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While on assignment for BBC News, Tayfun King was interviewing the owner of a boutique hotel in Buenos Aires when it hit him — he wanted to be the one running an inn.

As a travel reporter, Tayfun was immersed in the hospitality industry, crisscrossing the globe to learn more about the world’s most fabulous hotels. This wasn’t his original career choice — while studying mathematics and management at Cambridge University, he made a promise to himself: if he graduated with a first class honors degree, he would turn down the financial job offers he had received to follow his passion and become a professional Latin American dancer. Tayfun graduated with honors, and embarked on a dancing career, which led to him becoming a television journalist and host with the BBC, presenting programs on technology and travel.

“The travel show is where I developed my passion for boutique hotels,” Tayfun says. “I traveled to over 70 countries and 200 cities, and more than anything, staying at these amazing boutique hotels around the world stood out.”

Tayfun was fascinated by how these properties were able to forge their own identities, with each room connected despite their individual distinct themes. The owners he spoke with had “a passion that was coming through so clearly,” Tayfun says. “It was hard work for them, but they loved it and being able to express their creativity.”

In 2014, Tayfun launched a hospitality company in Los Angeles. He opened a property in Venice Beach, and then turned his attention east to Palm Springs. He was interested in a particular hotel for sale, but when his realtor showed him 641 E. San Lorenzo Road — the resort formerly known as Escape — Tayfun knew this was the place.

An aerial view of BelleVue Oasis

An aerial view of BelleVue Oasis. Courtesy of BelleVue Oasis

“I didn’t expect that,” Tayfun says. “I was there to have a matter-of-fact look around, but once I walked in and saw the entrance, I had an emotional reaction. The feeling you get when you’re there is so welcoming. It’s so natural, and there’s so much greenery with the grass, the trees, and the flowers. If I were coming to Palm Springs for a stay, I would love to stay here.”

A lot has changed at the mid-century modern property, starting with the name. Tayfun chose BelleVue Oasis because “belle vue” means “beautiful view” in French and “was what I was experiencing in the moment,” he says. The 13-room hotel has a new pool, pool deck, and interiors, plus recently installed turf and two putting greens. The mature palms and tropical landscaping are still in place, and guests rave about being able to enjoy the serene setting from their private patios.

“A common reaction is this is a hidden gem in Palm Springs — it’s beautiful, it’s lovely, it’s an oasis,” Tayfun says. “We have a high number of guests who keep returning to the property, and people who say their friends told them to stay here.”

Tayfun plans on developing a boutique hotel brand that will first grow in California before expanding, and is excited to get it started in Palm Springs. For him, it’s important that hotels tap into the history and true essence of the cities they are in, and he wants to make sure that people know as soon as they arrive at BelleVue Oasis that they are in Palm Springs.

“I love Palm Springs,” he says. “I love the energy, the people are friendly, it’s spread out, and it’s so well groomed.

From the time they book to the time they check out, Tayfun aims to make it so guests enjoy every part of the BelleVue Oasis experience. He wants them to look forward to their stay, building it up ahead of time and then having their expectations surpassed once they arrive, and to leave with lasting memories of their visit.

“It’s so fulfilling and exciting hearing what guests have to say,” Tayfun says. “That has been so rewarding and greater than what I thought it would be.”

BelleVue Oasis spa at night

Night falls on BelleVue Oasis. Courtesy of BelleVue Oasis

Near downtown Palm Springs, California, the Korakia Pensione quietly reveals itself on South Patencio Road. 

As someone who lives in Palm Springs, even I was surprised this pensione — meaning a small hotel — was unknown to me until I discovered it through the Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels website. 

Korakia is pronounced kor-a-kee-a. The name comes from the Greek word for “crow,” a bird abundant in the mountains of Greece. The hotel’s original name was Dar Marroc, but when Doug Smith, of Greek descent, became the owner in the late 1980s, he changed the name to Korakia Pensione. 

Once you enter the grounds, you will instantly see why Smith felt at home here. Olive trees surround the Moroccan-style architecture, and flowering bougainvillea winds its way up the beautiful arches. When painter Gordon Coutts built the property in 1924 as a hideaway, he brought with him décor reminiscent of his life in Tangier. 

The Marrakech Suite. Photo courtesy of Korakia Pensione

Three-tier fountains grace the courtyard, and a spacious pool is heated to 94 degrees. Yes, you read it right. One of the luxurious amenities is the ability to swim in the middle of the winter under our beautiful Palm Springs starlit sky. 

