LUXURY HOTEL INSIDER
May 2, 2006
By: Mary Winston Nicklin
There's been quite a hullabaloo over Mobil's recently announced 2006 award winners. The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental New York made the cut and graduated to elite five star status, its "wow factor" described by the experts:
This sleek hotel marries Asian sensibilities with New York panache, and its 14,500-square-foot spa is the piece-de-la-resistance. Bamboo and natural stone are used throughout, creating a temple of serenity in this most frenetic of world capitals. Chinese, Ayurvedic, Balinese, and Thai healing therapies are the highlight of a visit to this facility, where guests are encouraged to book blocks of time, known as Time Rituals, for a comprehensive relaxation experience.
It joins the likes of the Spa Montage at the Montage Resort and Spa in Laguna Beach, Cali-- the nation's only other Mobil Five-Star Spa. The full list of 2006 award-winners is here. Any dynamite spas that you noticed didn't make the cut?
How's this for a perfect day. A leisurely lunch savored in the sunshine gazing up at the immense ruins of a 9th century church carved from sheer limestone walls. A stroll through winding cobble-stoned streets with panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards. A tour through a local wine-grower's chateau, its wine cave built deep into the hill's rock cliffs. A late afternoon glass of pink sparkling wine, accompanied with almond flavored macaroons, in the ruins of an ancient monastery. As the afternoon light fades orange against the city's ramparts and Roman stone archways, you can't help but think… This is the life.
Welcome to Saint-Emilion, 30 minutes from Bordeaux in the midst of the world's most famous wine-growing region. The town is steeped in history-- its name derived from the Benedictine monk hermit who resided in a cave here between 750 and 767-- and the luxurious traditions of art de vivre. The vineyards and township of St. Emilion are UNESCO-heritage protected sites because they've endured-- virtually untouched-- since the Roman poets extolled the virtues of the rich wines.
In such an extraordinary setting, the Grand Barrail Chateau Resort and Spa is the gem to choose for its unrivaled accommodations. Just outside the township of Saint-Emilion, the castle's towers and turrets emerge in splendor from the rolling hills of meticulously planted vines. Even the basic accommodations (Superior) are comfortable, spacious, and tastefully appointed. But the suites are extraordinary, with lavish bathrooms, light-filled rooms, and sweeping views over the lawn and countryside; one even boasts an enormous stone balcony and terrace that comprises most of the castle's second floor.
The new full-service Spa features hammam, Scottish bath, steam room, sauna, Jacuzzi, and a tantalizing menu of treatments with Ligne St Barth cosmetics. For example: the St. Barth Softness is a nourishing body peeling massage with coconut oil, fresh papaya and an extra-fine sea sand polish complex. (The sand is imported from the Caribbean island, and the Ligne St Barth cosmetics are enhanced with additional fresh fruit.)
Dining is a gastronomic experience, with plates as beautifully presented as the cuisine is rich and delicious. The chef's got quite a few awards under his belt. Compared to your nightly feast, breakfast isn't half bad. It's served in an elegant breakfast room filled with light through stained glass windows; dainty crossaints are served hot from the oven, accompanied with fine fruit jams and other delights from a generous buffet display.
Here in Saint-Emilion at the Grand Barrail Chateau, it's easy to see how the French have mastered the joie de vivre.
So maybe Dubai's got an indoor ski resort, the world's only seven-star hotel, and the MotorCity Autodrome. But Abu Dhabi's getting a Ferrari Amusement Park! (So there.) The UAE's oft-neglected capital city (in favor of the trendy, prosperous tourism mecca of Dubai) is also enjoying fast growth and fashionable revitalization. The Gulf-facing capital sports the super-swanky Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi, which seems to emanate grandeur (and sheer size-- with its enormous ballroom, endless array of dining options, large health club and spacious guest rooms), and the city's other Le Meridien has just announced its massive AED 20 million renovation, adding luxurious guest rooms and remodeling the spa. The capital city's got its fair share of luxurious shopping malls, golf courses, tennis, and watersports on the Gulf. And of course there's the Ferrari amusement park. Starting in 2008, you can test-drive those $500,000 babies around the racetrack. I'm so there.