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Osthoff’s Aspira Spa Ranks High

February 27, 2013 by · Comments Off on Osthoff’s Aspira Spa Ranks High 

Candles and flickering fire light the Aspira Spa

Candles and flickering fires light the Aspira Spa

 

I wrote the story below for CityRoomStories.com over a year ago, but wanted to add it to my own website after seeing a 2013 spa report.  Conde Nast Traveler magazine ranked the Osthoff Resort as the third best spa in the United States.  In fact, Aspira scored in the hundredth percentile for staff knowledge and service.  Pretty incredible to have an award winning spa at Elkhard Lake,  a tiny town in Wisconsin.

Aspira: On the Banks of Elkhart Lake

Aspira means ‘infused with spirit’ and there’s no better way to describe the holistic, healing spa at the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.  As soon as you walk in, you detect palpable energy while simultaneously sensing calm. The 20,000 square-foot spa was created as a place to take one’s journey – a place to move forward in nature and peace.

The Osthoff Resort in Winter

The Osthoff Resort in Winter

Lola Roeh, General Manager of the resort, was the force behind its creation and she is truly one of those special people who radiate enthusiasm, yet display elegance and dignity.  She quietly explained, “Aspira was borne on the banks of our lake, considered sacred by the Native Americans who lived here. Shaped like an elk’s heart, the lake bestows its powerful natural energy upon all who encounter it. Our logo, a three-spiral symbol from the ancient Uighur civilization, identifies this as a mind, body and spiritual journey.”

In my travels, I have been fortunate to receive treatments in a number of top ranked spas, but honestly Aspira reigns. The meditation sanctuary, designed with concentric circles and the elements earth, wind, fire and water, anchors the facility and evokes contemplation. Guests are invited to stay in the serene environment, the heart of the spa, as long as they wish.

Walk down the hall and your feet notice a softness that ebbs from the hand scraped wooden planks on the floor. Pass ancient fossils, tribal ornaments, symbolic artwork and trickling fountains before entering rooms that inspire an aura of self- care. I subconsciencously perceived my upcoming massage as an opportunity to heal instead of thinking it self-indulgent.

I began by entering the therapeutic chromatub which contains 260 underwater air jets and colored lights. Sound vibrations filled the air and reverberated through the water.  I was soon overcome with a feeling of bliss, soaking away my worries and muscular aches. I also received a deep tissue hydro-massage through a special pressurized hose. Next, I proceeded to a room with an adjustable massage table arranged beside a fireplace of glowing embers. My therapist placed hot deerskin bags filled with water drawn from Elkhard Lake on my chakra points. These remained in place while she gave me a soothing full-body rubdown. This, the signature Sacred Waters treatment, was repeated when I turned over. By the time my therapist was finished, I was profoundly relaxed, just a bowl of mush.

Elderberry Facial

Elderberry Facial

The next morning I returned to Aspira for an Elderberry facial. This special service incorporated macerated wild elderberries that were gathered from the hillsides and woods near the lake. My skin was gently scrubbed, exfoliated, treated with a nourishing mask and then infused with moisturizers. While the aroma-soaked mask penetrated my face and neck, I received hand, foot and scalp massage.  Aahh, these services are truly stress reducing.

Aspira professionals offer Reiki healing treatments, myofascial release, energy work, lymphatic treatments, chakra balancing and an array of other massages and facials. They introduced the concept of a SpaSuite: an all-encompassing spa experience with changing rooms, treatments room, showers and relaxation area in one large private suite.

Guests may also receive salon services such as manicures, pedicures, waxing and hair styling. Yoga classes are schedule throughout the day within the confines of the tranquil spa.

Aspira lies almost hidden within the vast Osthoff Resort complex, but it shouldn’t be. The spa is a world-class facility drawing local treatments from the surrounding land and lake, well worth a visit.

The Blue Bar and other activities at Gleneagles, Scotland

February 23, 2013 by · Comments Off on The Blue Bar and other activities at Gleneagles, Scotland 

Gleneagles Golf Resort and Spa ~ A Hotel Review

Gleneagles Fountain

Gleneagles Fountain

Four major fault lines run across Scotland; a geographical condition that created a country with contrasting landscapes. You’ll discover rugged coastline, Highland mountains, lowland valleys, numerous lochs and rivers and 787 islands. Along with dramatic scenery , legendary history, castles, clans, bagpipes and brouges make a worthy and memorable destination.

 

On a recent visit, I passed through peaceful rolling hills as I approached the famous golf resort of Gleneagles. The renown estate, home of three championship links courses, the 2005 G-8 Summit, and vacation getaway,  enveloped me in warmth and wealth. Every detail from spit polished brass railings to my room’s electric tea kettle and selection of shortbread spelled top of the line quality and five-star bend over backwards service.

Gleneagles Entrance

Gleneagles Entrance

My group arrived at the main entrance: an impressive French chateau looking structure. Stepping inside I found aristocratic touches: marble staircases, hand-carved wood paneling, mica chandeliers and a bevy of uniformed staff. The Gleneagles brochure aptly describes the 1924 hotel as “the palace in the glens which continues to attract those in search of rest, relaxation and exhilaration.”

Gleneagles sprawls over 850 acres, offers 232 guest rooms including 26 luxury suites. Overnight visitors choose between traditional Scottish decor rooms in the main building or more modern ones in the wings. My renovated room had a cozy gas fireplace at the foot of a massive and extremely comfy bed. A very romantic touch except I was alone. The wall of windows and patio allowed full views of the glorious countryside.

