Spas with a Sense of Place

Norma McGrody, owner of Meeting Management Associates, based in New York City, knows that her client groups are seasoned travelers who've been there, done that. So she makes sure that the trips she puts together offer something they can't get elsewhere. "I expect top-of-the-line food, activities, and golf at a high-end hotel or resort," she says. "So I look for things my attendees could never do at home, whether it's special tours, activities, or spa treatments. And I want the whole package to tie together with the [local] environment."

With such requests in mind, many spas are incorporating local customs and lore into their treatments. For example, the new spa at Desert Springs, a JW Marriott Resort in Palm Desert, CA, offers a Date Scrub, since the surrounding Coachella Valley is one of the world's top date-producing areas. El Spa at Iberostar Playa Paraiso along the Riviera Maya envelops guests with aromatic Mexican spices and indigenous music in traditional Temezcal ("sweat lodge") ceremonies, complete with shaman.

And can anyone resist the "Wine and Roses" treatment at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa in California wine country, which starts with a soak in a tub full of rose petals, followed by a massage with fragrant grape seed oil and a glass of sparkling wine? Sign us up!

Here are a few spas that capture the essence of the destination both in treatments and ambience, thus enhancing your group's perception of the location—and your event.

Here Today, Gone to Maui
Reopened in early January after a massive, $125 million transformation, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua in Maui boasts a pristine beach, lush landscaping with fragrant plumeria, a coastal golf course, and a torch-lit fine-dining restaurant. The resort's new spa is called "Waihua." It's a Hawaiian term that refers to water that falls from heaven and rests on native plants, such as taro. At Waihua, taro plants create privacy buffers around the spa's outdoor Jacuzzi. Private outdoor showers are in secluded, garden patios, with trellises filtering air and sunlight. Bamboo pole walls and teak flooring reinforce the Hawaiian feel.

Spa goers can opt for traditional techniques such as lomi lomi, which can incorporate restorative prayer into the treatment, or they may choose treatments that use alea (Hawaiian red clay), coconut-kukui nut lotion, and tropical essential oils derived from indigenous flowers. Other treatments incorporate warm coconut milk poured over the body and papaya-pineapple scrubs.

Island Style
The Regent Palms, a posh 72-suite resort, sits at the center of Grace Bay Beach in Turks and Caicos, famous for baby-powder sand, clear turquoise waters, and pink flamingos streaking overhead. Resort guests can head to the serpentine infinity pool, with swim-up bar, hot-tub island, and rotating sun pods, where they can sip on a Swaying Palm cocktail or munch on plantain chips with conch ceviche.

If that sounds like island heaven, wait until you see this spa. It spreads out over an acre, with stand-alone cabanas made of hand-cut coral, illuminated by torches and surrounded by peaceful pools and towering palms. Services incorporate Caribbean spices and ingredients. The "Mother of Pearl" treatment, for example, softens skin with pulverized conch shells blended with aromatherapy oils. Native fruits and the azure water surrounding the island are also brought into the treatments.

"This spa has visual excitement. At most spas, someone is sitting behind a desk, you turn right for the men's area, left for the women's. You walk in a treatment room, you have the same old body wrap, and you are out," says Jerry Lieblein, owner of Lieblein International Meeting Planners in Healdsburg, CA. "I want my groups to experience the destination's personality."

Mexican Magic
Located at the southernmost tip of the Baja Peninsula, where the Mexican desert meets the Sea of Cortez, Las Ventanas al Paraiso presides over a long stretch of beach between the colonial town of San Jose del Cabo and the fiesta-full Cabo San Lucas. Its whitewashed adobe villas hug the beach, with desert-scaped pathways winding past the open-air restaurant, tequila-ceviche bar, and infinity pool lined by plush white chaise lounges.

At the indoor/outdoor spa, treatment cabanas open onto raked-sand cactus gardens with fountains, bird chimes, and desert flowers. Treatments incorporate nopales (cactus pads) crushed in cooling massage gels or blended into healthful smoothies. Native plants, such as elephant tree, chaparral, and sage, are used in wraps. The Desert Purification treatment is based on Aztec and Mayan rituals, during which mineral-rich Mexican clay is applied to the body.

"I truly love this place," says McGrody. "Everything clicks. Service is wonderful but not stuffy, rooms are unbelievable, and the grounds and setting are phenomenal. The spa is the culmination of the experience." With just 71 suites, this resort is suited for high-end corporate meetings, and incentive groups can buy out the entire resort.

Veddy British and Perfectly Posh
The urban-chic InterContinental London Park Lane at Hyde Park Corner builds a businesslike, London vibe into its sophisticated spa. With dark woods, sleek lines, and black leather, the spa is distinctly masculine.

That makes sense, as male meetinggoers make up much of the clientele at this high-end hotel, which recently reopened after a $150 million restoration. Treatments, which use UK-based Elemis products, are accordingly efficient. The "Time to Spa" menu allows guests to choose from a list of 15- to 30-minute treatments that includes shaves, massages, grooming facials, and nail "tidy ups" for executives sneaking in between meetings. (Appointments are reconfirmed by text message.) Although you'll find no frivolity or frou-frou, the spa offers luxe touches such as private dressing areas and showers in each treatment room, so there's no unseemly traipsing around wearing a robe. (After all, we are British.) Exiting the spa, guests may head to the hotel's exclusive Club Level, with floor-to-ceiling windows and separate spaces for dining, relaxing, or business meetings. The lobby lounge and bar is becoming the new "it" place to meet for cocktails or tea. Speaking of that, try the Martin Miller's Gin Martini Afternoon Tea.

Originally published February 01, 2008

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