The Suite Life of Seniors

When most people think about senior living facilities, they think of the stereotypical nursing home decorated in monochromatic gray tones and sterile lighting, where elderly people play checkers and the food served is as lifeless and colorless as the surroundings. As Josh Cabrera, general manager of the Palace puts it, they’re probably thinking of somewhere, “where people are waiting to die.” However pervasive that stereotype may be, it’s a far stretch from what life is like in Coral Gables’ elite senior living communities. 

The leading senior living communities in and around Coral Gables are just that — communities. And living in one feels like you’ve escaped Coral Gables and wandered into one of the communities described in Dan Buettner’s seminal book “The Blue Zones.” Known for having the highest concentration of octogenarians, nonagenarians, and centenarians in the world, Blue Zones demonstrate some of the most important lifestyle factors that contribute to a long, healthy, and happy life.

The good news is that most of those factors — social connections, mental stimulation, good diets, active lifestyles — can be found right here in Coral Gables’ senior living communities.


Alberta Darling

Alberta Darling walks toward the bar with her Havanese pup Daisy in tow. Every once in a while, she’ll come to the community’s daily happy hour for her favorite drink, a vodka soda with Absolut, and to participate in the lively conversation among residents. With its opulent chandeliers and Baroque-inspired decor, The Palace looks more like a luxury hotel you’d find in Paris than a senior living community (it was modeled after the George V Hotel), but Darling, a former Wisconsin state senator, says it reminds her more of college.

“I feel like I’m in a college dorm. People literally come and stop by your room to say hi, or call if you’re not down for dinner… and you’re around so many interesting, well-educated people,” she says. Residents are also walking distance from the shops, restaurants, theaters (live and movie), and art galleries of downtown Coral Gables, so there is no lack of culture. 

Darling moved to The Palace two years ago after retiring from a 30-year career in politics. She made the move to Miami to be closer to her daughter and has loved living at The Palace so far. Known for her work balancing Wisconsin’s state budget and supporting education reform, Darling is a big fan of the programs The Palace offers to keep their residents learning even in the latter part of their lives. Partnering with the University of Miami, the community offers a multitude of classes for residents, covering subjects from AI to new languages. Darling herself is considering taking up Spanish, and she’s also learning how to play mahjong with the other residents.

In addition to educational classes, The Palace also offers a wealth of physical activities, like  chair Pilates and yoga, water aerobics, tai chi, meditation, low-impact movement classes, and Zumba — a very popular option according to general manager Josh Cabrera. Darling doesn’t have a favorite form of exercise, but she does love to garden on her balcony and watch her hibiscus plants grow. 

As a former politician, Darling says she makes sure she stays up to date on the news. She watches the news twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, and in between she exercises, reads, and talks to her friends. The social aspect of living at The Palace is Darling’s favorite thing about the community. She compares it to what she liked most about her career in politics.


“People always asked me, ‘How can you stand politics?’ And I said, ‘It’s because of the people. I’ve met so many great people.’ I really enjoy that,” she says.

For Darling, there wasn’t a stigma associated with moving to a senior living community like The Palace because it doesn’t feel like a stereotypical senior living community. Instead, it’s just a beautiful place to live close to her family where she has the chance to learn new things and meet new people.

The Liebermans

The Liebermans’ apartment at Belmont Village is like walking into a cool, exclusive art gallery. Pieces the couple has collected over the years from their time in North Carolina, Georgia, and Coral Gables line the walls. Fresh flowers sit atop almost every table, and not one pillow, painting, or light fixture is out of place.

David and Renee Lieberman are also a sight to behold. David’s button-up shirt is perfectly pressed, and Renee’s maroon lipstick matches the exact shade of her top. Given the two’s former professions — David worked for the University of Miami as the senior vice president for business and finance for nearly 30 years, and Renee worked for over 17 years at the New World School of the Arts as a college advisor — their exactness and attention to detail makes sense.


For the last 50 years, the Liebermans have lived in South Florida, and for a large part of that time in Coral Gables. However, when Belmont Village opened up in January adjacent to the Shops at Merrick Village, the couple decided to move into the community to be around more people. They were actually the first residents to sign on.

“We wanted to live where there’s social life. When we saw the Belmont and looked into it, it was everything we wanted it to be. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful place, and the national company has a great reputation.… The financial model is wonderful because it’s rental. It’s not ownership, which means that in order to retain us, they have to take good care of us,” says David with a laugh.

Renee shakes her head with a smile before listing the activities the pair do every week. In some ways, the 10-story complex resembles a college campus, with an art studio, theater, game room, swimming pool, gym, and spaces for classes and events. It’s also walking distance to restaurants and shops. The facility was created in partnership with Baptist Health, so residents have access to a holistic wellness center staffed by specialists in nutrition and disease prevention as well.


Belmont Village is currently at 49 percent occupancy, and Renee says that she pretty much knows everyone in the community. She also enjoys her weekly chair Pilates class and looks forward to water aerobics. David drives to the University of Miami a few times a week to swim laps like he’s done for the last 25 years and plays poker regularly with his friends.

