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June 25, 2008

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Casa Casuarina
Living in lavish luxury in Miami ... without the hefty price tag!
By Tom Calicchio

In 1930, Casa Casuarina was built for Alden Freeman who wanted a faithful replica of Christopher Colombusí sonís house in Santo Domingo, which was built in 1510. Alden enjoyed only seven years in the house and upon his death in 1937, the house was purchased by Jacques Amsterdam who converted it into 22 apartments. In 1992, Gianni Versace bought the property for $2.9 million, along with an adjacent hotel, which was demolished. He restored the main house to its original configuration and embellished each room with ornate decorations, letting his creativity run wild with no boundaries. He added a 6,000-square-foot wing and built a magnificent pool area on the former hotel site. The result was his glorious private mansion where he hosted his friends and celebrities. After he was killed entering his house one morning in 1997, his sister and sole heir Donatella Versace, inherited the house. She sold her brotherís important art collection and some of the more valuable contents of the house for $50 million. Not wanting to live in the place where her brother was murdered, she sold the house itself to Peter Loftin in September 2000 for $19 million.

Loftin has retained all the splendor of Versaceís creation and turned the house into a members-only club with an initiation fee of $50,000 and dues of $4,000 per year. The house has been configured into 10 themed suites for guests (Safari suite, La Mer suite, Parrot suite, for example) and includes indoor and outdoor dining areas, several intimate bars and lounges and a rooftop deck with comfortable pillowed and shaded relaxation spots. After clearing security at the closely guarded front gates, visitors enter into the colonnaded central courtyard centered by a calming fountain that pays tribute to the early explorers of the new world. All of the suites are lavishly appointed with antiques and detailed architectural finishings. There are three suites with specially created oversized beds that are twice the width of ordinary king-sized beds that Versace had ordered. The only way to get them into the rooms was to open the outside walls and have riggers crane them into the rooms. Every inch of wall, floor and ceiling is a hand-finished extravagance of mosaic, fresco, stone and exotic tile. The attention to detail and luxury of the rooms is overwhelming and you would find comparable sumptuousness only in the private homes of the super-rich.

Guests enjoy a private stretch of beach with cabanas and chaise longues, where butlers provide chilled towels, sun care products and custom programmed iPods. Of course, your special requests of food and drink will be brought to you when desired. Casa Casuarina, 1116 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, FL, 33139, Tel: 305-672-2679.

The best kept secret in South Beach is this: If you are a guest at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami and speak to the concierge about their Luxury Beach Experience, you will be chauffeured to Casa Casuarina and have all-day use of the pool, relaxation areas, restaurants and beach facility. If you choose to go out in the evening in South Beach, the beach butler will deliver your beach bags and apparel back to your room at the Mandarin. The cost is $175 (plus tax) per person, and is a great way to experience the splendid sanctuary without dropping $50,000 to become a member. Mandarin Oriental, 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami, FL, 33131, Tel: 866-888-6780.

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All information presented here is accurate at the time of publication but prices, dates and other details are all subject to change. Please confirm all information before making any travel arrangements.

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