After a swim, wrap yourself in a robe then find your way to one of the property’s many fire pits. People come here from all over the world, and you’re bound to find yourself sharing stories with other guests.

An extension of the inn

The silent screen actress J. Carol Naish owned the villa across the street from Coutts’ property, and after it was purchased in 1933, it became part of the pensione. The Mediterranean-style buildings and grounds have seamlessly been combined, offering 28 rooms on more than two acres. 

The Naish House. Photo courtesy of Korakia Pensione

The courtyard serves many purposes

Surrounded by olive and fruit trees, the courtyard is the place to be for guests when it’s time to enjoy the breakfast provided by the pensione. Small tables allow you to have your coffee alone, or if you want to join others, moving tables is not a problem, so you can have robust conversations if you desire. 

Then in the afternoon, a lovely tea is served to guests, still providing another opportunity if you choose to engage in conversation with others. 

Tea is served. Photo courtesy of Korakia Pensione

A recent addition to the hotel’s offerings is a Moroccan dinner catered by Eight4Nine, a popular local restaurant. Its success has even caught the staff off guard, so you will want to check their schedule and make reservations if you are in the area when this special evening is offered (which, at the time of writing this article, is once a month). 

Rent the venue for…

A corporate retreat

Recently, the entire space was rented for a corporate retreat — those were some lucky employees, though it may have been a tad hard to concentrate knowing there is a heated pool steps away. There are plenty of spaces for people to scatter during breaks or even to play bocce ball. Later in the evening, join colleagues around the firepit to watch a classic or foreign film on the outdoor screen.

Outdoor movie screenings are a benefit of staying at Korakia. Photo courtesy of Korakia Pensione

To ensure you have the team’s full attention for the retreat, there is no WiFi, TV, or clocks to distract from the task at hand. This is a resort that believes if you want to refresh and renew, technology needs to be left behind.

Weddings

Are you planning a desert wedding? One spot that should be moved to the top of your list is the Korakia. The courtyard, already surrounded by olive trees and bougainvillea, is turned into a magical place, with more flowers added to the arched doors. You now have the perfect backdrop for your vows. 

Cocktail hour is by the fountain, which welcomes guests with rushing water. All around the pool, your friends and family can mingle and share stories about how your life touched theirs. 

The perfect wedding backdrop. Photo courtesy of Korakia Pensione

The celebration doesn’t stop there. A short walk across the quiet street to the other section of the pensione brings you down a path set aglow with lanterns and candles to still another courtyard for your reception. This flat space is perfect for your festive tables. 

I love the idea of your cake on a small table near the firepit. Imagine the effect created in your photos, so the glow reflects in the nighttime sky as you cut your cake together. 

Photo shoots

If you want to do a Mediterranean photo shoot without the expense of flying to Europe, Korakia Pensione can fill that need. Remember, we talked about the olive trees and fountains, and oh yes, they have a spa too, which lends itself to luxury photos. 

Family reunions

I can only imagine getting an announcement from a relative that it’s been decided our next get together will be at the Korakia. Some caveats: children under 13 are not allowed at the resort, and your beloved dog must find another place to vacation.

An authentic experience

I recently interviewed Korakia General Manager Paulette Monarrez, and as our conversation was coming to a close, I asked how long she had been involved with the hotel. Her smile broadened as she said, “15 years.” I then asked what she was most proud of in her work here, and without a beat, she responded, “We have an all-women staff. Also, I appreciate that so much care has been given to preserving the buildings. Plus, authentic Moroccan and Mediterranean artwork in the rooms and throughout the grounds adds a special touch to the Korakia.”

Walking away, I smiled to myself. Touring one of our Palm Springs boutique hotels is always rewarding because they are all so different. My suggestion: Use the Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels website to pick out your winter destination and call the hotel directly — they can assist in making the perfect accommodations for your desert stay. 

One of the hotel’s many fire pits. Photo courtesy of Korakia Pensione

Four of Palm Springs’ most stunning boutique hotels are featured in a new commercial touting the benefits of a desert vacation.

The Descanso Resort, Fleur Noire, The Art Hotel, and Hotel El Cid all have their moment in the spotlight, showing off their pools, grounds, and hotel decor. The 30-second commercial, “Unique Stays,” makes it clear that staying at a Palm Springs boutique hotel offers an authentic experience guests cannot find at a large hotel or home rental. 

Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels, in collaboration with the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau and Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism, created the spot. The trio worked with Summerland Creative and JNS Media for production and talent, with Panoramic serving as the agency.

Now is the perfect time to plan an escape to Palm Springs — for residents of the West Coast, it’s a leisurely drive for a playcation or workcation, and domestic and international travelers can easily fly into Palm Springs International Airport. Visit the Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels website to learn more about our unique properties and pick the right boutique hotel for your trip. 

 

In need of a respite from daily life, we recently decided to visit Palm Springs with our dog, Fender. Not only did we want to stay at a dog-friendly hotel, but we were looking for a secluded setting with a nostalgic vibe, a wonderful pool for dipping and lounging, and a top-notch restaurant and bar. We found all this and more at Villa Royale, a beautiful hideaway — perfect for getting away in stylish comfort. 

Villa Royale, one of the first small hotels in Palm Springs, was built in 1947 with the Hollywood elite in mind. For many years, it was a sanctuary for celebrities who wanted to escape their hectic lives in Los Angeles, only two hours away. Several years ago, the hotel underwent a complete renovation, which fortunately retained the historic, mid-century charm of the original hotel. Today it is still an appealing popular retreat, not just for the rich and famous but for anyone seeking peace and tranquility in a lovely setting, highlighted by a stunning mountain backdrop.

In the cozy lobby, we checked in and were happy to be welcomed with a delightful cocktail. As we walked to our villa, we were thrilled to see not just one inviting pool surrounded by lounge chairs, but three. There are 38 villas at Villa Royale, each with its own unique mid-century modern character and design. We learned that the property has more than 50 pieces of original art commissioned for the hotel, with one in each room.

Our inviting room at the Villa Royale. Photo by Todd Montgomery

Our very nicely furnished room facing the serene pool was a haven for us and our dog, with a private landscaped back patio, luxurious bedding, and a wonderful walk-in shower. We were happy to learn that we could enjoy fresh coffee and a continental buffet in the morning. 

Welcome to the Del Rey. Photo by Todd Montgomery

In the evening, we were excited to be dining at Villa Royale’s upscale, popular restaurant, Del Rey, which specializes in tapas and small plates with a Spanish/Mediterranean flair. The menu is overseen by much celebrated Chef Louis Martinez. Since our dog was with us, we sat outside on the restaurant’s pleasant, inviting patio. It was a lovely but chilly night; however, we were warm and comfortable because of the very effective heating lamps strategically placed by our table. There was a wedding party dining nearby and, like us, they seemed happy and relaxed. We also checked out the inside of the restaurant which is romantic and intimate, with dim lighting and cozy tables. The restaurant features an inviting oak and marble bar where I would like to while away a few convivial hours someday. 

The inviting fireplace inside the Del Rey. Photo by Todd Montgomery

Del Rey offers a variety of enticing cocktails. We enjoyed a unique and surprisingly delicious Del Rey Martini made with touches of sherry, orange bitters, and olive oil (yes, olive oil). We also relished the El Ultimo cocktail made with strawberry tequila, absinthe, and orgeat syrup, served with lime and mint. In addition, Del Rey offers a full wine list, featuring Spanish wines. Fender was happy with his drink, too, when the helpful staff brought him a bowl of fresh water.

Then, in the Spanish tradition, we ordered a variety of tapas for our dinner. I love this kind of meal because you can sample small bites of a variety of dishes.  We really enjoyed the Basque asparagus, topped with romesco sauce and manchego, and also savored albondigas — beef and pork meatballs covered with a sweet and sour glaze. 

We loved the Chuleta de Cordero, rosemary and lemon marinated lamb chops, which were tender and full of flavor.  Another superb dish was a grilled flatbread called Pan Con Setas that was topped with mushrooms, manchego, red onion, and an herbed olive oil drizzle. For dessert, we savored the delectable walnut bread pudding. The friendly service at Del Rey was impeccable and added to the ambiance of the evening. Satiated, we sauntered back to our villa through the lushly landscaped courtyards with flowing fountains and pools that shimmered invitingly in the moonlight.

The delicious walnut bread pudding. Photo by Todd Montgomery

It was truly a special night and we felt very far away from our busy daily lives. It is surprising how relaxed you can become with just a night away in such a peaceful, glorious retreat. We may not be celebrities, but we felt like royalty at Villa Royale. 

The Villa Royale lights up at night. Photo by Todd Montgomery