MIAMI BEACH -- Cruising South Beach, you have your choice when it comes to selecting a place to stay.
You can opt for a quieter beach sojourn at the Hilton-Bentley, the sophisticated Delano, the partiers' Catalina Beach Club, the 1930s retro Winter Haven, or scratch those, and go rogue for a stay off the beach at the breathtaking Mondrian.
But if you want an upscale stay that's more old-world European than madcap take on Alice in Wonderland -- and money is no object -- why not stay at Gianni's place.
As in Gianni Versace. The Italian fashion icon put SoBe on the map when he bought Casa Casuarina in the 1990s and turned it into his own private oasis by the sea.
Built in 1930, the modern adaptation of Christopher Columbus' family home in Santo Domingo was given splashes of Versace's flamboyant design when he added a gold-tiled mosaic pool, statues to reflect all the world's religions, ornately designed fountains and 10 exquisitely designed suites that housed some of the designer's famous friends (both Madonna and Elton John had rooms just for them when they visited) and siblings.
If you were an up-and-comer during the mid-'90s, 1116 Ocean Dr. was the place to see and be seen. The party came to an end in 1997 after Versace was murdered at his front gate. For many years after, the mansion was closed, becoming a spot where the morbidly curious would gather every day to snap photos.
After its brief usage as a special events venue, the Versace Mansion has been reconceived as a boutique hotel right in the heart of South Beach.
Launched by restaurateur, Barton G. Weiss, it is now known as the Villa by Barton G. and offers five-star luxury a stone's throw from the Atlantic. Smack dab in the middle of Miami's heady party scene, hotel guests never have to leave the Mediterranean-style oasis, where suites start at $2,500 per night.
Personally assigned butlers wait on guests 24/7 arranging for everything from a Kindle loaded with e-books, to serving lunch and laying out pyjamas. And if you want to do the beach thing, your very own Mr. Belvedere will hop across Ocean Drive and set you up with a lounge chair and umbrella.
Most of Versace's personal contents are gone, but Weiss kept the Renaissance-style touches in place, seamlessly blending the original drapery and lavishly painted walls with the new, custom-made furniture. Some of the beds, including the one in Versace's old suite, are so large that upwards of three people can sleep comfortably in them if desired. And if you aren't a light traveller, there is no shortage of closet space.
With a bevy of restaurants lining Ocean Drive, you might want to venture offsite for meals. But if you really just need to be pampered in the villa by the sea, an intimate dining room offers up signature dishes that include The Villa Salad with frozen Caesar dressing and Colorado rack of lamb accompanied by Greek yogurt jelly cubes -- all served on Versace by Rosenthal china, of course. Breakfast and lunch are offered to hotel guests only, while dinner is open to the public.
Building on Versace's taste for the wild (did I mention that a chocolate fountain magically appears in your suite before bedtime and there's a gumball machine that spews M&Ms?), Weiss maintains the villa's historically rich architecture while offering his own subtle, contemporary spin.
-- For Villa by Barton G info, contact 305-576-8003 or thevillabybartong.com. For Miami travel info, visit the Greater Miami and Beaches CVB, miamiandbeaches.com.