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Thu 5 Mar 2009 04:00 AM

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Miami nice

Bling is still king in America’s favourite party City. Kaye Holland checks out the high life.

Bling is still king in America’s favourite party City. Kaye Holland checks out the high life.

There's more to life than work. More to experience than spending a couple of hours of each day schlepping up the Sheikh Zayed Road, and it's time to do something about it. What you need is to escape the economic woes and credit crunch stress and live it large for a long weekend.

But where to make merry? Take a bow Miami - a shamelessly glitzy city where you can party hearty all day and all night long. A place where star sightings (heavy hitters like J Lo, Shakira, Matt Damon, Enrique Iglesias and Anna Kournikova, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan - oh and OJ Simpson - all own homes here) are almost as ubiquitous as the sound of construction and the call to prayer in the UAE.

It was films such as Scarface and TV programmes like Miami Vice - with its super sized speedboats, Ferraris and abundance of beautiful women - that catapulted this exuberant US city onto the world stage back in the 80s.

Two decades down the line, Miami still looks the part and plays host to more than 12 million tourists annually who flock to the East coast's hottest and hippest city for fun and sun (Miami is almost indecently blessed with good weather).

Of course, the city has its knockers but they tend to be people who haven't lived there, loved there and laughed there or who are easily intimidated by the ‘brash, flash, trash' façade.

Sure, the metropolis isn't for people who see the point in The National Trust but, as Will Smith once rapped, for those who fancy a few "days of playing, Miami is the city that keeps the roof ‘blazin."

Miami is made up of a number of neighbourhoods, many of which warrant a visit - step forward wealthy Coconut Grove and Coral Gables, Little Havana and Little Haiti (Miami has a multicultural make up and half the population speak Spanish), Wynwood and the Design District.

However if you're only staying in South Florida's sunniest city for a few days and after a hedonistic holiday, stick to South Beach aka party central.

A sucker for showiness, ‘Sobe' - as the area is known - is the spot to see (keep your eyes peeled for the chance to see the likes of LiLo, Paris and Britney doing something tabloid worthy) and be seen, so ditch the flip flops and dress up.

It was Andre Agassi who patented the statement ‘image is everything' but Miamians have taken it to a whole new level. Jimmy Choos - like champagne and good china - might only get brought out for special occasions elsewhere in the world, but Miami isn't most places.

Ready to let your hair down and live a little? Here are the classic components to a hedonistic week-end...

Out and about

The beach is the glue that binds South Beach society and deservedly so; Miami boasts some of the best beaches in the country. Yet while the sun splashed shores and ocean are a powerful lure for most, there's plenty of other action in this town to keep you entertained.

Tempting though it is to stay slumbering in the sun, be sure to explore Sobe's art deco district. Art Deco - a term used to describe certain buildings and objects from the 1920s - is Miami's signature style.

Indeed Miami has the largest concentration of deco in the world and all of the hottest hotels feature deco details (read streamlined symmetry, friezes, glass blocks, curved edges and corners). To learn more about the movement, where to go and what to look for, pay a visit to the Art Deco Welcome Center.

Miami also has a myriad of museums but the best is Casa Casuarina; a gaudy but gorgeous mansion also referred to as the Versace House.

For many years, the house where fashion mogul, Gianni Versace, lived and died was only open to a privileged few but it has now opened its doors to the masses - or anyone who wants to cough up 65 bucks.

The hour long tour takes in Gianni's central courtyard, dining room, lounges, pool and a look at the marble toilet billed as one of only three in the world.

Best bites

The Magic City has a thriving local gastronomic scene (Miamians spend more time eating out than in their own kitchens), and there's a warren of restaurants with gourmet ambitions all dedicated to feeding you up.

For a casual lunch, check out the institution that is the News Café where you can nosh while watching beautiful people walking or rollerblading by - it maybe a cliché but it's fact.

Alternatively, fill your stomach to bursting point at Jerry's Famous Deli. No matter what you're craving in the comfort food genre, this much loved 24 hour Jewish food emporium will have it. Bagels? Check. Pizza? Check. Pasta? Check.

The place is invariably almost always packed with locals and tourists alike trying to stave off hangovers. Meanwhile politicians and power brokers gather for lunch at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink - hailed by The New York Times as one of the top 10 new restaurants in America.

