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Comparing Global Spa Treatments

February 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

My daughter, a realtor, shouts, “location, location, location,” but when it comes to travel, it’s all about “experiences, experiences, experiences.” Over the past several years, the term has become the mantra of the luxury travel market. And the trend isn’t going away. “Luxury travelers want memorable experiences beyond a nice hotel room and pool,” says Jeri Clausing, editor of the luxury eNewsletter for Travel Weekly.

Bread Making Class in Jordan

Bread Making Class in Jordan

Visitors want hands-on opportunities, a way to hear, touch, smell, and taste a destination. Those interested in fitness gravitate toward physical activities such as hiking, biking, and kayaking. Cooking and painting classes or concerts draw a more artsy crowd. My travels have included a variety of spa treatments producing therapeutic and notable encounters.

Recently, a spa esthetician provided a new manta. She swears by, “exfoliation and hydration, hydration, hydration.” I like that.

Bottled Water for hydration

Bottled Water for hydration

You can’t take global adventures without long plane rides, but those are drying to the skin. Both healthy and immensely pleasurable, I was able to replenish some moisture through local themed, indulgent spa treatments.


In Japan, I sank into the traditional “onsen” hot mineral baths (previous story here). The evening outdoor soak in the communal hot mineral springs brought one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. Yes, I felt a bit awkward, naked and immersed in the Hilton Niseko‘s outdoor pool surrounded by beautifully illuminated trees, but afterward, I slept as soundly as if I’d run a marathon.

Japanese Onsen Baths at Hilton Niseko

What a view I had from the Japanese Onsen Bath in the Hilton Niseko.

In Jordan, a day at the Marriott Dead Sea Resort included the outrageous, bucket-list experience of a Dead Sea mud bath. It began in the highly concentrated waters of the Dead Sea, so salty no animal life survives. Not only did I immediately begin to float, it was difficult to put my feet down. The hands-free floating experience was like nothing else, just be careful not to splash water in your eyes.


Afterward, I headed for a large container filled with Dead Sea mud and preceded to slather it all over my body. I then stood around baking in the sun for 10-15 minutes. I was not alone with my mud-caked body; this is what people do at the Dead Sea. Soon, I showered off the mud, my hands sliding on my skin as if gliding over waxed paper. I could have recorded a commercial for baby-soft skin. I now use a Dead Sea mud mask on my face at home (purchased on

Dead Sea Mud Treatment

Dead Sea Mud Treatment in Jordan

More than a year ago I “took the waters” (as they say) in Budapest. The thermal springs gush with temperatures ranging from about 70-170 degrees. I chose, not a luxury spa, but the traditional baths (really tiled pools) at the Gellert Baths, popular with the locals. I followed the Hungarian routine, moving from pool to pool, each with a different temperature. Afterward, I was so invigorated; I walked the few miles back to my hotel.

Gellert Thermal Spa in Budapest, Hungary

Gellert Thermal Baths & Spa in Budapest, Hungary

An India trip several years ago brought a Shirodhara treatment that involved dripping oil like a thread (dhara) on my head (shiro), what the locals term a tranquil Ayurvedic oil treatment. As I lay down on my back, the attendant draped towels around me. She then hung a wide-mouthed vessel with a small hole at the bottom above my head. A wick extended to about two inches from my forehead. Special medicinal oil poured into the vessel flowed slowly onto the upper part of my forehead, my eyes protected by cotton pads. The process normally continues for 60 minutes, but I asked for it to end sooner. It wasn’t water torture, but I can’t quite describe what bothered me about this treatment. I simply didn’t enjoy it. Instead of relaxing my mind, all I thought about was ending the session. However, I will admit that my hair benefited from the oil’s moisturizing effects.

Ayurvedic oil treatment

Ayurvedic oil treatment

In 2016, while in Italy, I luxuriated for two days at the posh ADLER Thermae Spa & Resort. This  Tuscan haven is near Bagno Vignoni, the ancient complex of naturally fed thermal baths and pools. At the Adler I scooted among warm water-jets strategically placed around the swimming pool, relieving my aching, travel-weary muscles. In the center, a powerful pulsating fountain pounded at my tightened back, head and entire body simultaneously. Crawling out after a few rounds of this pleasurable assault, a real pro applied an “aah”-producing massage. The Adler Resort, the ultimate in relaxation, even lets you wear your spa robe to breakfast and lunch.

Adler Thermae Resort Pool

Adler Thermae Resort Pool

Pounding water relaxes muscles at Adler Thermae Spa

Pounding water relaxes muscles at Adler Thermae Spa

Years ago, after an overnight stay in the Ice Hotel in Quebec, I took a short hop to Le Nordique Spa outside the city. The idyllic rural property was covered in snow – – a picture postcard. My treatment began in the sauna, followed, hesitantly, by a dip in an unheated outdoor pool. Exiting, I wrapped myself in a towel and practically ran to the relaxation room. Then, I repeated the process this time having a special Auguste sauna treatment with orange essential oil. Instead of cooling off in the pool, I bravely climbed down the steps of a ladder and plunged down a hole cut in the ice covering the river –temperature hovering around zero. I shot back up and out at top speed—and survived. The warm shower that came next felt so good, I didn’t want to leave. Apparently, locals frequent the spa often and spend an entire day here. As a Floridian, once was enough.

