Mention Palm Beach and many think mansions, money, Madoff. It’s a reputation the city is trying hard to change. One example is the $130 million transformation of the Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach and the opening of its 42,000-square-foot Eau Spa by Cornelia last March. The spa took the place of five tennis courts, a clear sign that the changing of the guard had commenced and the resort was ready to attract a new, younger demographic. (Three tennis courts from the original eight still remain across the street, but mostly for posterity.)
The spa itself is a whimsical playground that could have easily been a ready-made set for Alice in Wonderland, the new Tim Burton film being released this March and starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. Depp’s character would have felt right at home among the life-size chessboard in the coed Self-Centered Garden or sipping tea and eating decadent mini cupcakes—as opposed to the healthier fruits and nuts also offered—in the men’s and women’s Eau Zone relaxation lounges.
“Eau Spa is about having a good time in a completely carefree and open environment,” says Londoner Simon Lewis, the hotel’s owner, who worked with Israeli creative director Ayelet Rahav to design a sophisticated, witty setting full of worldly winks. At the entrance, past the large, heart-shaped purple velvet chair, is a bazaar-like boutique, a sort of chic Moroccan flea market. It doesn’t offer that immediate sense of relaxation one experiences upon entering some spas, and it can even feel a bit commercial (yet another way to spend money), but it’s necessary to walk through it to get to the spa’s reception area, where the real stress-free journey begins. An Egyptian proverb engraved into the wall of a pond-size wishing well reads “For the benefit of the flowers, we water the thorns, too,” and guests are encouraged to light a floating candle and make a wish before heading over to the Scrub and Polish Bar and the changing rooms.
The scrub bar is actually a recession-proof way of enjoying the spa for a minimal fee. Rather than booking treatments, guests can sample a number of scented scrubs, oils, and lotions and have the spa’s mixologist create a custom kit that they can enjoy at their leisure in the Bath Lounge, which includes a hot tub with rubber ducks in the women’s area and water guns and bobbleheads in the men’s, a sauna with a disco ball, and a steam room with penguin statues and a snow globe.
It all may seem a bit over the top, but getting a deep-tissue massage or a seaweed body wrap to jazzy, contemporary music instead of a babbling brook can be a refreshing change. And swinging in a basket chair with your toes skimming a reflecting pond while butterflies flitter around, attracted by the flora planted specifically for them, offers an unexpected way to relax. A heated waterfall bench that massages your neck, shoulders, and back is another option. Of course, if your preference is to stay indoors and escape with a Rubik’s Cube, you just need to look up at the chandelier made of more than 300 vintage and contemporary glasses to be reminded you’re still in Palm Beach. 561-540-4960; eauspa.com.
...And Outside Dublin
For such a large hotel company, with 72 resorts currently operating and more than 30 under development across the globe, Ritz-Carlton has managed to create uniquely individualized spa experiences tailored to each of its locations. Espa at the Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt in Enniskerry, County Wicklow, Ireland, is one of the best we’ve visited. Just 15 miles south of Dublin, it’s the smart use of space that makes this spa so enjoyable. The relaxation areas and the gym, along with the saunas, which have wall-size picture windows, have striking views of the Wicklow hills and Sugar Loaf Mountain. The pool was relegated to a windowless area, so to keep it from becoming cave-like, lighting tricks with Swarovski crystals and fiber optics were used to create a calming, nighttime-swim effect. In December two new Ritz-Carltons with one-of-a-kind spas that sound worthy of a next stop opened: one at Dove Mountain, in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, and the other at Phulay Bay, in southern Thailand. ritzcarlton.com.