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The Globe and Mail

Landmark Hotels Dot San Juan; Lindbergh, Vanderbilt Highlight History Of Storied, Luxury Beach Resorts

New York Times

October 10, 2003
Copyright ©2003
Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO -- Ponce de Leon founded Old San Juan, but about three kilometres east, another man of adventure had another enduring idea.

In 1919, Cornelius Vanderbilt built the elegant Condado Vanderbilt Hotel on a sandy beach, using the architects who designed Grand Central Station in New York City. Socialites and heads of state found their way to this luxury resort. It was home base for Charles Lindbergh when he was flying around the Caribbean for Pan Am.

When gambling was legalized in 1940 in Puerto Rico, the Vanderbilt Condado was the first hotel to have a casino.

In 1942, another luxury hotel opened: the Normandie, an art deco extravaganza built in the shape of a ship to recall the famous Normandie oceanliner. Felix Benitez Rexach built the hotel in honour of his French wife, Moineau. More than 1,500 people paid $5 each to attend the opening party. The highlight of the evening was Moineau's impromptu dive into the pool – without her clothes.

Unfortunately, the hotel, which was traditionally an ocean blue, has been painted a drab tan. But it's still an impressive landmark.

Other hotels popped up on Condado Beach, including the Caribe Hilton International, built in 1949.

The Vanderbilt is getting a massive restoration, but there are lots of other luxury resorts here, including the San Juan Marriott and Casino in Condado, the Ritz-Carlton, the nearby Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort and the Intercontinental in Isla Verde just down the beach from Condado.

And for those looking for small inns instead of high-rise hotels, there are three boutique hotels.

The Wind Chimes Inn in Condado is one block from the beach and has the ambiance of a serene Spanish hacienda. There's a tiny swimming pool, an excellent outdoor restaurant and small guest rooms with Spanish-tile floors.

There are also two wonderful inns in the wealthy neighbourhood of Ocean Park next to Condado, 30 metres from the ocean's waves: Hosteria del Mar and Numero Uno Guest House on the Beach. Both have excellent restaurants.

Hosteria del Mar's restaurant is famous in San Juan and features Puerto Rican specialties. It's expensive but worth it – you could end up happily spending more money on food on than your room.

The Wind Chimes Inn (1750 McLeary St., 787-727-4153); Hosteria del Mar (1 Tapia St., 787-727-3302); Numero Uno Guest House on the Beach (1 Santa Ana St., 787-726-5010.

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