Monday 20 January 2020

Palm Springs: eternity takes a holiday

 

Palm Springs is as fascinating, diverting and beautiful as you would imagine an old Hollywood playground to be
Palm Springs is as fascinating, diverting and beautiful as you would imagine an old Hollywood playground to be
Palm Springs loves mid-century architecture and during Modernist Week you can visit homes

Constance Harris

Palm Springs, California, is a place steeped in exotic, decadent, at times dark, Hollywood history. It is also a place of startling beauty.

Standing 100 miles from Los Angeles, on the San Andreas fault, in the middle of what can be the killing heat of a true desert, one wonders though on first seeing it, what was it that attracted old Hollywood's stars?

I mean, it's desert skirted by rough-hewn mountains. It's stark, rocky, intensely hot, desert.

But when one remembers the fierce control the studios had over their talent, part of the story of Palm Springs's appeal reveals itself.

Studio bosses dictated everything in their stars' lives, down to restricting their movements to within 100 miles of the LA boundary-line.

So, like any resentful child, Hollywood's stars found a place as far from the gimlet eyes of their bosses, literally at the edge of their contracts' dictates: Palm Springs.

There are the Nine Cities of Palm Springs, all of which come under the umbrella of Greater Palm Springs.

If you are thinking of visiting - and it is a place of startling beauty - their fantastic tourist office should be your first point of research (visitgreaterpalmsprings.com) because true to its heritage of being a playground to the rich and famous, as well as being mainly Sovereign Nation owned by Cahuilla Indians, much of the gems of this place are hidden, and insider knowledge is essential to get the best from your trip.

The BNP Paribas Open is held at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, which is owned by Larry Ellison. One bargain we learnt of through the tourist office is that for just $20 you can play there yourself.

Greater Palm Springs is a popular destination for Californians. There are many festivals, such as Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (Coachella.com), drawing ever more.

Here rich people, and also the not-so-rich people who planned their retirement well, aspire to retire by 50, to one of the many, classy looking, gated, communities that seem to abound here. Golf courses and tennis courts, spas and health food places, are its backbone. It is an active, vital place.

It is also, and quite clearly, still a bit raunchy and naughty. Frank Sinatra partied hard with the Rat Pack in Palm Springs from the 1940s up to his death.

One of the area's most established restaurants, The Nest (gotothenest.com), which has a seemingly naff but utterly brilliant synthesiser-piano player and singer set up, is a must experience.

Here you see Palm Springs's social life and culture played out; well 'preserved' baby-boomers; lonely or with too-young partners people; former golf pros on the hunt for wealthy benefactors/tresses (I swear inspiration for one of the scenes in Bull Durham was found here).

It also is great for observing the cool 'Valley' youth in all their finery, beauty and nice manners. They love The Nest, too.

As one travels around Greater Palm Springs, surrounded by desert and mountains as it is, with the only green to be found generally in the tall, stunning palm trees that shimmer in the incredible sunlight that is here, its natural beauty becomes ever more apparent.

People who live here are active early in the morning before the heat sets in. Mountain trekking, by foot or horse, on Sovereign (Native American) land is wonderful to do.

If that sounds too active, take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (pstramway.com) which takes you high up into the mountainous National Park where, if you want, you can camp out for a few nights.

A 'must see' are the Steel Houses, a famous example of mid-century modernist architecture on Sunny View Drive, designed by Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison in the early 1960s. The wide streets with their single-storey, flat-roof buildings and super tall, palm trees, were beautiful and impressive. It felt stylised like one of Alfred Hitchcock's American movies, such as North by Northwest.

Frank Sinatra's also impressive house, Twin Palms, built in 1947, is near here. It is privately owned and tours are available, but you need to research it.

There are two, week-long, architecture festivals each year (autumn and spring). Palm Springs Mod Squad (psmodsquad.com) and Modernism Week (modernismweek.com).

