Every time I visit a Peninsula Hotel, something magical happens: a bagpipe band appears out of nowhere and plays “Amazing Grace” (Hong Kong); I find myself dining on a Thai feast served next to the sparkling Chao Phraya River (Bangkok); a virtual parade of Hollywood stars marches past me on their way to tea (Beverly Hills). So it was with great expectations that I arranged a trip to the Peninsula Spa in midtown Manhattan.
I was not to be disappointed, starting with my first glimpse of the Peninsula doormen in their signature white uniforms and caps. They ushered me into the elevator, which whisked me up 21 floors before opening onto a gasp-inducing, cinnabar-and amber-hued expanse of a reception area. Designed by Alexandra Champalimaud, who was responsible for the exquisite makeover of the Hotel Bel-Air (and its Spa by La Prairie) in Los Angeles, the spa showcases the designer’s signature inspiration: the natural world. The lobby boasts a three-story curving staircase that leads upward to the two other floors of the 35,000-square-foot mega spa. The reception stands are crafted from a warm, grained wood and the furniture pieces take on organic shapes. Teak sculptures soar up the staircase, like trees in an Asian forest.
The second floor of the spa houses the new Vu Hair salon and the Sun Terrace, which wraps around three sides of the hotel and beckons guests with sun loungers and tables for outdoor dining. (I poked my head out quickly to gaze at the picturesque city views of Central Park, Fifth Avenue and downtown.) One flight up is the Pen’s fitness level—featuring a newly renovated workout facility with state-of-the-art cardio and strength training equipment—and a sun-lit movement studio. And then there’s the glass-enclosed pool, which invites guests to swim a few laps, come up for air and take in the cityscapes.
Exceeding expectations is the Peninsula’s stock-in-trade, and this spa has committed itself to doing just that. As I discovered in the three plus hours that I spent at this Manhattan jewel, clients don’t always have to travel to Bangkok or Hong Kong to receive a transporting spa experience. This spa provides such experiences to its guests on a daily basis.
MAKING STRESS DISAPPEAR
I was scheduled to receive the De-Stress Retreat (3 hrs./$690). Like every signature service at the Peninsula Spa, my treatment began with a Peninsula Tea Ceremony and an in-depth consultation. My therapist, Margarita, led me to the Asian Tea Lounge on the lobby floor, an intimate room richly layered in spice-inspired colors, where I idled over a soothing cup of tea with notes of lemongrass and cinnamon. We then headed to a spa treatment room, textured with bamboo walls, and finished with hand-thrown ceramic trays and bowls and luxury Italian linens. Softly lit, the whole room glowed like a sunrise.
Margarita studied my completed guest consultation questionnaire, taking great care to discuss my aching lower back, my tightly knotted shoulders and the toxins that had built up in my system. Consultation over, I sank into a plush leather chair while Margarita gently placed my feet into a warm bath of mineral sea salt (to soften calluses) and fresh ginger (to detoxify and refresh). Each foot was carefully exfoliated with a paste made from apricot seeds, then soothed with a gentle massage using apricot kernel oil.
I was then led to my treatment bed, and what followed was a blissful blur: a Dead Sea salt and essential-oil body exfoliation; an ESPA facial that featured anti-gravity facial massage to encourage toxin drainage and the penetration of the premium holistic British creams; and the literal topper: a head massage incorporating a luscious combination of different types of mud for conditioning, apricot kernel oil for nourishing the follicles and spearmint for focusing the mind.
My final treatment concluded, I lingered in the women’s relaxation room, with its linen-dressed beds, chenille throws, personal sound systems and screens created from translucent art. “People don’t want to leave the lounge,” says spa director Enid Fernandez. “They’re always asking if they can take a bed or a pillow home!”
Some 70% of the Peninsula Spa’s clients are New Yorkers who come in at night or on weekends to do exactly what I did: escape from a city that runs on fast-forward. “New York is a place of stress,” neatly sums up Margarita. “When you’re busy all the time, you react in the body. Many of our wellness clients understand that a regular massage and wellness retreat is not so much a luxury as a necessity.”
NO HAT TRICK
Fusing European concepts with Asian and ayurvedic philosophies, the Peninsula Spa encourages all guests to arrive at least 30 minutes early to enjoy its Thermal Suite, a range of heating and cooling experiences designed to cleanse the skin and relax the mind and body. Highlights include the aromatherapy steam room, a sauna and an ice fountain set against the backdrop of a dazzling, 24-karat-gold-tiled mosaic.
It’s such attention to detail in design and deed that accounts for the Peninsula Spa’s massive appeal—and the reason it has won multiple awards since its complete remodel and reopening in January 2009, including Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Best Hotel Spa in the U.S. mainland award in 2012. “The Peninsula is a reminder that there’s a different way to live,” says Fernandez. “We’re often viewed as the most luxurious spa in the city, and that’s for our service, amenities and aesthetics. We offer a holistic approach, and take care of the body and mind, from head to toe.”
The Peninsula Spa clients are usually very conscious of what supports good health. “They want to indulge in regular wellness packages as a preventive measure,” says Fernandez. “They’re willing to spend the money and take the time to bring balance back to the mind, body and spirit.” To that end, the spa welcomes a mix of regular guests: those who come in once a week for a massage, steam and sauna, and those who book a full Wellness package once a month.
The spa has claimed its place in New Yorkers’ hearts as an essential urban oasis. “People come for the day, forget they’re in the city, and never want to leave!” reports Fernandez. “Some gladly take their ‘staycations’ here. That feeling of escape—that’s what gets many of our clients returning. Our guests say it’s money well spent.”
After my spa journey, I head up to the outdoor deck to indulge in a Spa Suite Bento Box, a beautifully presented, figure-friendly meal that’s part of the spa’s Naturally Peninsula dining concept. I spend the afternoon gazing at what locals call the “Fifth Avenue Riviera”, a sweeping view of the grand old avenue and Central Park in the middle distance. My mind is a glorious blank, my body a blissed-out bag of bones. The Peninsula has worked its magic again.
–By Alison Singh Gee