While more often than not a massage is a massage is a massage, there is something to be said for an outdoor massage surrounded by a thousand blooms. Discreetly tucked away at the end of Naples most fashionable thoroughfare, the Hotel Escalante might not feature the worlds most exotic treatments, but it easily wins the trophy for the most exotic hideaway you’ve never heard of.
Set amid almost five acres of lush vegetation and nearby beachfront, the Mediterranean villa-cum-hotel/day spa has more in common with the Amazon basin than the garish strip malls and sun baked highways of Southwest Florida. A wander through the compound is as much an education as it is sensory heaven. Abundant with over three hundred species of flora, fruits and fragrant blossoms, noted landscape architects Sanchez and Maddux have created a ready-made paradise.
A precious Chinese Yellow Banana nestles its mammoth flowers next to a Caribbean Jack Fruit, the largest fruit in the world, weighing in at up to forty pounds. Mysterious Satake Palm, native to Japan, has deep purple colored bark. The odd – and aptly named – Cannonball Tree, has edible fruit larger than a grapefruit. Beautiful Mexican Lilacs, which are planted in Mexico to shade the cocoa plants (hence its Spanish name Madre de Cocoa) abound.
If you suddenly get a whiff of Chanel No. 5 during you poolside pedicure ($40.00 )it’s not a visiting society matron, you’re probably near one of the many Ylang-ylang trees which have the distinction of being the primary scent in the famous perfume.
The overpowering fragrance of the Orange Champal, while found commonly on the streets of Rio De Janeiro, is as exotic to these parts as is the Emperor’s Bamboo. Grown and cultivated within the walls of the Forbidden City, the striking blue bamboo stalks were the exclusive province of the Emperor’s delight. Its appearance here in Naples is rumored to be the result of a few well-placed contraband clippings.
It must say something that the enormous purple leaves of the Winged Beauty Vine look too perfect to be real. (So do the arms-length papayas, but you’ll get to snack on one later) The Columbian Purple Vine is not only rarely seen on American shores, but its prolific violet blooms, recall the hypnotic eyes of a young Liz Taylor.
Like nothing you’ve ever seen, the Chalice Vine has huge cup shaped flowers three quarters of a foot long, almost half a foot in diameter. It would look positively medieval if they weren’t so softly colored yellow. Think Richard III meets Martha Stewart.
And then there are the butterflies, which seem to have found a haven at the Escalante. They are everywhere, and with just cause: the grounds are ripe with Giant Milkweed and Salvia, a food magnet for the graceful Monarchs that flutter about.
Lying under a vine covered trellis, happily surrendering to a Honeysuckle Sea Scrub ($90), a “friend” floats down, attracted by the smells. Landing first along your wrist, then to your head, it flies up and away finally realizing you are not an actual flower. Though at this point you could be forgiven for thinking you are.
In the evening, Night Blooming Jasmine seems to envelope the grounds with narcotic effects. The Florida air thickens as dusk appears. Leaving the entryway feels like leaving Brigadoon, the mystical Scottish town that nightly disappeared into the mists. Luckily, the bent palms that canopy the gates are open every day.
Hotel Escalante, 290 Fifth Avenue South, Naples FL 34102