BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (MainStreet) -- In a city that has no less than two installments of the Four Seasons brand, a Peninsula and the Beverly Hills Hotel, it's no small feat that the fledgling Montage Hotels & Resorts has become one of the city's top hotel draws. The hotel and resort management company, created in 2002 by Alan J. Fuerstman, uses refined design and a nimble business model to compete in a luxury market dominated by names that have been Tinseltown fixtures since the 1920s.

The Montage story really begins in 2003 with its first opening along a prime piece of waterfront real estate in Laguna Beach, one of the most exclusive enclaves of California's Orange County. The business landscape is familiar: Montage Laguna Beach entered a market already supporting an outpost of the St. Regis brand in addition to a longer-established Ritz-Carlton just south of the city. Set along 30 acres, the 250-room property came to the market with a luxe spin on Craftsman style and sophisticated aesthetic that mixes original artwork from William Wendt and Edgar Payne with an underlying surf town vibe that doesn't frown on sandy feet or valeting your surfboard.
Montage Hotels & Resorts properties stand out -- even in Beverly Hills, a city that has no less than two installments of the Four Seasons brand, a Peninsula and the classic Beverly Hills Hotel.

Today, Montage Laguna Beach regularly outpaces area competition in terms of average nightly rates -- summer rates often hover above $700, with a two-night minimum on weekends -- and cache, being called the top address in Orange County by Andrew Harper Travel's Readers' Choice Awards and Travel + Leisure, just to name a couple. It has established and elevated its brand distinction through such unrivaled facilities as its 20,000 square-foot Spa Montage in Laguna Beach and unique one-off eateries, including its Studio fine-dining restaurant led by Chef Craig Strong in a detached dining room at the edge of the property's waterfront.

Behind Montage Hotels & Resorts is Ohana Real Estate Investors LLC, a relative unknown in the hospitality world until investors that included The Athens Groups, an original developer of the Laguna Beach property, and Pierre Omidyar, founder and chairman of eBay, bought a majority stake of an area resort development business from Marriott International, eventually turning it into Montage Laguna Beach. Today, the real estate investment and oversight group aims to "achieve superior long-term returns through the development and ownership of luxury hospitality assets and to make strategic hospitality-related acquisitions."

In December, the company debuted its third property, Montage Deer Valley -- a ski-in/ski-out resort within Utah's Park City community. This July, it acquired Bacara Resort & Spa, just north of Santa Barbara, from the Adco Group, a privately owned New York-based firm led by founder Alvin Dworman. It developed and opened the Bacara in 2000 at a cost of $222 million, according to the Santa Barbara News-Press. Bacara made national headlines as the site of Oprah's famous 2005 Legends Ball, where such celebrities as Tom Cruise, Mariah Carey and John Travolta mingled. (It also made plenty of local headlines when the surrounding community felt "shut out" and opposed the Bacara's ongoing development. Perhaps in an attempt to start a new chapter with its neighbors, the hotel's new owner is about to host an open house for the community.) As to speculation about the its branding, "Bacara will not be a Montage Hotel," says Jeff Johnson, vice president of marketing at Montage.

For a next step, Montage has its eyes set on Mexico's Los Cabos. Much like its Beverly Hills and Laguna Beach properties, the planned resort will incorporate local architecture that aims to complement the area's history -- incorporating indoor/outdoor living, folkloric artwork and natural desert color tones. An opening date is uncertain. "We have slowed down the development activity in Cabo until we are confident that the residential and resort markets are healthy enough to support the additional inventory," Fuerstman says. "Long term, we remain very excited about Cabo and believe our site is the premiere location on the Baja peninsula."

Montage will enter a crowded market in Los Cabos. Micro-luxury brands such as One&Only, owned by Kerzner International Holdings Limited, and Esperanza, by California-based Auberge Resorts -- operator of five-star properties such as Calistoga Ranch and Auberge du Soleil in the Napa Valley -- are its most identifiable competitors, as well as Las Ventanas al Paraiso, managed by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts and owned by Ty Warner.

While Montage can certainly become an international hotel brand to reckon with, even compared with the likes of Four Seasons, Starwood's St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton, what Montage succeeds in creating better than many is a unique and visceral connection to its locations that isn't lost once the hotel room door closes.

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Michael Martin is the managing editor of, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.