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Palm Springs Korakia Boutique Hotel – Something to Crow About
by Lena Hunt Mabra

Palm Springs is home to a world famous collection of modern architecture, immaculate golf courses, gated communities, a bustling night life, trendy shopping, and a brand new casino. However, Palm Springs also has a very eclectic side which stems from its rich history. There was a time when this sun-drenched desert valley was a cultural center for artists, musicians, dancers, and the literati.

In spite of all the new resorts, the old Palm Springs is making a new comeback. Guests are choosing smaller, more intimate hotels, allowing them to live the destination instead of just visiting. They enjoy the other side of Palm Springs, the side set to a beat of chamber music and a time when writers and artists traded their works in the Bohemian manner.

Like generations before us, people from around the globe flock to this desert oasis to retreat. Perhaps we withdraw to escape the routine and stress of everyday life. Maybe it’s to gain renewal through creativity, meditation, study, getting back to nature, or just to chill and have a good time.

To escape means to step into another pattern, a different time, and an unknown world. If this is the side of Palm Springs that you want to experience, then I have the perfect hotel for your great escape!

To get to it, you have to take a back street, just a short walk from the main strip of restaurants and shops, but far enough away that you are tucked into the shadow of the San Jacinto mountain peak where you can hike trails that leading into the alp.

I appear at the Korakia Pensione after one adventurous week of rock climbing and slumbering in a pitched tent on the desert floor. Blackened from the sun and soil of my last climb before the trip into town with beaten and dismantled luggage surrounding my dusty feet, I can only envision the thoughts that flash through the minds of the hotel staff as they greet me. I am quite a sight! However, their hospitality is as warm as the heat of Palm Springs and owner Douglas Smith compliments my tan.

Examining the lobby I suddenly realize that Korakia is unlike any place I had ever abode before. I am whisked away to another country, a place that can only be reached by crossing several oceans. There are soaring beamed ceilings, white washed stone walls, rounded corners, and furnishings from all over the globe, including an Italian sideboard and a chest and chairs from Afghanistan. The staff wears simple, white linen clothing like Greek summer attire.

What continent am I on? I ask myself as they check me in with pen and paper. There is no computerized check-in process here. Messages are individually delivered to the villas, bungalows, and guest houses. There is no state-of-the art anything. No television. No email checking. No alarm clock in the room. However, you can watch movies outside near the candle-lit pool and outdoor fireplaces.

Relish the European tradition of nightly bed turndowns with a chocolate treat and fresh flowers on your linens. Savor a homemade breakfast with freshly squeezed juice from the ornamental citrus trees growing right outside your room. Refresh from the desert sun in the cool waterfalls of the stone fountain. Allow Korakia’s therapist Michael and Patty to treat you to soothing massage modalities: couples massage, zen shiatzu, reflexology, the Energy Works, or The Korakia Combination. Let time stand still as you engage in conversation or relax in seclusion until the sun kisses the mountains.

The key-hole grand entrance to the lobby houses huge, intricately-detailed wooden French doors left open to unify the indoors with the outdoors. A warm, citrus breeze drifts in from the front courtyard and demands my attention to look up and examine the stone paved courtyard and the exotic central fountain.

French doors on the opposite side are also left wide open, framing a custom-designed mosaic pool (with a crow at the bottom of the pool!). Fallen bougainvillaea petals surround the trees. Everything in me - the writer, the dreamer, the artist, the photographer, the explorer, the individual - sensorizes. Famous celebrities, renowned photographers, leading publications, supermodels, and designers travel to this Mediterranean-but-in-the-U.S.A. location for inspiration, too! Nothing is set up, staged, or propped. Everywhere I turn is a perfect photo op or artist’s lookout point. Mix in Moroccan music, heavily-spiced tea, and pine nuts for a transporting exprience!

The Korakia comprises two historic villas. Scottish painter Gordon Coutts built the original Moroccan villa and screen star J. Carroll Nash owned the Mediterranean villa. Both villas were lovingly and tediously renovated by owner and leading California architectural preservationist, Douglas Smith. Local handymen, not master carpenters and landscape architects create the dream. His style of design is more of an “un-design”, creating an atmosphere of originality. “Successful design means that I was never here,” says Douglas.

Lovely and polite General Manager Flor Schechtel invites me to stay in The Library, once the unofficial cultural center of Palm Springs. How appropriate, putting a writer in The Library; the perfect little extra touch.

Ignoring the need to wash the traces of the rock climbing trip off my face, I plop into the luxurious, exotic poster bed. The high wood beam ceiling draws my eyes upward but the shelves of books draw them to the side.

I am sitting where THE artist Gordon Coutts displayed and sold his paintings; surrounding me are rare and first edition books from around the world. My mind was screaming! I could vividly picture the artists and writers in their literary discussions and after their time together, taking home a souvenir landscape painting. Even Winston Churchill stayed here.

A few more I-cannot-believe-this minutes before I open the French doors and kerplunk back into the fluffy feather bed with exquisite linens, imprinted with the Korakia insignia. Every single piece and design is a historical work of art. The high wood beam ceiling, Persian rug, chairs from Afghanistan, vases from Greece, a pillow from Macedonia . . . my eyes follow everything and then drift out on to the glorious private patio. It is all so Moroccan, so perfect.

Then I touch all that I see. My fingers follow the cool, smooth arches of the room. No acute angles anywhere. I move my index finger over the signature in the books and smell their leather covers. I sense the age of the manuscripts, the originality of the artwork, the history of the place.


Lena Hunt Mabra, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent. Join the Travel Writers Network in the logo at