By Laura Osborne
Lying on my stomach in a three-walled room overlooking the turquoise water of St. Barts, I listen to Simao da Silva’s accent (Portuguese? French?) as he slides warm, hand-buffed shells across my back – a French West Indies twist on the hot stone massage. The local clamshells are filled with self-heating sea minerals, then rubbed with lightly warmed Ligne St Barth avocado oil. (Ligne St Barth is owned by the Brin family, whose French ancestors arrived on the island in the 17th century.) A heated shell is placed in each of my upturned palms, and while “Tout est bleu” (the hotel’s signature song) drifts through the air, it occurs to me that I may be the only thing here that isn’t officially French Republic.
Le Sereno is like a trip to the south of France without the jet lag: the Christian Liaigre decor, the wine, the impossibly good-looking staff. But if you’ve arrived expecting a sprawling spa, you may be in for a surprise. Here, the R&R isn’t relegated to the modest treatment room (though there was nothing modest about the 13 products used during my facial there). In-room treatments and massages are not only encouraged, they are de rigueur. And you’re more likely to spot a guest sipping citrus water in a bathrobe than a martini in the hotel bar.
Just ask the house cat, who roams about freely: Like the gentle trade winds off the ocean, tranquility flows through the elaborately spare indoor and outdoor spaces. Dotting the beach are white-cushioned daybeds big enough for two, and there are no barriers between you and serenity in the pool, either, thanks to music piped in underwater. Everywhere you go, there’s a calm, hushed whisper – even the palm trees, leaning lazily to one side, seem relaxed.
Daniel and Pierre are two very tanned young men in crisp white linen who magically appear the moment you need a towel. And looking like they just stepped out of a Lacoste ad (they’re wearing matching tropical cactus red when we first meet) are Christian and Sandrine Langlade, the charming and handsome husband-and-wife team. Bringing a mouthful of bouillabaisse to my lips, I listen as my hosts – who met in Lille – explain why they fly in meat from France (“Only the best!”) and how the bouillabaisse (prepared that morning from a shipment of fresh Mediterranean fish – they insist on it) follows the recipe established in the Charte de la Bouillabaisse Marseillaise. “Our chef, Jean-Luc Grabowski, worked for the Monaco royal family for many years,” says Christian as he refills my glass of Sancerre.
Lying in bed that night with my eyes closed, I imagine the croque monsieur I’ll be ordering for lunch the next day with a small smile curling my lips – the smell of tiare-scented avocado oil still on my skin. And as I hear the ceiling fan stir the gauzy bed canopies on the polished floor, it occurs to me that this feeling of serenity isn’t something you can find in a bottle. Even if it’s French.
The King of Queenstown
by Philippe Gohier
If everyone were to jump off a cliff, I would too. I know this because I’ve just watched the woman who was sitting next to me at dinner last night take a running leap off a platform and dive headfirst into the void. I’m up next.
We’re in a mid-air shack 400 metres above Queenstown, with 50 Cent thumping from the speakers on either side of me. My weight is scrawled in red marker on the back of my left hand, and a harness is strapped tightly around my shoulders and crotch. This is the Ledge, one of three – yes, three – bungee- jumping stations run by AJ Hackett Bungy in the New Zealand resort town that doubles as a paradise for adrenalin junkies.
The city of 17,000 in the South Island’s Otago region is home to a ragtag collection of skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers, skydivers and many who are all of the above. Not coincidentally, the main commercial strip is a collection of low-rise buildings housing more outdoor gear shops, bars and liquor stores than the local economy should, by rights, be able to sustain. Which isn’t to say Queenstown doesn’t have a more restful side to it. You just have to cross a lake to get there.
From the Queenstown business district, it’s a 10-minute water taxi ride across Lake Wakatipu to the Hilton Queenstown . That’s where I’d taken the unusual step of booking a 90-minute slot at the hotel’s Eforea spa. I say unusual because I’m not the kind of guy who goes to spas – the New Age music, the incense, the Zen decor. My idea of personal grooming is limited to showering every day and cutting my hair when it starts to look like I’m wearing a helmet. Enya and seaweed are rarely (read: never) involved.
I’d confessed as much to Tyra Lowman, Hilton Worldwide’s senior director of spa brands. Lowman explained that the treatment I had booked – the Men’s Journey – had been explicitly crafted for people like myself, which is to say people who’ve never thought of exfoliating anything. “This is a no-nonsense experience,” she said, adding that, even though the treatments were conceived for men – hence the name – they’re proving popular on both sides of the aisle. “Even women want to cut out the fluffiness.”
