The California We Love: Palm Springs And Vicinity

Hotels, art and a glass gallery

Splendor In The Palms
Versailles in the middle of Palm Canyon Drive? That's what the TV entrepreneur-hotelier inherited when he bought this former Holiday Inn redone as a copy of the Givenchy spa in that French city. Merv Griffin's Resort Hotel & Givenchy Spa is now undergoing his touch, and all rooms are set to be completed over the next two years. Try the renovated Villa suites or a Le Pavilion junior suite. Experience the Exclusively Givenchy treatment: a combination body scrub and detoxifying wrap, delivered while you lie on a waterbed being massaged by hot-water jets. Also, don't skip a meal at the in-house French Gigi's. Dinner, $90. Rooms, $290-$4,000. 4200 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, CA 92264; 800-276-5000, 760-770-5000; fax 760-324-6104.

Marilyn Slept Here
Michael McLean owns McLean Company Rentals, and he caters to renters with fantasies: those who want to stay in classic Movie Colony houses, that is, some of which were havens for Hollywood stars in Palm Springs' 1950s heyday. Marilyn's Hideaway, for instance, is a six-bedroom house built in 1926 with arched doorways, a 20-foot beamed ceiling, lush landscaping, and a circular driveway. Monroe apparently was a houseguest here as a respite from the pressures of Hollywood. Even without the bit of history you'd want to sneak off to spend a weekend here. Average rates: nightly, $800; weekly, $5,000; monthly, $10,000. $ 477 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, CA 92262; 800-777-4606, 760-322-2500; fax 670-323-7878;

Palm Springs Fusion
St. James At The Vineyard has a pretty active bar scene and international, ethnographic decor—Indonesian and African masks and artifacts. Already that marks it as a departure from the typical Palm Springs hangout. But what really marks it as different is the food. It's great, experimental, and lively in an area that tends to play its menus pretty safe. Here the dishes have an Asian zing with a few European-Mediterranean touches thrown in, and it all works: New Zealand mussels steamed in spiced coriander and coconut milk broth, Burmese bouillabaisse, Thai lobster curry. Co-owner James Offord also cares about his wines. Dinner only, $90. 265 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, CA 92262; 760-320-8041; fax 760-416-5446.

Stirred, Not Shaken
Robert Johnson's store, Bandini Johnson, specializes in vintage barware—something Palm Springs knows a lot about. After all, "People originally came here to escape," says Johnson, "and drinking was a pastime. They'd start at noon." As a result, he has a pristine collection of portable bars, cocktail shakers from the 1950s and '60s, and glasses for every cocktail imaginable. Most glasses are $5-$75. 895 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, CA 92262; tel/fax 760-323-7805.

Road To Morocco
Scottish painter Gordon Coutts had wanted to return to one of his favorite places, Morocco, but ill health prevented it, so in 1924 he built a Moorish castle in Palm Springs called Dar Marroc. More than 60 years later designer G. Doug Smith renovated the now dilapidated castle, made a 12-room Moroccan-style pension of it, and and named it Korakia. He later added a Mediterranean villa across the street. Both places have touches of the years he spent on the island of Spetsai in Greece. With its female staff dressed in filmy white dresses, torches blazing by the pool at night, Moroccan tea samovars, and whitewashed, bougainvillaea-draped archways, the setting does feel like an oasis in North Africa. It has an otherworldliness that is reflected in the simple, sexy rooms, all different but decorated with Mediterranean-style furniture, stone floors, and feather beds. Favorites: the North Pool Bungalow, the Artist Studio (once a studio in which Winston Churchill, among others, painted), and the Naish House (part of a 1930s villa that once belonged to early screen star J. Carrol Naish). Stay in any one of them just to be wrapped in the sense of fantasy that is the rule here. $119-$395. $ 257 S. Patencio Rd., Palm Springs, CA 92262; 760-864-6411;
fax 760-864-4147.

Desert Art
The Montana St. Martin Gallery was once a futuristic gas station—one of Albert Frey's most famous designs when it was built in 1965. Over the years, though, it had fallen into decay, until San Francisco translator, garden designer, and art collector Montana St. Martin and his partner, Clayton Carlson, bought it, restored it, and this January created an art and garden-sculpture gallery within it.

The setting is perfect. "The desert is Mother Nature's version of modern art," says St. Martin. And the collection is eclectic to say the least: 100-year-old Korean millstones ($10,000), a piece of a meteor ($55,000), Moroccan teapots, Spanish Christ figures, Indian fertility symbols, jewelry from a Swiss artisan named Andreas Mathias Caderas, etc. St. Martin also has a traffic-stopping location—it's the first building you see when you enter Palm Springs. 2901 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, CA 92262; 760-323-7183; fax 760-323-9472;

Classy Glass
The gray modern building of Imago Galleries would be striking enough by itself. But Leisa and David Austin have filled it with one of the most beautiful and varied collections of art glass anywhere, including pieces by desert neighbor Dale Chihuly. Paintings and sculpture also figure in, and all are displayed in rooms so dramatically lit that visitors come just to look at the presentation. An astonishing place—one not to be missed. 45-450 Highway 74, Palm Desert, CA 92260; 760-776-9890; fax 760-776-9891.

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