No matter how cheesy you think a tour might be, you will be impressed. People and organisations in Palm Springs are achievers and aim to be centres of excellence at all times; nobody does anything without a massive dose of pride and ability.

My trip to Palm Springs was a 'gal pals' mini break, so we had only four days. Although we packed things in, we still felt rested. We flew Aer Lingus, direct from Dublin to Los Angeles and then hired a car to make the several hours drive. LA traffic is a bitch but it didn't matter because the Californian sunset was stunning and we were refreshed after our direct flight (the only way to go) on a brand, new Airbus A330, flown by captain Anne Marie Teevan and an all-female crew.

I found it fascinating that in Dublin, a bunch of ordinary looking people got on the plane but by the time we landed, everyone had become 'LA' - on was the make-up, flash jewellery, sports luxe clothing and face-covering (cos I am so famous) sunnies. And I am talking the men, too. There was no need to announce we had arrived, Captain Teevan - we were in no doubt that we had landed in La-La land.

Palm Springs has every kind of accommodation option you could imagine. Boutique hotels, some of which eerily reminded me of the novels of James Elroy, were cool, but were as nothing when compared to a class and classic place such as La Quinta Resort (laquintaresort.com) which is an original, 1920s Palm Springs hacienda-style hotel with its own village square and private villas. The food and ambiance was wonderfully romantic, its history impressive.

If you are seriously into your health and high-end quality food, then you must visit Wildest Greens (wildestgreens.com). Modern art interiors, Ayurvedic health expertise, foodie knowledge and happiness abound. Terms such as Paleo, gluten-free, vegan are the norm, as is almond milk and veggie juices. Dishes have names like 'Fountain of Youth Chopped Salad'.

Spas are a way of life here. My favourite, again another 1920s original, was Two Bunch Palms (twobunchpalms.com). Not considered the poshest spa, nonetheless its original buildings, thermal baths set in mature gardens and general eccentric nature, make it an uber relaxing and endearing place. You meet interesting people here. And the food was fantastic; the best burger of my whole trip was from their restaurant.

As Palm Springs is massively popular with Californians who love to weekend here, the best deals are to be found from Sunday to Thursday, and off season - February to October.

We stayed in the popular, super-spacious Hyatt Indian Wells Resort & Spa (indianwells.regency.hyatt.com). In their impressive spa, a fun thing we did was 'Vino and Vinyasa' with Honri Marcel. I would never have believed that yoga and wine could possibly go together.

It felt a bit sinful initially, but the steady, sure way that Honri guided us through gentle stretches and then used our now grounded minds and bodies to 'feel' our way into the nuances of white, red and sparkling wines, was truly impressive.

If you are looking for that something more ritzy, the Ritz Carlton (ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/california/rancho-mirage) which sits high, on a mountain-top oasis overlooking the valley, is pretty impressive. It was here I had avocado fries - breadcrumbed and deep-fried organic avocado.

Only in California do you find health and decadence combined. Seduction guaranteed.

TAKE TWO: Top attractions

Yeehaw, Rawhide!

Learn to ride Western style and roam the Indian Canyons with local experts from Smoke Tree Stables, as Constance did, above. Costs $120 (approx €102). smoketreestables.com

That's a date

Visit Shields Date Garden, a genuine Californian institution since 1924 and a fascinating insight into old California and history. Their incredible Date Shake is a must ($5.95). shieldsdategarden.com

Getting  there

Aer Lingus, Ireland's only four-star airline, operates a daily* service from Dublin direct to Los Angeles with fares starting from €229 each way, including taxes and charges.

Flying from Dublin, guests can pre-clear US immigration before they board their flight ensuring no queues upon arrival.

See aerlingus.com for further information.

*The year-round service reduces to five times weekly during the winter season.

Business class features includes fully lie-flat seats to 6.5.ft long bed.

Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa, see indianwells.regency.hyatt.com. Rooms from $350 (approx €350) per room, per night.

For more information about Greater Palm Springs and its nine cities, see visitgreaterpalmsprings.com

Sunday Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life