Sayonara Shiatsu

In a world gone mad for “The Most,” the standard spa massage has gone the way of the oversized bag-so last year

By Mariel Rittenhouse


 More than a clever marketing gimmick, the Chardonnay clay body wrap and massage also incorporates grape seed, as well as a French clay that absorbs oils, toxic substances, impurities, even odors, thus acting as a natural deodorant.

In the days of yore-aka life pre-millennium-a day at the spa entailed a Swedish or Shiatsu massage and maybe a mani/pedi, if you were really feeling fit to be spoiled. Nowadays, spa menus are hardly legible thanks to an array of exotic, outlandish, even epicurean-inspired treatment options. But then again, excess has always been the American way.

From champagne and caviar rubdowns to lava therapy Hawaii-style, top U.S. spas prove no treatment is too outrageous, no session is too lengthy, no price tag is too hefty for the country’s coddling connoisseurs. Alan Espina, spa director at the Spa Monte Carlo, says, “Customers are looking for new changes,” this is just “part of the natural evolution of the spa… and it’s evolved into something humongous.”

So in the spirit of adventure, block out an afternoon, switch off the BlackBerry and swing for the house’s most unorthodox option. After all, you work hard; you deserve every indulgent minute.

The Spa at Four Seasons Resort
The Biltmore, Santa Barbara, CA

From Los Angeles, it is a two-hour drive north up the scenic Pacific Coast Highway to the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore in Santa Barbara. The area’s famed vineyards, which draw celebrities and mortals alike, provide oenophiles with more than a take-home of estate-bottled vintages.

Inspired by the surrounds, the 10,000-square-foot Peter Marino-designed Spa at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore offers guests a three-hour Vineyard Harvest package. While a glass of vino is normally reserved for drinking, during this treatment you’ll soak in grape seed, jasmine, rose, and red wine, while sipping immune-boosting grape seed tea loaded with antioxidants and vitamins.

More than a clever marketing gimmick, the Chardonnay clay body wrap and massage also incorporates grape seed, as well as a French clay that absorbs oils, toxic substances, impurities, even odors, thus acting as a natural deodorant. The wrap’s toning action stimulates the skin, bringing fresh blood to cells and revitalizing the complexion while tightening pores. The treatment is a clutch skin saver after a day spent muddying up your complexion at wine tastings.

The $455 “experience” is topped off by a chef’s selection of cheese paired with, what else, a glass of wine from the local Santa Ynez region. Teetotalers need not apply.

Spa Monte Carlo, Las Vegas, NV

As a rule, you don’t hop on a plane to Vegas to escape the shackles of sybaritism; the City of Sin is also the City of Splurge. The land of the 24-hour buffet breeds a strain of extravagance that is biblical in proportion, so every business, from the quickie chapel to the five-star hotel, has to reinvent ways to capture the overwhelmed attention of its audience.

The Spa Monte Carlo has gone the route of Robin Leach, offering the rich and famous (and anyone with an AmEx) the Ultimate Indulgence Treatment. As the name would imply, this 50-minute, $150 facial incorporates a cocktail of decadent ingredients like pure refined caviar extract and brute champagne.

Espina says, “The Ultimate Indulgence is a very popular treatment; it’s basically our banner right now.” So what’s all the fuss about? For starters, Espina says the Ultimate Indulgence promises to “improve elasticity and suppleness of the skin and get rid of the fine lines.”

The treatment regimen contains flourishes like an exfoliating enzyme peel comprised of a champagne paste, application of a caviar ampoule, followed by a caviar collagen fleece mask and an “Anti-Time” cream. Throughout the process, a hand and foot heat treatment is administered to ensure you’re fully blissed out. Espina advises however that the duration of results is entirely contingent on your lifestyle, so “if you go out and party all night and drink six shots of vodka” then you may need a refresher. Chances are, that’ll be the case.

The Beverly Hills Hotel Spa by La Prairie,
Beverly Hills, CA

If you don’t have the palate for champagne and caviar, consider a solid gold remedy. The 90-minute Pure Gold Radiance Facial is an anti-aging treatment that incorporates La Prairie’s Cellular Radiance Concentrate Pure Gold-a posh little product that contains 24-carat pure colloidal gold micro-particles.

