ocean
Sure, as a child I paddled a lot in the shallows around the UK, but as I have never learnt to swim and am terrified of water, it was usually only up to knee height.  On our last morning in Surfside, we woke up early and went down to the sea for a quick dip.  I hadn’t intended on going in further than my knees again, but Husband held my hand and calmly enticed me further until the water came up to my chin.  I did panic almost the entire way in (my catchphrase was “I’m drowning”, even at the knee-level) but we ended up staying out there for about 45 minutes.  Husband did valiantly try to teach me to swim, but it just wasn’t going to happen.  I did manage a bit of water-treading which was good enough for me.  I only wish we’d done this every morning.