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Desert Oasis: Desert Star

Maryann Hammers

From the street, Estrella looks like one of those nondescript apartment buildings that dotted the Los Angeles landscape during the 1960s. That is, except for the plaster whippet statues peeking out from each balcony of the Palm Springs resort. Dubious, I approach the unremarkable structure. But all doubts evaporate as I step into a gleaming lobby, stroll through a lush fountain courtyard bursting with bougainvilleas, and walk past a whimsical whippet into my private villa.

Though just a two-minute stroll from bustling Palm Canyon Drive, Estrella is a bastion of privacy and calm, an elegant offset to the desert city’s megaresorts. Originally opened in the 1930s, the hotel was, for many years, a favorite hideaway for the glitterati. The past guest list reads like a Hollywood history book, with names such as Bing Crosby, Errol Flynn, Joan Crawford, Orson Welles, and Lucille Ball. But by the end of the 20th century, the Estrella star had begun to dull.


In 2000, hotelier Brad Korzen—owner of Avalon and Maison 140 in Beverly Hills—purchased the property. Along with his interior designer wife, Kelly Wearstler, he undertook the task of restoring Estrella to its former grandeur.

Inside Estrella’s gates, I am surrounded by topiaries, citrus trees, gazebos, and swimming pools—all framed by the stark backdrop of the San Jacinto Mountains. Pure white tile floors, black lacquer furniture, and bold black-and-white wallpaper adorn my villa. Shag rugs, geometric patterns, and abstract paintings add to the retro-chic feel. I pick up a magazine from the mirror-top coffee table, half expecting to find Marilyn Monroe, or perhaps Twiggy, on the cover.

Despite its vintage ambience, Estrella is very much a modern resort. Its spa offers inventive treatments utilizing minerals, herbs, and citrus fruits indigenous to the local desert. Citron, Estrella’s eclectic eatery, pairs California-French cuisine with an all–West Coast wine list. The resort is also home to a first-rate fitness center and three swimming pools (two of which are for adults only). But in the end, it is Estrella’s connection to the past—and detachment from present-day Palm Springs—that has returned the shine to this desert star.

Estrella

Location: The heart of Palm Springs, Calif., within easy walking distance of first-class shopping and dining.

Accommodations: 74 rooms, studios, suites, and private villas on more than 3 acres.

Spa: The Spa at Estrella is small but luxurious, offering a full array of salon and beauty treatments as well as Yon-Ka Paris and Dr. Hauschka products. Outdoor massages are available poolside in curtained cabanas.

Fitness Center: Estrella’s fitness center offers yoga training, cardio machines, free weights, and more.

Recreation: Three swimming pools plus outdoor opportunities that include hiking trails and PGA-quality golf courses.

Restaurant and Bar: California-French cuisine and cocktails at Citron; breakfast, lunch, and dinner served on the covered poolside patio.

Rates: $165 to $549 per night.

Contact: 800.237.3687, www.estrellapalmsprings.com

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Photo by Ellen Jaskol
Photo by Vincent Zanzouri
Copyright by Adriaan Louw