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It’s Sunday brunch in The Pavilion at the International Polo Club Palm Beach and the joint is jumping. The vast space resonates with animated chatter, champagne corks popping, the thunder of horses’ hooves and the steady thwack of mallets as several hundred well-heeled revellers enjoy a prime field-side view of a 20-goal tournament.
Fuelled by a seemingly endless supply of canapes and chilled Veuve Clicquot, the high-spirited table talk has gone from a gentle canter to a fast and furious gallop.
"Has anyone spotted Bill and Melinda Gates?" "Is Jessica Springsteen here with Bruce?" "Are the Bloombergs in town this winter?" "And OMG! What is that woman wearing?" The gossip races at a clip until another goal elicits hearty cheers and a round of enthusiastic applause.
SHARE Share on Facebook SHARE Share on Twitter TWEET Pin to Pinterest PIN Link The Veuve Clicquot flows like water at the Palm Beach International Polo Club.
On the other side of the field, polo club members are cocooned in their own elite retreat, socialising in the aptly named 7th-Chukker dining room and bar before relaxing by the resort-size outdoor pool. They, of course, are the ones rubbing saddles with the Gates, Springsteen and Bloomberg bloodlines, along with other corporate titans, A-list celebrities, social butterflies and assorted beautiful people, and are definitely not talking about the chattering masses in The Pavilion.
Half-time heralds the traditional "divot stomp" when both sets of spectators descend on the field to restore turf clumps dislodged by fleet-footed ponies and poorly swung mallets – the ladies taking special care not to soil their Jimmy Choos.
And at day’s end, when the last trophies have been presented and empty picnic hampers packed away, the general consensus is that a jolly good time was had by all.
Visiting Florida’s Palm Beach during polo season and not going to a tournament is like attending the Melbourne Cup and not placing a bet. From December to April each year, this exclusive (albeit idiosyncratic) event tears up the turf from the manicured polo fields of Wellington – a 30-minute drive west of Palm Beach – to the ritzy restaurants and gilt-edged designer boutiques of Worth Avenue.
The 16-week equine spectacle turns this otherwise refined, gracious and insanely wealthy enclave on the Atlantic Ocean into a surf-and-turf frenzy of high-octane parties, networking and shameless social climbing.
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy Palm Beach if you don’t know the difference between a flank and a fetlock.
Blessed with kilometres of soft-sand beaches, this alluring destination delivers outstanding food, music, sights, shopping, golf, history, arts and culture, along with beautiful lakes and waterways, a vibrant nightlife and a full sporting calendar headlined by the polo season.
Life here moves at a decidedly languid pace. The average annual temperature is a pleasant 26 degrees and the sun shines for more than 230 days a year.
Palatial mansions, especially those along coveted South Ocean Boulevard, enjoy breathtaking ocean views, delivering residents an unparalleled lifestyle on the scale of The Great Gatsby.
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Smaller but equally beautiful homes line the palm-shaded streets of central Palm Beach, interspersed with luxury retreats such as The Brazilian Court Hotel, set in exotic gardens on Australian Avenue and a stroll from Worth Avenue’s boutiques and cafes. Spanish-Mediterranean architecture creates an old-world European ambience with a tropical Palm Beach twist. The 80 rooms and suites are classic in style with mahogany and bronze fixtures, wood shutters and king beds topped with imported linens.
The hotel’s social hub is Cafe Boulud – the Palm Beach outpost of top chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurant empire – and its intimate bar and lounge which hosts live entertainment on Thursday and Friday nights.
Despite its sun, surf and sand reputation, Palm Beach has a thriving cultural heritage. The Flagler Museum, once home to oil and rail magnate Henry Morrison Flagler, is a grand and stately reminder of America’s Gilded Age and the man who put much of Florida on the map.The Ann Norton Sculpture Garden, Norton Museum of Art, and Society of the Four Arts are a trio of highly creative institutions showcasing classic and contemporary artworks.
SHARE Share on Facebook SHARE Share on Twitter TWEET Pin to Pinterest PIN Link Action on the field at the Palm Beach International Polo Club.
If upscale shopping is your bag, Worth Avenue in the heart of Palm Beach will more than satisfy any retail cravings for top designer brands – assuming your credit card is fully loaded.
West Palm Beach’s Antique Row is also worth a visit, featuring more than 40 quality antiques emporiums and home design stores lining South Dixie Highway.
And Palm Beach’s food scene is burgeoning thanks to innovative chefs like Clay Conley – the culinary powerhouse behind the wonderful Imoto and buccan in central Palm Beach and the critically acclaimed Grato in West Palm Beach.
Throw in a chukker or two of polo during your visit and you really have a memorable Florida holiday in the palm of your hands.
Andrew Conway travelled as a guest of Discover The Palm Beaches.
Qantas operates daily non-stop A380 services between Sydney and Dallas/Fort Worth with onward connections to Palm Beach via its code share partner, American Airlines. See qantas.com
The Brazilian Court Hotel is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. Rates from $US649 (about $812) a night. See lhw.com or thebraziliancourt.com
Polo tickets are available from the International Polo Club Palm Beach. See ipc.coth.com