Your first moment of Zen arrives when you stroll across a graceful bridge riveted by the sight of two swans swimming below. This is the entrance to Hotel Bel Air and a signal that everything here is out of the ordinary. There is no doubt where you are: a botanical garden, a secret enclave. But it?s neither the California nor the Los Angeles we?re used to seeing. Nothing about the Hotel Bel Air is.An oasis once California chapparal, it?s now home to plants from around the world. Some familiar (Gingko biloba) and others seldom seen on such a scale (gigantic fig trees). For the plant lover, what better place to park every stress in the world than in this historic place?

A sanctuary for Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly decades ago, Elizabeth Taylor (a neighbour) still sends for the famous tortilla soup and no wonder?the kitchen is justifiably famous. The amazing food renders it unnecessary to leave the premises. From the killer Cr?me Brulee French Toast for breakfast to Colorado lamb for dinner, it is superb.

The hotel is spread throughout the 12-acre garden, which cossets the visitor along its winding trails. The room: dulcet with a wood burning fireplace and a private courtyard large enough to have afternoon tea with a friend. And once you let yourself go, it?s easy to get your bearings by following the sound of fountains.

Fountains are everywhere. Eventually you discover the joys of the swimming pool and a second moment of Zen: eating a plate of lobster salad while gazing across the surrounding canyon hills?you know this is paradise.

But it?s not just the facial in the room, or the glorious food that make for an indulgent weekend. Or the long walks through the gardens trying to identify plants and marveling at such exotica as Australian tree ferns (Cyathea cooperi) and Bird-of-Paradise plants mixing it up with yews, elms and sycamores. Nope, it?s the stillness of it all. In an increasingly raucous world this elegant place is a refuge from the brutality of noise. No thumping music disturbs the tranquility, just plants and peacefulness and an infinitely kind staff. Hotel Bel Air is the essence of grown-up civility.

Hotel Bel-Air?
701 Stone Canyon Road ?Los Angeles, CA 90077
Reservations: 800.648.4097
Main: 310.472.1211
Restaurant: 310.472.5234
Rooms from $395 to $650 USD; suites from $875 up.