Plunging into an ice bath at Le Nordique Spa

Plunging into an ice bath at Le Nordique Spa

A recent road trip to Asheville, North Carolina brought me to the Asheville Salt Cave. Lounging in the dim, Zen-like setting for 45 minutes, I breathed in air saturated with Himalayan salt. Divine escape.  I didn’t have any respiratory or sinus ailments but still came out feeling fully oxygenated and spry. I was told the treatments are beneficial for those with skin problems like acne, eczema, and psoriasis, too.

Salt Cave, Asheville, NC

Salt Cave, Asheville, NC

Moving on to the One Ocean Resort in Atlantic Beach, Florida, just a two and a half hour drive from my home, I relished an Ocean Mist facial. The treatment included a special seaweed serum and some calcium-rich moisturizers. The skin on my face was rejuvenated, as plumped and moisturized as any over 65-year-old face can get. The chic spa experience offered a rejuvenating retreat.

Relaxing at the One Ocean Spa, Atlantic Beach, FL

Relaxing at the One Ocean Spa, Atlantic Beach, FL

From now on, wherever I go, I hope to make time to try out the local spa treatments. Gotta run, I hear the Greenbrier calling, or is it the spas at Baden Baden, Germany?

Abu Dhabi’s Beauty: Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

May 20, 2015 by · Comments Off on Abu Dhabi’s Beauty: Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque 

Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

I made a trip to Abu Dhabi about a year ago and wrote about the magnificent Grand Mosque for Luxe Beat Magazine.

The article was published in May 2014. Please click on the link to read the article.


11 Great Hotels and Resorts You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

March 18, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Business Jet Traveler » February 2013

Business Jet Traveler Magazine, February 2013

Business Jet Traveler Magazine
February 2013

To read the online version of this article as published by Business Jet Traveler please use this link:


The February 2013 print magazine article begins:

We asked three of our favorite travel writers to describe the finest little-known hotels and resorts they’ve discovered. Some are off the beaten path or new or do not advertise. Others are just plain obscure. All are certified great by our panel of globetrotters. Happy traveling.

I was lucky enough to be one of those three travel writers!

The five hotel reviews I wrote are as follows:

Château de la Barre

Loire Valley, France

Château de la Barre,  Loire Valley, France

Château de la Barre,
Loire Valley, France

A two-hour detour from Paris lands you in the Loire Valley, the site chosen by French kings and nobles for their châteaux. Most visitors tour the grand estates in day trips due to the scarcity of overnight lodging. However, you can sleep in a chateau instead of simply touring them.

Legendary Château de la Barre–which has been home to the Comte and Comtesse de Vanssay’s family since 1404–offers accommodations and fine dining. Each of five bedrooms in the manor house contains 18th century antiques, surrounded by bright and bold designer fabrics and wallpaper. En suite bathrooms are sleek and modern. Surprisingly, pets are allowed.

Hosts Guy and Marnie de Vanssay (Marnie is American) offer helpful, often intriguing suggestions for outings: a Renaissance lunch in Leonardo da Vinci’s home (June through September), driving a dream car around the famous nearby Le Mans racetrack, hot-air-balloon rides that depart directly from the château mornings and evenings. Other possibilities include bicycling, golfing at numerous courses, tennis and horseback riding.

Twice a week, the owners host a Grand Siècle Dinner in the 17th century dining room with family silver and crystal. On other nights, the evening meal is served in the billiard room. Daily afternoon tea is poured in the Salon Rose. Ask about gourmet picnics and wine tastings.
The château is near the tiny village of Conflans-sur-Anille in the Pays de la Loire region. The nearest airport is Tours, a one-hour drive. –Debi Lander

Little Palm Resort and Spa

Little Torch Key, Fla.

Little Palm Resort and Spa, Little Torch Key, FL

Little Palm Resort and Spa, Little Torch Key, FL

If you’re dreaming of Gauguin’s tropical paradise but lack time to visit Tahiti, Florida’s Little Palm Island Resort and Spa will fulfill your needs. Fly to Key West or Marathon Key and the resort staff will escort you via a 1930s-style wooden launch over to Little Torch Key. The five-acre private island is a rarely advertised secret and can be reached only by boat or seaplane.

Switch your shoes for flip-flops and relax in one of the 28 thatched-hut guest accommodations, each surrounded by lush greenery. They include secluded outdoor showers and full indoor baths, some with redwood tubs.
No children, no pets. Guests are asked to use their cell phones only in their bungalows, although the library maintains Internet and phone access.

The “Floribbean” three-meal plan offers the freshest of the fresh as the chef changes the menu selections daily. Sunsets are a big deal in the Keys, and Little Palm is home to an upscale Margaritaville-style cocktail hour. The resort caters to those celebrating special occasions and will artfully arrange candlelight dinners on a private beach.

