‘Are we there yet?’ Mrs Smith asked impatiently. It’d been a while since we set off from a busy, smoggy Los Angeles on our Palm Springs vacation, and the eight-lane highway seemed as endless as the traffic. A couple of minutes later came our turn-off – the Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway. Why don’t we get roads like that back home? I reckon we could do with a Cilla Black Express, or a Lulu Flyover. A couple of rounds of ‘I Got You Babe’ later and we’d arrived at the Avalon Palm Springs resort and spa.
I confess it didn’t look like much at first, its low-level lobby seeping buttery light onto the pavement through a barely lit olive tree and fountain, but once inside – wham! – we were hit with a supersized serving of pure Palm Springs glamour. The crazy crisp-white and yolk-yellow colour theme carries throughout, and we soon discovered that everything, from the towels to the furniture, comes in a shade that inspires a flashback to that super-sweet '80s scent, Giorgio Beverly Hills.
With its fruit-bearing trees, clipped gardens, dazzling sunshine and well-groomed fitness and spa facilities, this Palm Springs boutique resort at the foot of the San Jacinto mountains wears its healthy, wealthy heart on its sleeve. Pure white spaces accented with black-and-white gingham sofas, citrus-bright yellow upholstery and mirrored bureaus made us feel as though we were crossing the set of a particularly modish new theatrical production. Did I mention the whippet statues?
Our abode was a Dorrington Villa, which, despite sounding like a '70s B&B in the north of England, couldn’t have been more Cali-for-ni-ay. Rather than the suites and studios off the main lobby, our sweet little bungalow was located between the two ‘adults only’ pools positioned amid well-manicured, lush gardens. Here, impossibly tall, skinny palm trees populated the lawn like so many extras, their boughs riddled with little lights, illuminating them magnificently against the night sky.
Palm Springs, named after the nearby hot desert water source, is the ancient home of the Agua Caliente band of the Cahuilla Indians, and inside our low-rise lodgings, interior designer Kelly Wearstler had emulated many of the traditional adobe-style features, without scrimping on luxury. Our living room was a blizzard of bleaching, from a quirky Cinderella-style carriage-lamp chandelier to snow-white tiling. The only furniture was a large black-and-white sofa and stunning (if not the most practical) yellow ‘popsicle’ chairs – apparently a signature of Ms Wearstler’s. As for the sleeping quarters, a large white bed was the main feature, along with a curtain with a black geometric pattern running along its hem. ‘Very Versace,’ chirped an impressed Mrs Smith. In addition to our boudoir and en suite, our villa also contained a fully fitted kitchen, a dining room and a secluded patio. No doubt fit for Donatella herself, and all her entertaining desires.
Having spent more time than we’d have liked in the usual Friday-night crawl out of LA, we were too shattered to rustle something up in our gleaming show kitchen, and we were in the mood for something a little more low-key than the offerings of Citron, the Avalon's restaurant. So we decided to get into the spirit of the desert and its Southwestern vibe and we plumped instead for Mirasol, an excellent local Mexican eaterie. Chile verde (a jalapeño-infused pork stew) and several ice-cold margaritas soon put fire in our bellies.
At Smith, we’re not only about great food and seeking out fabulous hotels – we like a bit of culture on our escapes. So, a quick history crammer course over supper: the growth of Los Angeles in the Thirties meant weary Hollywood stars sought a refuge in which to unwind and party, away from the glare of Tinseltown. Luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin, Ginger Rogers and Humphrey Bogart quickly earned Palm Springs the tagline ‘playground of the stars’, with the likes of Frank Sinatra and President Ford (whose wife Betty’s famous clinic is close by) building homes in Coachella Valley. The development of a mid-century style of architecture suited to the climate and conditions of this terrain resulted in the birth of Desert Modern. As much has remained untouched, my Mrs Smith left the restaurant with her mouth watering for some design-ogling.
Having also heard that Palm Springs has loads of great vintage boutiques, after a long and lazy lie-in, we pestered our helpful receptionist for a list. The Avalon's illustrious (and no doubt demanding) former guests include presidents and movie stars, and the service suggests the staff here has handled more than their fair share of whimsical demands; the receptionist dutifully gave us the VIP treatment and provided us with addresses for all the best places.
After a day of scoping architecture and grazing design shops (for Mrs Smith), and browsing the well-stocked classic American car showrooms (for me), we returned for a well-earned cocktail at the Avalon bar. ‘Welcome back, Mr Smith,’ said the parking valet as he took my keys. ‘Nice touch,’ I thought, and promptly tipped him twice what I was planning to. It’s that kind of a place.
The Avalon is all about the thoughtful touches: totes and shoes were provided in our room to take to the pool; trays of healthy drinks were left out for us to help ourselves to; and the weekend brought with it all-day gourmet barbecues by the pool (and we're not just talking paltry beef patties and a few chewy chicken wings – this was a bountiful bonanza of lobster, shrimp and filet mignon). There are bicycles to borrow free of charge, which come with tiny mobiles set to speed-dial concierge, spa or restaurant – perfect for when you simply can't pedal a metre further without a snack, or need a lift after hitting the boutiques in Palm Springs Village. In high summer, one of the Jacuzzis is chilled to create an ice-cool plunge pool for instant refreshment, and on balmy moonlit nights, you can have a sensual aromatherapy massage under the stars, or recline on a pillow- and blanket-strewn lawn to settle down to a classic noir film. Bliss.
Surprisingly, our dinner at Citron, the Avalon's intimate and dimly lit restaurant, didn’t turn out to be quite as tip-worthy as our valet’s greeting earlier. (I can only assume that head chef Stephen Belie was weary from having catered to a large party of German motoring journalists in town for a convention.) While the food was a little underwhelming and fussy, it was compensated for by some very delicious Californian wine from the menu's exhaustive list.
Back at base camp, Mrs Smith and I grabbed a couple of glasses and another chilled Chardonnay from our fridge and escaped to the secluded heated whirlpool to gaze up at the endless carpet of twinkling lights. And that huge sky at night is breathtaking – especially when taken in from a hot tub. What a nightcap. Desert life doesn’t come much better.