Top 5 classic American hotels

Where hotels are concerned, it's often tempting to chase the next hot opening. But these five American classics have stood the test of time - and with good reason. From Palm Springs to New York via LA and Colorado, what better way to celebrate Independence Day than by checking into one of these showstoppers?

the willows, palm springs

In a city that celebrates the vivid palette of modernism, the aesthetic of the motel and the trashy charms of tiki, The Willows offers a contrast. Within metres of the wonderful Palm Springs Art Museum, it is a stately throwback to a more elegant age with a strong whiff of potent, old Hollywood glamour.


The sort of place Americans like to call ‘a historic inn’, although its Hispanic-style architecture only dates back to the 1920s, it still pre-dates much of the city.  Despite being in the very heart of the action, its eight bedrooms are supremely peaceful. The Marion Davis room, for instance, is glorious, with a huge, snowy-linened bed, antique furniture, a bathroom the size of a small apartment and a view over lush desert gardens and swimming pool to the city beyond.

The Willows doesn’t have anything as nouveau as a bar or a restaurant but every evening guests gather in the oak-panelled hall and on the terrace for complimentary drinks and snacks. And breakfast – a gourmet, three-course experience taken in a lovely room cooled by its own private waterfall – is an experience in itself. Typical dishes include blueberry cornbread muffins and baked omelettes with cheese, crisp bacon and roasted, mild chilli.  If The Willows was good enough for Clark Gable and Shirley Temple – and Albert Einstein – it’ll do for us.

chateau marmont, los angeles

Along the city’s aptly named Sunset Boulevard, Chateau Marmont (top image) was built in 1929 and has been plying a firm line in glamour ever since. Modelled on a Loire Valley chateau it has played host to everyone from Billy Wilder and Hunter S Thompson to F Scott Fitzgeralnd, Tim Burton and Sofia Coppola. Under the ownership of Chiltern Firehouse’s Andre Balazs since 1990, it’s one of the most iconic and idiosyncratic hotels in the States, with fabulously individual interiors. Food-wise, chef Carolynn Spence focuses on Californian favourites with a European twist; buttermilk-fried chicken with kale, mashed potato and biscuit, and prime rib with twice-baked black truffle potato.

the plaza, new york

An iconic urban resort the Plaza, in Manhattan, overlooks Central Park and Fifth Avenue. But those aren’t the only reasons wealthy visitors flock to this National Landmark hotel. Miles Davies recorded an album there, Eartha Kitt, Andy Williams and the Beatles have all stayed and Truman Capote hosted his Black & White Ball there while a scene in The Great Gatsby takes place in the Plaza’s one-time tea garden. These days guests can enjoy a butler on every one of its 20 floors, afternoon tea in the Palm Court or a casual brunch, lunch or dinner in the Todd English Food Hall (not to be confused with a second, adjacent, food hall, lined with a raft independent food outlets).

the greenbrier, west virginia

In the Allegheny mountains, this 10,000-acre luxury retreat has been welcoming guests since 1778, its proximity to the county’s famed springs a big draw among health tourists for almost as long. The Greenbrier’s stately columns and wonderfully chintzy Dorothy Draper-designed interiors disguise quite a surprise; below it is a bunker built in the 1950s for emergency use by the US government.

These days food is also a big attraction. There are six restaurants and cafes, three more seasonal restaurants and five bars and lounges. In the main dining room, breakfast features Southern favourites and classic American dishes (there’s a dedicated omelette station, and sweet potato pancakes are a favourite among regulars). For dinner expect traditional dishes cooked with finesse: butter-poached lobster tail or Dijonaise lamb chops.

dunton hot springs, colorado

What at first appears to be a cluster of rustic log cabins is actually nothing but. Set in a former ghost town in the Colorado Rockies, though Dunton has no phone reception it does promise wifi, fabulous spa treatments (including the use of the springs it takes its name from) and an outstanding wine list. The resort’s 1,600-acre alpine setting lends itself to hearty outdoor pursuits – rock climbing, hiking, skiing and horse-riding can all be arranged – but it’s also staggeringly beautiful and appreciated just as well from the comfort of your private porch, or in front of your own wood-burning stove, tipple in hand. Food is local and elegantly rustic (think king trumpet mushrooms with beef filet and lamb, or rillettes on toast) and guests can either choose to eat on their own or at a shared table.

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