While many in the facial’s fan club are also lovers of the product, Nicole Weigand, spa director at the Beverly Hills Hotel Spa by La Prairie, says, “Those that are not familiar with the Cellular Radiance Concentrate Pure Gold product tend to seek out the Pure Gold Radiance Facial because it is the ultimate treat. The popularity of the treatment is two-fold, combining the best of both worlds: the ultimate in luxury and effective treatments.”

In general, La Prairie doesn’t just have users, it has fanatics-result-seeking, luxury-loving women (and men) who want the most efficacious, most precious skincare products, regardless of cost. As such, Weigand says that the premier treatments at the Beverly Hills Hotel outpost include the Diamond Perfection, Pure Gold Radiance
Facial, Caviar Firming Facial, and Silver Rain treatments. There’s nary a generic massage in sight.

The Pure Gold Radiance Facial kicks off with a warm footbath and a shoulder and neck massage using a hot towel. Up next is a duo of masks: one for energizing and the second for lifting and firming. After an exfoliating hand treatment, prepare for the finale-a condensed application of the Cellular Radiance Concentrate Pure Gold.
For a mere $275, the Pure Gold Radiance Facial promises to visibly lift, tighten, brighten, and rejuvenate the skin.

Mauna Lani Spa, Kohala Coast, HI

The Mauna Lani Spa takes its cues from Hawaii’s lush geography, and why not? Between the snowy peaks of Mauna Kea to the flowing lava of Kilauea Crater, the Big Island plays host to plus-size amenities. The spa itself is massive, incorporating 25,000 square feet of indoor space and upwards of 15,000 square feet of outdoor treatment space.

Situated amidst verdant tropical gardens, the spa’s alfresco landscape also highlights lava rock tubs, lava saunas, a lava watsu, and a representation of the sixteenth century Kaniku lava flow. It’s no small surprise then that the signature treatments at the Mauna Lani integrate-you guessed it-lava.

The Lava Watsu Aquatic Body Therapy takes full advantage of the Big Island’s only lava watsu pool, which is built amongst ancient lava tubes and is believed by Hawaiians to represent the earth’s womb. Floating weightless in a 1,000-square-foot bath of saltwater, a therapist stretches, plies, and massages the body, coaxing open joints and soothing tense muscles.

This aquatic adventure also employs underwater acoustics, lighting effects, and a surreal waterfall, all designed to lull the mind and body into a womb-like state. Apparently, all you need to be reborn is $210 and a ticket to paradise.

The Spa at the Setai, Miami Beach, FL

When you live in Miami, you can’t throw a Manolo without hitting some sort of haven of hedonism. For this town of playboys (and playgirls), all-nighters are an everyday affair and there’s really only one way to unwind after a long week spent behind the velvet rope. Spa life is serious business in South Beach.

The Setai, a tabloid regular for its kaleidoscope of celebrity fans like Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Madonna, Bono, and Leonardo DiCaprio, has become famous in its own right for its outrageously attentive staff-and equally outrageous prices. It is the place to go for unadulterated spoiling.

At the spa, the pampering is even more intense with the brand new Setai Surya Ritual, which is sure to become a house favorite. This four and a half hour “journey” (price upon request) starts at sunrise on the shores of the Atlantic with a personal Yoga instructor. After stretching and working out a few well-earned kinks, you’re escorted to the hotel pool and greeted by a spa therapist who has prepared an ancient footbath ritual, which of course includes a dreamy foot massage. The full body Thai herbal steam bath takes place in a more intimate location-a private Setai penthouse suite where the views are to kill for.

After a momentary break to drink in the views and take down a spa breakfast, you’re treated to a 60-minute Langkawi Bamboo, Sumatra Coffee, or Jivana Ayurvedic body polish followed by your choice of a 90-minute therapeutic massage, like an Ayurvedic Abhyanga or a Tibetan Hot Stone, or a 90-minute refining facial. The marathon treatment is capped off with a rose petal bath-you’ll be left feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and, well, slightly pruned from all the herbal soaking.