Make no mistake: cuisine such as shiitake mushroom pizza and baby beet and heirloom salad is delicious, but it's the schmoozing that really adds spice to this landmark.From lunch to late night...At upscale Chinese eatery, Philippe, you can sup alongside Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Seacrest on crispy seaweed and shrimp toast.

The highlight, however, is the nightly noodle show where a mound of dough is beaten into submission and emerges as fine strands of noodles. It's not cheap (the bill is as over the top as the noodle show), but who's counting? Further along Collins Avenue, you can tuck into plates from all over Asia at The Setai's restaurant.

Culinary sensations such as octopus sashimi with tomato jelly, blue fin tuna tataki with sticky rice, fried crab and sesame balls are light enough that you won't leave too full to hit the clubs.

After dark

For post dinner drinks, seek out the Sky Bar; a red hot and happening venue patronised by perma-tanned models and modelisers. Then stop off at Ian Schrager's surreal Delano Hotel - a much loved local icon with a façade that makes Buckingham Palace look like a Travel Lodge and enough marble to rival Rome.

The hotel's Rose Bar boasts a lively scene straight out of the society pages of Hello! and offers late night eats, a club like atmosphere and - most importantly for Miamians - a fully stocked bar.

Yes it's pricey (budget is something of a misnoma in Sobe) and you might have to bust out your black Amex for the occasion, but hey - you only live once.

Aim to end your evening at The Mansion - an achingly cool club where you can dance away any calories consumed. Expect to queue (the line of plebes pleading to be allowed past the velvet rope snakes around the block), but once inside you can revel in the company of luminaries like JT and Jessica Biel.

Top shops

Miami is a world beating, over draft shattering shopper's town. Drop some dollars down Espanola Way - a European strip lined with beautiful boutiques (there's no brand bland here) and quirky art galleries.

Lovely Lincoln Road - an open air mall - is another lively place to stroll overflowing as it is with funky shops stocked with sexy tees and skinny jeans sporting four figure price tags, indie book stores and cafes which spill out onto the side walks.

Shopping aside, the people watching at Lincoln Road is among the best. The pedestrian esplanade is packed with leggy models, real estate gurus, socialites, gold diggers and Italian playboys for whom the main uniform is an exotic pampered pooch - making it quite the South Beach scene.

Sleepover

Now somewhere to stay... Selecting the right hotel is never easy; that's why First Class has done the legwork for you.

Best for... privacy

Whoever said Miami lacked finesse obviously hasn't stayed at the soothing Setai (www.setai.com). An oasis of calm on a go-go strip, The Setai has won a slew of awards and for good reason.

This pampering palace pushes the boundaries to an all new level of opulence and style. A combination of old school elegance and Asian architecture (the hotel centres on an Asian courtyard with stone paths, quiet corners and waterfalls), nothing has been done by halves.

Those grey, antique bricks in the lobby? Shipped over from Shanghai.

Rooms are decked out in chocolate teak, wood and Asian embellishments while amenities include three pools (each one has a different temperature and is surrounded by gardens with secluded corners), a first rate fitness centre and oriental spa.

On the food front, enjoy an alfresco lunch at the beach bar and grill or haute cuisine at The Restaurant; both serve breakfast until 11am meaning you can enjoy a long lie in (what's the point of staying at The Setai if you don't make the most of it?) Don't leave without trying a chilli passion cocktail at the bar between the lobby and courtyard.

Best for... partying

Matching The Setai's ante is Gansevoort South (www.gansevoortsouth.com) - the new southern outpost of New York's lauded Hotel Gansevoort - with its dramatic million dollar shark tank in the lobby.

If The Setai has a love affair with all things Asian, this Collins Avenue address is all about acid colours; hot pink, sun burnt orange and gold give Gansevoort South a seductive, charged air.

While all 334 rooms are unusually large, for the full on playboy lifestyle splurge on a suite. Said suites come equipped with custom designed tables, sofas, lounge chairs and oversized mirrors - perfect for preening in.

This bustling resort sees a constant influx of gorgeous creatures, who frequent the 18th floor for the 110ft palm tree fringed rooftop pool and bar.

To fit in with the fabulous folk, sweat in style at the onsite David Barton gym where you can sign up for innovative classes such as ‘slo-gasmic' and work out to music that comes compliments of international DJs perched on a sculpture 50 feet above the main floor.

The hotel, like the city, has the feel of the future.

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