Prior to 1988, the island thrived as a tiny fishing camp that President Harry Truman and other dignitaries visited. Today, Little Palm serves as a sanctuary where you can simply relax and do nothing. Snooze in one of the rope hammocks at the edge of the tranquil Gulf or on one of the chaise lounges scattered over the property. Feeling more active? Try kayaking, windsurfing or swimming in the freshwater pool.
Off-island options include diving Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, the only living coral reef in North America; deep-sea fishing; and pole fishing from the docks. –Debi Lander

Fearrington House Inn and Restaurant

Pittsboro, N.C.

Fearrington  House Inn and Restaurant, Pittsboro, NC

Fearrington House Inn and Restaurant, Pittsboro, NC

Chapel Hill, N.C., which has been called the “Southern part of heaven,” is well known for its mountaintop golf courses, tree-lined streets, acclaimed university and Tarheel’s basketball. Perhaps less well known but just as noteworthy is the nearby Fearrington House Inn and Restaurant.

Located in the village of Fearrington–10 minutes from Chapel Hill and 30 minutes from Raleigh-Durham International Airport–the English-inspired 32-room lodge boasts impressive credentials. Both the restaurant and inn have earned the coveted AAA Five-Diamond rating. Moreover, Forbes Travel Guide recently ranked Fearrington No. 1 on its list of the top 10 luxury hotels in the U.S. for weddings, while Conde Nast Traveler named it the No. 2 best small hotel in the South and Departures called it a “World’s Best Foodie Destination.”

One visit should be sufficient to explain all the accolades. The charming antiques-furnished property offers a splendid country atmosphere, exquisite gardens, a spa, world-class dining and proximity to 12 golf courses and one of the South’s best-known independent bookstores.
Consult the Fearrington House calendar for wine dinners and cooking lessons taught by executive chef Colin Bedford. Come hungry to fully appreciate his seasonal tasting menu, which is served in the restored mansion house. A noted wine sommelier will assist you with a choice from the 800-bottle list. Overnight guests are treated to handmade truffles at turndown and full gourmet breakfasts. Afternoons at Fearrington always feature a proper tea. –Debi Lander

Palazzo Niccolini al Duomo

Florence, Italy

Palazzo Niccolini al Duomo  Florence, Italy

Palazzo Niccolini al Duomo
Florence, Italy

Why not stay above Donatello’s workshop when visiting the art treasures of Florence? Discover lodging so close to the Duomo, Brunelleschi’s famous cathedral dome, that special permission is necessary to drive into the restricted historic district. Palazzo Niccolini al Duomo is a 16th century palace that has been renovated into an exquisite small hotel known mainly through word-of-mouth testimonials.

Leaving the courtyard, take a tiny lift to the second-floor reception area to enter what looks like an elegant patrician home. Then slip into the warm, luxurious drawing room, which bursts with brilliant fresco, carved wooden ceilings, tromp l’oeil paintings and comfortably arranged sofas. Book a private wine tasting of Tuscan reds in the lobby.

Palazzo Niccolini has just two large suites, one junior suite and five double bedrooms. The oversized, airy rooms feature king-size canopied beds among antique and reproduction furniture, oriental rugs and original art. The ceilings are so high, you’d have to erect scaffolding to repaint them.

Florence is a walking city and this hotel sits within easy distance of all the famous museums, churches, palazzos and shops. Spend your days strolling the Ponte Vecchio, gazing at Michelangelo’s David and Italian art, then return to rest your feet.
The Dome Suite on the top floor presents an extraordinary view of the Duomo, likely the best in the entire city. Overnight stays include a bountiful continental breakfast and aperitifs. –Debi Lander

Viceroy Riviera Maya

Near Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Viceroy Riviera Maya  Near Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Viceroy Riviera Maya,
Near Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Riviera Maya developed some of the world’s most lavish all-inclusive resorts–gorgeous facilities that cater to upscale conventioneers. But move beyond those huge properties and bustling streets of Playa del Carmen to the small village of Playa Xcalacoco. Here, 40 miles south of Cancun International Airport, the Viceroy Riviera Maya showcases 41 palapa-roofed villas with heated private plunge pools and outdoor rain showers. Guests are enveloped within an eco-sensitive jungle-like property and enjoy beachfront or ocean views.

Maya-inspired ceremonies welcome you to the residential compound. The staff is known for prompt service and extras such as presenting iced face towels at the pool. Dine at the first-rate La Marea or the Coral Grill by the beach. Request Mayordomo (butler) service for breakfast or whenever you desire it.

The Viceroy includes seven miles of white sand beach, cabanas and daybeds by the water. The site is perfect for honeymooners, who should request a jungle villa for ultimate privacy or private romantic dining.
On-site activities include ceviche and tequila tasting, mixology and cooking classes and yoga. Those wanting to detox can experience the Temazcal steam cave treatment or other Maya-inspired spa ritual. Nearby you’ll find cenote and reef diving and snorkeling, golf, sailing and windsurfing. Plan to visit the Yucatan’s archeological ruins at Tulum, Coba, where you can still climb the ancient 140-foot pyramid, and World Heritage Chichen Itza. –Debi Lander

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