While the grounds and interiors of one of the most lavish former residences on Ocean Drive isn't open to the public, guests of The Setai, Miami Beach, receive special insider access. A curated, private tour arranged exclusively by the hotel goes behind the famous wrought-iron gates of the fabulous sea-front mansion previously owned by the late Italian designer, Gianni Versace.
In the past four years, the three-story sea-front palace has been transformed into a 10-suite luxury villa, restaurant, and event space. The tour of what is now known as The Villa Casa Casuarina begins with a chauffeured drive along the ocean-facing streets of South Beach.
The private tour includes a stop at the must-see million mosaic pool, whose more than one million mosaic tiles include hundreds made from 24-carat gold.
Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a glass of champagne, and an invitation to step inside an historic landmark on South Beach's picturesque Ocean Drive.
Originally built in 1930 by Alden Freeman, the architect, author, and philanthropist based his design on a 16-century castle, which was intended as a smaller scale replica of the Alcázar de Colón, built by Christopher Columbus’s son, Diego, in Santo Domingo. Freeman named his palace, Casa Casuarina. While the reason for the moniker was never documented, local legend has it that the owner was a fan of novelist W. Somerset Maugham, whose collection of short stories set in the 1920s was titled "The Casuarina Tree." Or, that it was named for the only remaining tree left on the lot after the 1926 hurricane hit South Florida, which Freeman cut down to make way for his new house.
The name was restored in 2013 as a nod to the original homeowner, and the interior design of the exquisite house maintains some of the villa’s original handiwork. Included are more than one hundred disc-shaped decorative medallions in the second story of the open-air courtyard; their subject matter ranging from portraits of Cleopatra to John D. Rockefeller. Most of the mansion, however, retains the signature Versace touch. The fashion designer meticulously oversaw a three-year renovation upon his purchase of the residence in 1992.
The tour includes a stop at the must-see 54-foot-long Million Mosaic Pool, which is made up of more than one million mosaic tiles, thousands of which are made from 24-carat gold. Versace had the pool crafted in Italy, then delivered to United States in various pieces for assembly.
The grand finale is an appropriately Italian-Mediterranean themed dinner at Gianni's at the Villa. The menu, with food and wine selections by Villa Casa Casuarina's chef Thomas Stewart, was created to transport visitors back in time when the villa entertained guests in opulent glamour inside the designer’s private quarters.
To learn more about The Setai, Miami Beach or to arrange a tour of The Villa Casa Casuarina, please contact the concierge upon making a reservation.