Top 5

FAVOURITE SPOTS IN MIAMI

Miami Beach is a real Marmite city – you either love it or hate it – but I fall firmly into the latter camp. Between the ages of 18 and 22, I spent basically every spare pound I had on the same Virgin Atlantic flight from LHR → MIA. A pretty extravagant way to fritter my student loan, yes, but one that seemed justified by the free accommodation and familial face waiting for me at the other end (my father lived in the city for seven years).

Over the course of those years, Miami Beach – which, contrary to common perception, is actually a separate city to Miami ‘proper’, connected by three scenic causeways – became a place for which I developed a deep-rooted, second-home type of affection. I’d rarely engage in the bottle-drinking debauchery of Ocean Drive, preferring instead, to spend my days daydreaming on a quiet stretch of the beach or people-watching on Lincoln Road. A place of evocative memories - sultry heat, golden light, warm skin - Miami is a city I can never quite forget.

Here are the five places I think of when I think of Miami Beach.

The Raleigh Pool/The Royal Restaurant
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The Raleigh hotel is the location of my favourite swimming pool in the world: An idyllic turquoise wonder, outlined in black graphic curlicues. Admire it from the vantage point of poolside restaurant The Royal, which provides an elegant respite from the overwhelming heat and the throngs of bethonged tourists on Ocean Drive. The Cuban sandwiches and chopped salads are delicious, and fairly priced in comparison to similar offerings on the same strip.

La Sandwicherie
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This tiny lunch counter in South Beach attracts swarms of hungry visitors everyday. Once you’ve picked up one of their foil-wrapped sandwiches, it’s not hard to understand why. Piled with sliced meats, a mound of fresh salad and several slices of cheese (an omnipresent feature of any American sandwich), they come drizzled with the best French vinaigrette you’ll ever try. It’s so good, in fact, that they now bottle the stuff and sell it for you to take home. My kind of souvenir.

Puerto Sagua
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Miami’s huge Cuban community provide the city with much of its flavour – both figuratively and literally. Cuban cuisine might be a straightforward affair (think: meat, rice, beans, and repeat) but that doesn’t make it any less tasty, and Puerto Sagua offers some of the best in the city. This is a very no-frills dining experience, but it remains a local institution for good reason. The oxtail stew, ropa vieja and fried plantain are consistently delicious and highly affordable. Go hungry, leave happy.

Casa Tua
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A city of neon lights, thumping house music and looming beachfront resorts, Miami isn’t exactly renowned for its understated elegance. But hidden gem Casa Tua is as refined a dining experience as you could hope to find anywhere in the world. Located in a converted private home shaded by palm trees, the décor is ‘all-white-everything’, while the food is a more colourful fusion of fresh, Mediterranean flavours. Dinner for two in its romantic candelit garden will land you with a hefty bill, but Casa Tua is a perfect place to celebrate a special occasion in a special city.

Flamingo Park Pool
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It might be hard to believe it when you’re taking in the madness of Ocean Drive, but Miami Beach is actually a pretty low-key city where lots of people live, work and raise small children. When the poolside scene at your hotel gets too much, seek solace at Flamingo Park Pool: a public facility where you can swim laps and sunbathe away from the hordes of frat boys and fistpumpers. This much-loved local spot can get busy in the summer months, but it’s still considerably less manic than a day on Ocean Drive.