from the archives: massage of a lifetime

Mandarin Oriental Central Park view

High above Columbus Circle in Manhattan, the Mandarin Oriental has an over-the-top spa with spectacular views of Central Park. And while raising the bar for service and ambiance, it is also raising the bar on what the market will bear for a simple rubdown. With the recent surge of affordable qi gong joints popping up all over major cities — not to mention practically every nail salon now offering to rebalance your chakras for $20 — you’d be hard-pressed to pay more than $100 bucks for an hour of qualified deep-tissue attention. Even nearby, high-end day retreats such as Bliss and Sanctuary top out at $200 for a hot stone or lomi-lomi massage. However, in the rarified world of the Mandarin-in-the-sky, a no-frills massage will set you back about a cool $500. Read more HERE.

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spa break: la costa

la costa spa

In what has become a cherished January tradition, I’m ducking into the spa at La Costa for a day of steam, massage, lunch, and sunning myself under the orange trees. Wake me when the cold snap in the northeast is done and dusted, please. Then again, don’t bother.

spa pool

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paresa

paresa 3

Perched high on the cliff side, over azure blue waters and a picturesque panorama of the Andaman Sea, Paresa is more than just a hotel: it’s Phuket’s best kept secret. Imagine the Swiss Family Robinson, if they were smart enough to build themselves a treehouse made of teak in the tropical forest, an outdoor shower, a fully stocked bar, and a private infinity pool cantilevered over the cliff, and you begin to get a sense of the luxury adventure that awaits. Add a team of Angels on call to do your bidding – plus a private beach club along the marvelously under-crowded Kamala Beach – and your search for the perfect idyll has ended. Or at least my search has ended. What need have I with the rest of this island when my jungle villa awaits? Cocooned, the outside world falls away. And while I’m due at the spa any minute now, for the first time in my life I’m thinking a massage might actually be redundant.

kamal beach - paresa

paresa 2

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thai me up, thai me down

As has become my wont for Thanksgiving, I’m about to travel in a big metal tube for many, many hours. This holiday season’s far-flung adventure: Thailand and Cambodia, two countries I’ve long desired to visit – if only for the cheap massage and legendary street food. I don’t anticipate internet to be entirely reliable, so postings here may be a bit irregular. Have no fear, however; my gustatory loiterings will be fully documented and distributed once the bandwidth allows.

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making sense

If there’s one thing that can lure me out of my lair it’s a trip to the spa, which at Rosewood Mayakoba is tucked into the jungle on its own private island. I’m getting a taste of what’s to come in celebration of the end of the Mayan calendar – or what some pessimistic folks are calling the Mayan Apocalypse. Emmanuel Arroyo, Spa Director at Sense, A Rosewood Spa, is one of the optimists, however. “The end of the calendar on December 21st isn’t the end of the world but the end of a cycle,” he tells me while showing off the unobtrusively expansive facilities. “A new cycle is beginning; and with that comes the promise of renewal.” All of which sounds like the perfect excuse to be a pampered guinea pig for the 2 1/2 hour Mayan Equinox Ritual, which begins with a blessing of copal, the ceremonial incense used by Mayan warriors before going into battle. Afterwards comes a full-body jade exfoliation, a gold-infused wrap and mask to nourish and protect the skin, and a 90-minute mineralizing massage that incorporates silver. A word to the wise: they might want to think about rechristening the treatment - something more akin to Mayan Warrior, perhaps? – because far from feeling like I need to scraped off the table at the end, I feel revitalized, armed, and ready to conquer. Maybe the time has come for me to seize the beach.

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botanic bliss

Savvy sybarites know that spas flying the Hyatt flag boast of their anti-chain mentality.  Individual aesthetics and local flavors tend to be the rule.  So it naturally follows that Atabei Spa at the new Hyatt Regency Curacao is no exception.  The floors are whitewashed planks of reclaimed nautical wood – a nod to the island’s heritage, when the capital of Willemstad was the main port of call in the Dutch West Indies.  Gauze curtains billow everywhere, not unlike being onboard a sloop returning to harbor.  A safe harbor is what you’ll find on the menu, however, where healing herbs and extracts from the botanic garden of islander Dinah Veeris form the backbone of treatments like the laraha body scrub, incorporating the bitter orange used in making Curacao liqueur, an age defense facial tinged with sweet lupine and wild mango, or the setebibu recovery wrap, drenched in native aloe.  Most notable is the stemp massage, which uses a trio of large hand-tied poultices filled with rosemary, lavender, bergamot, yerba buena, and amarigue, also known as marjoram.  Soaked in warm oil it’s a deeply gratifying tonic for muscles not accustomed to swimming all day in clear Caribbean waters. (stemp, from the Flemish, “to stamp,” also translates as “to knead” in Papiamento, the local patois.)  Think of them as hot stones with handles.  Larger than what’s used in the poultice massages that were all the rage a few years ago, these vitamin-packed bundles have a secondary benefit as well:  take them home and drop them in the bath for a nourishing respite after a day spent soaking up too much sun.