View from my room at Gleneagles

View from my room at Gleneagles

Golf is a huge draw, at least according to the Ryder Cup committee who chose Gleneages as their venue for 2014. The grounds comprise the PGA Centenary Course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, the King’s Course, the Queen’s Course and the nine-hole PGA National Academy Course, used for instruction.

However, the resort offers a long list of recreational activities for non-golfers. First, there’s the highly acclaimed spa, but I regretfully had no time for treatments. I was surprised by the number of families and grandchildren participating in gun dog classes, falconry, off road driving courses or fishing, riding and hiking. Day trips are easily arranged for wildlife sightseeing, as well as castle tours and visits to whisky distillers.

Gun Dog class at Gleneagles

Gun Dog class at Gleneagles

I chose to attend my first ever gun-dog class learning how dogs are trained for obedience, agility and hunting. The class starred two amusing black labs who had simply performed the drills so many times, they began to anticipate and tease with the commands. I took a turn working with a dog named Debbie. She ran to fetch on command and then sat still. This Debi couldn’t coax Debbie to return until her official handler called her; an act I thought was adorable, but he did not.

 

 

Following that class, I investigated the falconry mews. Falconry has long been regarded as the Sport of Kings, and birds of prey were traditionally flown by royals. Gleneageles added their Falconry School in 1992 which offers extraordinary introductory through advanced level programs on the grounds.

Falconry class at Gleneagles

Falconry class at Gleneagles

Having previously worked with hawks, I was very eager to try the sport again. The feeling of commanding a bird back to your hand is one of sheer delight. Seems the majestic free flying creatures return to please the falconer, but the truth is they fly for the food you present.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

The temperature felt rather chilly, especially for a Floridian, and I was ready for a wee dram —  as is the Scottish custom. But, my wee dram would not be any ordinary whisky. I was invited to The Blue Bar at the Dormy Clubhouse (and one must be invited to visit). I would sip velvety smooth Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky on a heated leather sofa around a large circular firepit.

Although not much of a scotch drinker, my first taste of the superior blend was heavenly, no harsh alcohol burn down my throat. I was instructed to take three sips with water on the side. The first was to sample the flavor, the second to smell the peat and feel some heat, and the third to experience the harmony of the whisky’s fresh orange, smoke and spices. I admit I savored the precious elixir and would enjoy it at home if the cost didn’t run approximately $200 a bottle. I will have to settle for one of Johnnie’s less famous but more economical lines like the Green or Gold Label, around $55-$75 per bottle.

The outdoor Blue Bar also includes a cigar menu with brands like Bolivars, Cohibas, Cuabas, H. Upmanns, Montecristos and Partagás, and some pre-embargo Cubans. Those, I could easily skip.

The famous Blue Bar

The famous Blue Bar

Panna cotta plate

Panna cotta plate

My evening would not include dining at Gleneagles finest: Andrew Fairlie, ranked as Scotland’s only two Michelin star restaurant. Instead I attended an elegant banquet complete with a tartan decorated table. Following cocktails, we feasted on a goat’s cheese panna cotta decorated with apple blossom and pomegranates. Then, a loin of slow cooked lamb, followed by warm chocolate fondant with sour cherries. Quite impressive, I’d say. My visit to Scotland was off to a magnificent start and Gleneagles surely lived up to it’s glamorous reputation.

Visit gleneagles.com.

A Slideshow of photos from Gleneagles Resort:

Picasso Exhibition Opens in St. Augustine, FL

February 2, 2013 by · Comments Off on Picasso Exhibition Opens in St. Augustine, FL 

The PICASSO Art & Arena exhibition opened yesterday in St. Augustine. The show celebrates the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Florida by Juan Ponce de León. The show is also the first of many exhibitions planned as part of the St. Augustine’s 450th Commemoration.

Previewing the Picasso Bull Series

Previewing the Picasso Bull Series

The PICASSO collection includes 39 original pieces created between 1929 and 1961, on loan from the Picasso Foundation in Malaga, Spain.  They provide insights into one of the artist’s main themes: bullfighting. Bullfighting was a revered tradition in Spain, Picasso’s home country. Curator Maria D’Adamo told of Picasso’s fascination with the sport’s trilogy: the matador, picador and the bull.

The exhibition in the Visitor’s Center is set in the round, like a bullfighting ring, with two large photographic reproductions of spectators defining the space.

Faces in the crowd watch a bullfight.

Faces in the crowd watch a bullfight.

One of the highlights is a series of 11 lithographs, created between December 1945 and January 1946. They begin with a realistic drawing of the animal and succeeding works gradually reduce the strokes into a cave like primitive drawing. The final lithograph is only a few lines, but still recognizable as the animal.

 

The Bull

The Bull

I believe the bull series will appeal to both adults and children because they can clearly trace the transformation. Picasso said, “It took me four years to learn to paint like Raphael, and a lifetime to paint like a child.”

An intriguing 20-minute video is displayed on the rear wall showing Picasso painting on glass. The viewer gets to watch a work of art come to life right in front of their eyes.

In addition, the show includes some of the prolific artist’s ceramic pieces and illustrations composed for books. A timeline of Picasso’s life helps the visitor understand the stages of his artistic lifestyle.

St. Augustine Visitor Center

February 1 to May 11, 2013

www.staugustine-450.com and www.picassoartandarena.com

Picasso Banner hangs  in St. Augustine

Picasso Banner hangs in St. Augustine

View from the Balcony

View from the Balcony

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