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Like a socialite at all the very best parties, Paradise Island's Ocean Club—just over a long, arched bridge from the Bahamian capital of Nassau—has often stood in a blaze of flashbulbs. In the four decades since it debuted with a splashy the onetime playground of A&P heir Huntington Hartford II has undergone a series of high-profile enhancements. The latest, completed in December 2000, was a $100 million splurge that upgraded the 58-room property with ten new 1,250-square-foot oceanside suites and 40 ocean-facing rooms; Dune, a sleek surfside restaurant overseen by Jean-Georges Vongerichten; and a palm-dotted 18-hole golf course designed by Tom Weiskopf.

But what becomes a tropical legend most? A knack—along with the facilities—for rejuvenating the travel-weary in an atmosphere of quiet luxury is high on the list. So in December the club opened the latest chapter in its book of renovations: a lavish new spa with eight private villas.

The Ocean Club spa experience starts at reception, in what was formerly the hotel's main lobby, with marble floor, winding staircase, and bronze-palm-frond chandelier. Here guests are collected by their therapist, and it's off to their own Bahamian-style shell-pink villa. Like the spas at Bali's Chedi Ubud and the Maldives' Coco Palms, also operated by the Mandara Spa company, the Ocean Club's facility grafts onto Mandara's Balinese roots techniques from Asia and Europe, mixing in a few indigenous elements along the way.

A gate in the walls enclosing the villa swings open to a courtyard paved in pink-beige Jerusalem limestone, ringed by a border of dwarf palms, bromeliads, and frangipani. Under a peaked canopy of split-bamboo shakes is an enormous bale, or Balinese daybed. A teak tub filled with warm water, essential oils, and flower petals for the welcoming ceremonial footbath awaits. "The Balinese," explains Tonia, one of the 30 spa staff, "believe the feet are the gateway to the soul."

But for now, the gateway is a carved wood screen that hides a Jacuzzi and sliding glass doors that lead to the treatment room, with butter-colored walls, Balinese art, and not a hint of the clinical. Lying on one of two teak massage tables, face-up, draped strategically with a sheet, and soothed by soft music and the scent of flame-warmed lavender oil, a guest ponders nothing more than the intricacies of a carved teak screen on the ceiling. When he turns over, he gazes at a hibiscus blossom floating in a wooden bowl on the floor. The intention is that the eye should fall on nothing that breaks the spell of harmony and relaxation, and that the mind should come pleasantly unmoored.

"We want to take all thought out of the experience," explains spa director Shian Wing, originally from Yorkshire. A line of all-natural English aromatherapy products called Elemis (fortified with Bahamian ingredients like coconut, frangipani, and lime) is at the center of Wing's holistic philosophy. "Inner and outer beauty are the focus here," she says, adding that the purpose of aromatherapy is the restoration of balance and harmony. "We aim to stimulate and reawaken all five senses."

The menu of treatments is generous, with eight types of massages alone; couples can indulge à deux if they wish. For true sensualists, marathon sessions lasting up to five hours include full-body treatments, an hourlong massage, a facial, and a ritualistic anointment and massage for the hands. Guests who'd like their muscles unknotted in a white canvas cabana by the sea need only ask; reclusive sybarites can have massages and aromatherapy baths right in their guestroom.

Originally coached by trainers brought in from Bali, Britain, and the United States, the staff are still being fine-tuned by Wing to iron out the bit of unevenness experienced in a visit soon after the spa opened. Under their hands—two pairs at once, if desired—senses are stirred with concoctions ranging from grainy to slick, warm to cool, applied with invigorating strokes or slow, swirling motions; part of the pleasure is in anticipation as the therapist describes the treatment and its benefits or announces sensations to come. For the slightly muddled guest who's been slathered in an emulsion of sage and seaweed and cocooned in crackly foil, the therapist discreetly removes the wrapping, proffers a robe, and guides him safely to the shower, where a colossal showerhead and side-shooting jets scour away the sludge.

Aglow and heavy-limbed after a final soak in the Jacuzzi, a guest repairs to the Balinese daybed, where he's brought a tray of mint tea and skewered papaya, mango, and melon, then sinks back on the pillows as eddies descend from swaying rattan paddles above. Later, roused from a half-slumber, he blinks up at a palm tree's spray of tiny flowers and exhales deeply. Time to reenter the Ocean Club's perfect small universe—to climb the garden terraces to the 12th-century French cloister Hartford acquired from William Randolph Hearst; watch dusk gather from the library over Champagne and amuses-bouche; pad across a carpet of grass to join the smartly dressed crowd on the terrace at Dune; and tune in to that magical frequency of crickets, murmured conversation, and gentle surf.

Treatments at the Ocean Club : $120-$450. Rates: $695-$1,750. Reservations: 800-321-3000, 242-363-2501; fax 242-363-2424;

Member of Fine Hotels, Resorts & Spas.


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