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to sleep, perchance to dream

One of the more common – and frustratingly difficult to keep – New Year’s resolutions is the resolve to finally get a good night’s sleep.  That’s not a problem for me at home, but while on the road or in unfamiliar surroundings I, like many travelers, often find it a challenge to avoid a fitful night. To that end I thought it would be illuminating to sit down for a little Q & A with a professional.  As Sleep Concierge of The Benjamin Hotel in New York City, Anya Orlanska’s mission is to make sure everyone gets a good night’s sleep while visiting the city that never sleeps. From helping guests choose a pillow from the hotel’s 12-pillow menu to delivering sleep amenities like a white noise machine, extra blankets or lavender essential oil from the spa, Anya is the linchpin in The Benjamin’s sleep guarantee, which promises that everyone who stays at the hotel walks away well rested or gets their money back.  If anyone has a vested in making sure you get some shuteye, it’s Anya.

Here are a few excerpts from our conversation, as well as five easy at-home tips.  Plus, now you know: The Benjamin’s got the only bed for your sleep-deprived head the next time you’re in the Big Apple.

What should a traveler expect from a hotel when it’s time to sleep?

  • A hotel should always provide travelers with a quiet sleeping environment that includes a supportive bed and a selection of pillows.  If there is outside noise or other disturbances, guests should be able to request a move to a quieter room in the hotel. Also guests should also be able to adjust the temperature if it is too hot or too cold for them to sleep comfortably.

What is your most basic advice for sleep starved travelers?

  • We always advise that guests use their beds only for sleeping and avoid reading, working or eating in bed as those actions will make it more difficult to relax in preparation for a good night’s sleep. Also, digestion interferes with proper sleep, so you should avoid large meals before retiring.

Tell us what goes into making a hotel room right for sleep.

  • At The Benjamin, we have gone to extensive lengths to ensure that our guest rooms and suites provide the ideal sleeping environment. During the renovation, the hotel installed sound-proof windows that are constructed of double paned glass filled with argon gas.  The Benjamin Beds were specially designed with Serta mattresses that offer convoluted foam cushioning and layers of fiber quilted to the mattress for a luxurious feel.  Of course, guests are more comfortable when sleeping if they have soft sheets against their skin, so we also wrap our beds in 400-thread count Anichini linens for the ultimate comfort.  We provide guests with a 12-choice pillow menu so they can choose the pillow that will best suit their needs.  To help guests fall asleep and sleep through the night, we have installed blackout shades and provide white noise machines.  We provide a comprehensive Sleep Menu in every room so guests can help us customize their guest room with a variety of additional amenities and services, such as aromatherapy linen sprays and sleep-inducing bedtime snack options.  For our guests who require an extra firm mattress, we will even place a wooden board under their mattress to perfect their sleeping environment.

How do you see pillows as being important to the sleep experience?

  • Pillows are an essential aspect of getting a good night’s sleep, but only if the pillow is compatible to the sleeper’s physiology.  Everyone sleeps in a position to maximize personal comfort, but if the pillow doesn’t suit that type of posture or does not support the weight of the body, it will lead to neck or back pain, insomnia or a headache upon waking.  At The Benjamin, we recognize the importance of sleeping on the perfect pillow so we offer 12 types to cover a variety of the most common sleep ailments and to please personal preferences.

What about temperature?

  • People will benefit most when sleeping in a cool environment. Upon check-in, we suggest that guests test the temperature before retiring to ensure that they will not have to awake in the middle of the night to make any adjustments.

What kinds of relaxation aids do you suggest and offer to guests to help fall asleep?

  • We offer guests several amenities to help them relax, including bedtime snacks, aromatherapy products and treatments at our Wellness Spa.  Our suggested bedtime room service menu offers several types of decaffeinated tea, as well as cookies and warm milk that provides the sleep-inducing amino acid L-tryptophan, and other snacks.  Guests can also prepare their bodies for sleep by taking advantage of our Lavender Turndown service, featuring calming aromatherapy sprays over the bed and pillows, or by scheduling a relaxing in-room Sleep-Wellness massage through our Wellness Spa.  Our white noise machines and Lullaby Sound CD Libraries are also very popular because they help soothe guests to sleep.
  • We also offer special relaxation aids for jet-lagged travelers.  If guests are experiencing a sore neck after a long flight, we recommend that they rest on our Gelly Neck Roll pillow for 15-20 minutes because the pillow contains a special insert that can be filled with warm water to relieve any muscle tension.  Further, as part of our Executive Nap kit, we offer jet-lagged guests a special menu of dedicated services that includes afternoon turn-down, wake-up call, a “Napping Kit” that features The Benjamin’s signature sleep mask, lavender oil that can be added to a warm bath for extra relaxation, a Gan Bei Elixir, and a special door hanger to alert staff not to disturb a “Nap in Progress.”

If I have a sleep problem, what questions should I ask a hotel before reserving a room?

  • Ask if they can provide a room away from the street and elevator banks and on a high floor for a peaceful, quiet environment.  If you experience neck and back pain when traveling, ask what types of pillows the hotel provides to ensure that you can avoid extra stress in those areas.  It’s best to know in advance if the pillow option you need isn’t available because it may be best to bring your own.

Could you offer a few at-home tips?

  1. Place foam or down padding over your mattress to create a softer, more relaxing sleep environment.
  2. Before retiring fill a small spray bottle with lavender oil and water and spray sheets lightly.  Lavender oil has relaxing properties.
  3. Avoid drinking coffee, soda or other beverages with caffeine after lunchtime, as it can interfere with sleep.
  4. Create a cool dark environment.  Purchase dark shades for the windows and keep the room temperature comfortable, not too cold or too warm.
  5. Drink chamomile tea in the evening; it has relaxing properties. Warm milk is another good bedtime drink – it’s full of sleep-inducing amino L-tryptophan.
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