Palm Springs: spring loaded
Everything's rich here - from the scenery to the guests.
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Palm-fringed: Palm Springs is completely surrounded by mountains
Sipping a cocktail in the lounge of the Esmerelda Rennaissance golf resort at the base of the Santa Rosa mountains in Indian Wells, everything seemed reassuringly calm. But when a glamorous girl in a tight red dress and a handsome man in tow beamed "I've won, I've won sixty thousand dollars," the tempo rose somewhat. The local radio station had held a competition here for the most romantic and stylish couple in Palm Springs and the winners were quids (ok, dollars) in.
But this sort of overt glamour is nothing new in these celebrity-imbued parts even if, in recent years, it has become thought of as a pensioners paradise; albeit, vitamin-boosted, healthy, wealthy silver-haired city refugees in search of fun and relaxation in that order. In fact if ever a town can be accused of name-dropping it is Palm Springs. This is where the glitterati of yesteryear would escape from their gruelling filming schedules. So tight were their contracts that the Hollywood studio could call upon them at a moment's notice. This contractual leash meant they could never be more than two-hours' drive away.
Palm Springs is precisely one hour 53 minutes away and with great weather 10 months of the year, the place was the ideal playground to the stars where lavish homes and lavish tastes were catered for.
This is the kind of town where you can spend a swell night in Twin Palms, the house where Sinatra threw his legendary cocktail parties or rent the home on Ladera Circle, where Elvis honeymooned with Priscilla. Some created homes here and many have roads named after them – Bob Hope Drive is a popular freeway. Turn up here in January and you could spend your time star spotting because this is when the Palm Springs International Film Festival attracts the Clooneys of the world into town.
And all this was famously fashioned out of the desert in southern California. Palm Springs is set in a tea-cup shaped valley and is completely surrounded by mountains that rise to nearly 11,000 ft at an angle of 75 degrees. In between the peaks are 54 miles of lush hiking trails, interesting rock formations and lovely waterfalls that nature lovers adore.
For everyone else, there are also 600 tennis courts, a staggering 39,000 swimming pools and at the last count, 700 restaurants as well a slew of luxury spa hotels where pampering mud baths and massages is just another normal day. And then there are the myriad of designer golf courses (a handful designed by Arnold Palmer) and the designer shopping especially in the palm lined, highly manicured El Paseo, dubbed the Rodeo Drive of the Desert.
The townsfolk have cleverly turned its last century provenance into a tourist trade. It simply loves to show off its quaintly retro architecture. It may as well do as it has the largest concentration of mid-20th century architecture in the world. Get there in December and the boutique hotels and historic inns throw their doors open for public 'Walk of the Inns' tours. Walking from one retro-designed hotel to another gives an interesting peek into the minds of past architects and their creations from 100-year old adobe inns to Mediterranean inspired villas. I particularly loved the motel with a kidney-shaped pool and ornamental pink flamingos. Apparently, Marilyn did too.
Fly: United Airlines offers an economy return ticket from London Heathrow to Palm Springs. Fares start at £688 including taxes.
Stay: Renaissance Esmeralda located in Indian Wells. Doubles: Jan-May/Sept-Dec from $159 - $359 and in summer from $89 - $169.
The town is full of designer-diners such as the amazing three levelled Lulu. In El Paseo, the region's shopping area, a lively joint is the Tommy Bahama shopping and restaurant combo - a retail recipe that seems to be popular in the US and for a little more authenticity I nipped out to the Coachella Valley to dine in the Jackalope Ranch who offered live entertainment in its wild west style saloon.
Yet, I had to pinch myself to remember that this land had been desert for more than 11,000 years and by the time I had wined, dined, spa'd and tee'd off with the local trendies it dawned on me that I had no choice; I had to go on a jeep tour to get a glimpse of this region's true nature - and while there to see Boot Hill, an old mining camp, where Bill Gates once held a party.
The tour was a fascinating drive to the lands where the Cahuilla people lived 400 years ago. I could see the San Andreas Fault where the collision of Pacific and North American plates have created a twisted and tormented landscape that would not look out of place at the Tate. Our guide tells us that palms are not trees, they are monocots - "think grass on steroids" she said. The landscape here is phenomenal and this is where you actually get to see the palm springs.
For me, this place was divinely superficial, the kind where I wanted to sip cocktails by the pool, think of my next treatment and plan a shopping spree. It was too easy for me to get drawn into the Tinseltown ethos and must admit to feeling a little more glamorous than when I first arrived. Now, where's my skimpy red dress?