It’s just around the corner, but you might as well be in Barcelona.
Once you step out the French doors leading to the wrought-iron balcony of a guestroom at downtown Palo Alto’s Garden Court Hotel, you hear the Mediterranean fountain burbling in the Spanish-tiled courtyard. Muffled sounds of diners at Il Fornaio restaurant waft up from the patio below.
A billowing green-striped awning covers the restaurant’s patio area, coordinating with the forest-green hotel canopies above the meeting rooms. Sitting at the filigreed iron table and chairs, customers can work or meditate while munching on pastries from Shokolaat next door, provided on the landing of each floor from 6-9 a.m. daily.
During the year, the Garden Court provides the ideal staycation for Bay Area residents who want to enjoy Palo Alto shopping and restaurants. Rooms go for $300-$900, which is still cheaper than a flight to Europe.
In fact, the hotel runs a weekend hometown staycation special for $299 that waives the $17 valet fee, offers an Il Fornaio gift certificate and welcomes visitors with organic chocolates and champagne. From now through the end of August, the hotel also offers 30 percent off a third night’s stay.
The Garden Court’s appeal is broad: Business travelers like the hotel’s technological touches and meeting-planning services, a wedding team helps plan that special day and, once summer arrives, it’s a stopping-off point for parents of Stanford University students.
The hotel offers 7,000 square feet of meeting and reception space, including three ceremony venues. The downstairs Courtyard Ballroom opens onto the courtyard and accommodates up to 300 guests. The smaller but airy Grove Ballroom on the second floor features massive arch windows and can hold up to 200 guests. The Terrace Room opens onto a balcony and terrace overlooking the courtyard and hosts up to 50 seated guests.
It makes the dorms look shabby, but that’s what you would expect from a hotel owned by one
of the richest women in the world.
Rosalia Mera, a Spanish self-made billionaire, according to Forbes Magazine, started Zara, a woman’s clothing line, with her former husband. Now divorced, Mera purchased the hotel in 2006.
A lush makeover
Last year, Spanish interior designer Pablo Paniagua completed a nine-month, $9 million room renovation that brought in natural light, provided a technologically advanced workplace for business travelers and created a Zen-like oasis in the middle of Palo Alto for leisure tourists.
Most bathrooms feature arresting gray marble and rain showers. The hotel boasts 11 suites, three executive rooms and a penthouse that offers a king bed, a jetted spa tub and a spacious living room with private bar, fireplace and landscaped patio gardens – complete with fountain.
The 62-room hotel’s “really extensive renovation involved tearing down interior walls so that we went back to the studs,” said general manager Barbara Gross.
It’s not over yet, however. The next “soft renovation” will revamp the lobby to match the guestrooms’ beige wall color and blue and brown furniture. Gross applauded Paniagua’s creativity and innovative touches, like the bold geometric rug designs and the desk organizers filled with office supplies. Paniagua mixed sophisticated enameled and lacquered woods with mixed metals for a lush, contemporary look.
The wireless Internet access is complimentary, and other technological amenities include wide HDTV screens, clock radios for iPods and a free Garden Court iPhone application, which links to a map of downtown restaurants and Palo Alto landmarks.
Pampered pets and entourages
Gross and Guest Services Manager Jeffrey Phillips chatted over a glass of wine at the hotel’s weekly social hour, scheduled 5-7 p.m. Wednesdays for guests, prospective brides and other clients. Phillips’ dog wandered among the guests, attesting to the hotel’s pet-friendly policy. For $49 a visit, pets receive turndown service, too, and the staff will walk dogs on request.
Pepe Tena, Gross’ boss at Ferrado Garden Court LLC, the Newport Beach-based company via which Mera owns the hotel, talked to an interior designer sitting across from him on a striped overstuffed couch. They flipped through a sample book, choosing fabrics and furniture for the new look for public areas. Gross joked about Tena’s “dilemma” as the father of four daughters: providing for four weddings, which are a Garden Court specialty.
Close to museums, spas, salons and Stanford Shopping Center, the hotel also makes a good resting spot for parents of Stanford’s incoming and prospective freshmen. Discounts apply to visiting parents, especially during the summer months.
It’s not just parents and corporate types who appreciate the boutique hotel. It attracts celebrities from all occupations, including the political arena.
“We’ve hosted the people who are really changing the way we live, and most everyone is cordial and conversational,” Gross said.
Ted Turner, Ed Norton, Diane Keaton, even Carmel’s Clint Eastwood have registered. When Denny LeVett, co-owner with Doris Day of Carmel’s Cypress Inn, had to move out of his Forest Street apartment temporarily, he and his dog happily moved in. President Barack Obama’s entire security staff stayed at the hotel during the 2008 campaign.
During the week, a thriving corporate business reigns, with many companies booking meeting rooms. Recently, General Motors unveiled its newest-model Buick for sales representatives at the hotel, taking advantage of the business center on every floor and conversation areas with espresso-colored furniture that make good impromptu meeting spots.
The Garden Court Hotel is located at 520 Cowper St. in Palo Alto. For more information, visit www.gardencourt.com.