Today, from the “90 Miles to Cuba” marker in Key West to glitzy Palm Beach, the entire South Florida corridor is a busy year-round destination. Seeking a quiet retreat reminiscent of Florida’s halcyon days, singer Gloria Estefan opened the 94-room Costa d’Este Resort in Vero Beach in 2008, about an hour north of Palm Beach. She and her husband Emilio own a house up there to escape the 24/7 lights of Miami every once in a while, so we drove up to do the same and check out the resort.
Vero is really the first major tourism destination north of Palm Beach, with a handful of resorts lining the tropical, cobalt blue seas that get colder and less cobalt immediately due north. When you pull up the driveway, you’re welcomed with a bone white building unlike anything else in these parts. The orbital “cheese holes” covering the facade and port-cochere immediately conjure up thoughts of Miami Beach’s favorite son, architect Morris Lapidus, who invented the look at the iconic Art Moderne Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels.
The South Beach inspiration at Costa d’Este is evident the moment you step in the lobby. In a nifty display of diaphanous virtual art, a slide projector illuminates a copper beaded curtain with an ephemeral bird of paradise dancing on the metal canvas. Behind that, a synthetic amber onyx wall is backlit with amber lights, next to a dozen candles flickering in cutouts inside a wood panel wall. In fact, all of the light in Costa d’Este is amber to create a candlelit mood.
On the other side of the lobby, ballast stones removed from a nearby shipwreck are placed on top of shells winding along the floor into the restaurant. And straight ahead, a small black and white Romero Britto drawing is almost unnoticeable leading out to the pool.
“The Estefans were really involved throughout the entire project, so you’ll see little finishing touches on everything,” says Monica Smiley, director of sales/marketing, during our tour.
Embedded in the hallway walls and guest room doors, shaved bullhorn circles have a pearlized translucent quality. Inside the elevators, there’s seagrass sealed in resin in the elevator walls; the outside is covered with wallpaper wrap of Gloria’s album art.
Especially fun, two long photos transferred onto canvas of girls swimming underwater line the walls leading to the pool. The pool is the central hub of activity at Costa d’Este with both locals and guests mingling around the pool bar. They’ve recently introduced a pool concierge offering frozen grapes, magazines, misting, etc., as well as a hand and foot masseuse. When you’re a guest at Costa d’Este, you spend a lot of time lounging around the pool, which extends right up to the edge of the beach sloping down into the sea.
Encircling the pool, the majority of guest rooms including three suites and a penthouse have spectacular ocean views. The Estefan’s carpenter built all of the low lying furniture and platform beds floating just off the floor, covered with light brown and copper blankets. The neutral tone is highlighted with a recessed pane of orchid photography backlit in the wood slat headboard.
“Overall there’s a very neutral palette that allows the aqua blue ocean to be the star of the room,” says Smiley. “The decor is actually very similar as the Estefans’ home.”
For receptions and meetings for up to 100 pax, the ballroom features small spherical lights that look like champagne bubbles. There’s a stage with full A/V and the room opens up to a quiet bamboo garden off the port cochere.
We end our tour in the spa, where Gloria’s touch is really evident. The stock rack behind the desk is covered with mother of pearl, amber onyx and alligator wallpaper. There’s a Japanese-style dojo vibe with bamboo paper walls and a row of floral succulents planted in stone and shells below a glass waterfall. Love the recycled windshield glass wallpaper too.
On our last night, we dined in the Wave Kitchen & Bar at a semi-private table enclosed by a delicate copper chain curtain. Try the grilled NY Strip with “Espagnole” sauce, consisting of brown sugar, onion, carrot, sherry & herbs.
“Gloria’s favorite is the Cuban-style roasted chicken,” says Smiley. The Pollo Asado is marinated in naranja agria (sour oj), white wine and Cuban creole sauce.
During dinner Smiley says, “On opening night, security spotted a turtle coming ashore to nest. Everyone was so excited and it felt like a really good omen.”
Sometimes when you travel in this business, you come across people who seem perfectly aligned and at home in their hotel. Smiley is like that. Her passion for Costa d’Este and its story is real and heartfelt, almost like Gloria and Emilio themselves were inviting you up for lunch and showing you around their place.