I get to my early-morning appointment at Eforea bleary-eyed and jet-lagged. It’s my third day in Queenstown. By now, I’ve discovered that (a), I may be the only person here who hasn’t owned snow pants since grade school; and (b), pub crawls are still a thing. I change into a robe and dutifully fill out the form about my health and grooming habits. (I admit I don’t use a face cleanser or moisturizer, but I lie about using sunscreen. I don’t want to seem like a total oaf.) With smoked oak floors and toffee-coloured wallpaper, the spa’s design touches lend it a distinctly sober atmosphere – not clinical but not pretentious either. After a brief chat with my attendant, Catherine, I follow her down a hallway and into a dimly lit room.
Catherine immediately rolls warm bamboo across my back, shoulders and legs. A quarter-century’s worth of hockey injuries, not to mention the rigours of keeping up with a toddler, melt like clocks in a Dalí painting. I’m just barely on this side of consciousness after the scalp massage that follows, hardly noticing when Catherine got around to cleansing and scrubbing my face before applying some sort of moisturizer. When my 90 minutes are up, I stumble as I get to my feet and amble back to the lounge for a light lunch. Lowman isn’t there, but had she been, I’d have told her she was right: The whole thing was remarkably straightforward, with none of the hokiness I’d been fearing.
Three days later, I find myself at the opposite end of the Queenstown experience: after extreme relaxation, outright exhilaration. “Only about 1 percent of people back out once they’ve made it to the platform,” Henry van Asch, the co-founder of AJ Hackett Bungy, told me at the previous night’s dinner. (Incidentally, van Asch is one of the people responsible for convincing me this was a great idea.) Of course, Van Asch’s customers are hardly ordinary; they’re plucked from a basin of highly motivated daredevils and thrill-seekers. Bungee jumpers are naturally at home in Queenstown, where fitting in is a lot like surviving a brush with a bear: You can’t show fear.
My turn has come, and one of the attendants – not the one calling me Frenchy because I’m from Montreal, but the other one – urges me up off the black, synthetic leather couch where I’ve been quietly panicking for the past 10 minutes and clips a bungee cord to my harness. “I’m going to count to three,” he says, as if what follows will be perfectly rational, “and I want you to take a big, headfirst dive off the platform. One, two, three…”
It’d be a stretch to say the massage and the facial played much of a role in getting me off the ledge. But I sure look good in the pictures, if I do say so myself.
By Alexandra Redgrave
“We don’t follow our natural cycles the way the ancients did,” Vanessa Infante tells me over a cup of fennel and coriander-seed tea, counting on her fingers the examples of this interconnectedness. “There are 13 major joints in the body and often 13 full moons in a year, four lunar phases, four seasons, four elements…” The numerology adds up, but I already know I need to reconnect with nature when “refresh” and “sleep” are things my laptop does more than me.
That’s why I’ve come to the Auriga spa in Capella Pedregal , a discreet resort in Cabo San Lucas, where the four signature treatments correspond with the different phases of the moon: new, waxing, full and waning. As Infante, the spa’s petite and animated director, explains, looking to the moon as a source for well-being isn’t as far out as it sounds.
Tapping into the lunar energy du jour – the spa therapists here follow moon charts like the rest of us check the weather forecast – I go for the full-moon treatment, which gives balance and harmony during the notoriously heightened period. (Think werewolves and all-around lunacy.) “Nothing can hide; everything comes out,” Infante says with a smile as we walk through the softly lit hallways scented with cinnamon and eucalyptus.
Her prediction seems about right once I’ve been scrubbed clean with rose-infused salts, covered in fragrant green clay to draw out any toxins, swaddled in warm towels and massaged from my toes to my third eye. To wrap up the three-hour session, my therapist gently cups her hands, like little seashells, over my ears, and the crashing waves outside grow louder. Opening my eyes to see the light above my head, a giant corrugated metal disc that sprinkles pinpoints of light across the room like a starry night, I squint and float back down to earth.
Getting back in sync with the elements happens the moment you enter Capella Pedregal. As you emerge from the 300-metre-long tunnel blasted into the steep granite cliffside, you’ll see a split screen of sky and sea. (Look closely and you can spot the rippling seam where the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific meet.) Auriga itself is oriented around a cascading pool and the ocean beyond, and every treatment concludes with the doors being opened to let in the sound of the waves.
For my last treatment, I take the plunge, wading into the spa’s waters for an aquatic massage. “It’s like dancing,” my therapist assures me as I join her in a small round saltwater pool, buoyed by floatie wings on my arms and legs. But once she starts spinning me around in a graceful choreography – cradling my head and stretching my body into different positions in one continuous movement – I feel more like an astronaut drifting weightlessly through space, listening to the underwater murmurs as if they were the music of the spheres. It’s a marvellous day for a moon dance.
Originally published in enRoute magazine .
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