Outside of moving to a new location, not much has changed for the Liebermans. Living at Belmont doesn’t feel too different because they still enjoy all the activities they did before moving to the community, but with an expanded social circle. “The people are very, very welcoming. The staff are all very nice, very warm. From day one, they made me feel welcome here,” says Renee. David follows, “I think Belmont Village knows what they’re doing. They know how to build a culture overnight.”


The Feinbergs

Eli Feinberg has always been a wine aficionado. It’s one of his great passions in life. So, when he and his wife Andi Feinberg were considering a move to a senior living community, finding somewhere to store Eli’s wine collection was paramount. It just so happened that at the community they were interested in, the Watermark, that was possible.

When you walk into the Feinbergs’ apartment, the first thing you see is a wardrobe-sized double-door wine cooler holding anywhere from 200 to 400 bottles at any given time. Past the giant wine cooler, there are bookshelves filled with Andi’s cookbooks. Living at the Watermark, the couple is able to pursue and enjoy some of their favorite activities in life. Eli has his cooler filled with wines, which he shares with other residents at dinner, a tradition he calls “toasting the golden grape.” And Andi fulfills her love of food and new cuisines by indulging in Coral Gables’ rich restaurant scene.

The hardest part of moving to a senior living community for the Feinbergs was making the decision to move in the first place. “After that, everything fell in place,” says Andi. “It just seemed like the right decision. Living here is just so easy. If I want to make my bed lower, all I have to do is call someone downstairs and it’s taken care of. It’s not like I have to find someone, call them, and then wait around for them to come.”

After living in Pinecrest for 30-something years and working together for 40 in Eli’s lobbying  practice, the couple finally made the move to the Watermark in July after they both faced some health complications. Since moving, they haven’t looked back, and have even picked up some new hobbies as a result.

Eli is currently working on improving his Spanish and learning from the other residents. He still meets with his friends for their regular poker game, and Andi has taken charge in the community. Outside of attending some of her favorite exercise classes like “Balance and Stretch,” she’s organized a resident’s committee to make suggestions on improving the community.  In March, she also spoke on a women’s panel for International Women’s Day at the community.


For the Feinbergs, there’s no stigma about living at the Watermark. From the rooftop pool there are views of Coral Gables in every direction, and activities include movie matinees, yoga programs, art classes, and music concerts – not to mention nearby restaurants, like Havanna Harry’s, Erba, and those at the Shops at Merrick Park (which also has the luxury Landmark cinema). There are Sunday shuttles to local churches as well.

More than anything, the Feinbergs love the sense of community they’ve found there. “I know everyone’s names here,” says Andi. “When we first moved in, I made it my goal. I would study the directory. The socialization is key. I can’t begin to tell you the stories that are in this building. The people are amazing.”


Ana Maria Sastre

Ana Maria Sastre wakes up every day whenever she wants to, eats breakfast and lunch whenever she wants to, and generally does whatever she wants to. Some days, that means spending time talking to her three new best friends – Vivian, Cuqui, and Elaine – all of whom she met when she first moved into The Contemporary in December 2022. On other days, it may mean visiting her family or an old client.

Sastre has been a lifelong resident of the Gables. She never imagined leaving the city until she found The Contemporary, located in Westchester. After retiring from the software company she founded in 1993, Sastre Systems Inc., Sastre became extremely lonely. She noticed that she could go days without speaking to a single person. That’s what prompted her to look into a senior living community.

“I was dying of loneliness. All I would do was either eat by myself, go out to eat by myself, then come back and be by myself,” says Sastre. Since moving into The Contemporary, she says that quality of life has improved vastly, and most of it has to do with talking to people and socializing every day. “I have met the best friends here. Really, I mean, the absolutely bestest friends in the world. I call us the Four Musketeers. We travel in a clan. If you want one of us, you have to put up with the other three. Okay? That’s it.”

Initially hesitant about moving to a senior living community due to common stereotypes, Sastre changed her mind when she toured The Contemporary and saw the social dynamics. “Everybody’s talking to everybody. Everybody knows each other. As soon as somebody new comes in, I go over there and I meet them and I find out who they are,” says Sastre.

The Contemporary staves off some of the other stereotypes that befall senior living because it is 100 percent independent living. Berta Ramirez, director of sales and marketing at The Contemporary, says that most residents have their own cars, and when she comes in the morning around 8 am, some of the residents are already on their way out to run errands or meet up with friends.

The 84-unit residency takes a boutique approach to traditional senior living communities. It offers planned activities like lectures, fitness classes, crafting workshops, and group outings to local restaurants, theaters, movies, museums, and parks. There is also a well-stocked library, billiards game room, piano cocktail lounge, and chef-managed restaurant. Like Sastre, most of the residents tend to do what they want when they want while enjoying the community.

Currently, The Contemporary is 86 percent occupied, but Ramirez suspects it won’t stay that way for long because many residents have convinced friends and family to move in. “It makes it a lot of fun to live in a place where you feel good with others. The people here are just fantastic,” says Sastre. “Like later today, I’m meeting my friends down in the lobby for our weekly cafecito.”

Read more about the sweet life of seniors in “The Art of Aging Well.”