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Posted by on Apr 30, 2007 in Spa Reviews | 0 comments

A Latter Day Fountain of Youth: St. Augustine and Beyond

A Latter Day Fountain of Youth: St. Augustine and Beyond

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Legend has it that when Ponce de Leon landed on the shores of what is now St. Augustine in 1513, he was in search of the fabled fountain of youth. When he observed that the local natives appeared to be strong and in robust health, he may have believed that he found it. Today, however, the Fountain of Youth is simply a tourist attraction, and though visitors eagerly sample the water, no claims are made for any anti-aging qualities.

Centuries later, when another pioneer, oil and railroad tycoon Henry Morrison Flagler, came to north Florida; what he had in mind was not eternal youth, but rather health and rejuvenation. In 1889, he built St. Augustine’s first pampering palace, the Hotel Alcazar, a stunning Spanish Renaissance resort that boasted it was less than twenty-four hours from the principal centers of the American business world for passengers on Flagler’s own railroad.

The centerpiece of the hotel was the Alcazar Casino (the term then had nothing to do with gambling). The Casino boasted the world’s largest indoor swimming pool, fed by an artesian well sunk 1,400 feet deep; a gymnasium (today it would be called a fitness center); a Russian steam room; a massage area and a series of baths.

The spa menu featured the latest treatments of the day: Hydrotherapy Baths, Turkish Baths, Saline and Sulphur Baths, Vibrassage, Swedish Movements and Massage and Electro-Therapy. As Flagler’s wealthy guests expected entertainment along with their therapies, the Alcazar offered such diversions as pool parties (with a Venetian gondola), strolling troubadours, skits and swimming exhibitions.


The Inn added Florida’s first contemporary spa in 1987, a modest 4,000-square-foot facility, which grew to 10,000 square feet and was most recently replaced by a stunning 28,000-square-foot oasis with 22 treatment rooms, the largest in the state.


Though the Great Depression brought an end to the Alcazar’s days as a destination for moneyed society, the grand old building is now the Lightner Museum, which showcases the decorative arts and souvenirs of the Gilded Age, as well as the 19th century’s notions about fitness and well-being. (Alas, the glorious swimming pool is now a cafe.)

Today the choice of pampering palaces for travelers seeking relaxation and rejuvenation in and around St. Augustine is much greater than it was in Flagler’s day and I was fortunate enough to have a whirlwind tour of the finest among them.

staugustine-3The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, a luxurious 300-acre oceanfront resort in Ponte Vedra Beach, has been attracting well-heeled guests since 1928. Back then, a room (with three meals) cost $4, a round of golf, 50 cents.

The Inn added Florida’s first contemporary spa in 1987, a modest 4,000-square-foot facility, which grew to 10,000 square feet and was most recently replaced by a stunning 28,000-square-foot oasis with 22 treatment rooms, the largest in the state. Not only is the new spa esthetically appealing, with its sophisticated use of fountains and cascading water, muted colors and sensual textures, it makes use of  such innovations as the Interior Positioning System (a GPS for people) to keep track of clients. The spa pool incorporates a waterfall, grottos and varying currents that give bathers a pleasant massage while they relax.

staugustine-4The spa menu includes a rich variety of facials, body treatments, massages, couples packages, manicures and pedicures, along with the hi-tech Tri-Active laser treatments (more on this later).

Though male clients are often an afterthought at other spas, here, a separate barbershop has been designed especially for them, with a flat-screen television, dark wood and leather seating and a view of the Ocean Course; services include flat-razor shaves, manicures, pedicures and hair services.

My spa experience started with a much-needed classic Swedish Massage ($100, 50 minutes). My therapist, Billie, started with a gentle head and neck massage, her fingers finding the knots and stresses, then pressuring them away, using her arm as well as her hands. Was there any spot in particular that needed work, she asked after a while. I couldn’t think of any. Good, she said, I hate to miss anything. No danger of that, I assured her. My tired muscles were happy and so was I.

staugustine-5When I moved on to esthetician Susan Hagist for my Ponte Vedra facial ($100), I remained focused just long enough to ask how the facial would proceed. I do what the skin needs, she explained, I don’t just follow the protocol. What I needed was a deep cleansing that included extractions, a peel to emulsify dead cells and a hydrating emulsion repair the dryness imposed by a few hours in an airplane cabin. While my skin was renewing and refreshing itself, Susan applied a moisturizing lotion to my hands and feet, then covered them with warm mitts. Now I gave up the idea of asking any more questions and drifted comfortably until my treatment was over.

I returned to see Susan another day, as I was very interested in the spa’s TriActive System, which had been developed in Italy as a high-tech mini-lift. Susan explained that the system uses mechanical massage to stimulate lymphatic fluid movement and a diode laser to induce microcirculation in the skin to produce collagen. I sampled the treatment ($175) and found that while I could feel the stimulation, it was comfortable and painless, the treatment did, over the next few days, show a cleaner jaw line and less puffiness in my face, clearly due to a reduction in fluid. The treatments are generally done as a series for an overall improvement in firmness.

The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club has 250 rooms and suites, four swimming pools, 36 holes of golf, 15 hydro tennis courts, four restaurants and three lounges, upscale boutiques, a gourmet shop, a conference center and a spacious oceanfront fitness center with marvelous views. The emphasis at the resort, which also recently completed a $3 million Racquet Club renovation, is on ongoing renovation. The philosophy here: if you don’t move forward, you re falling back. Room rates this time of year start at about $300; spa and golf packages are also offered.

staugustine-6Also located in Ponte Vedra Beach is The Spa at the Marriott Sawgrass, a 20,000-square-foot freestanding facility set amidst the resort’s 4,800 acres, flanked by the Atlantic shore to the east and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west and wrapped with 15 acres of lagoons, waterfall-framed pools, twisted palms and giant magnolias. The spa interior showcases a 70-foot atrium with skylight and a panoramic view of the lagoon island.

There are 19 treatment rooms with wide beds and individually controlled temperature and music. Throughout, there is the resort’s signature scent, a blend of lemongrass, ginger and sandalwood. Glass pieces, reminiscent of Dale Chihuly’s work, create a stylish ambiance. The hydrotherapy baths here are a far cry from the Alcazar’s 19th century versions; these tubs have surge action, mood-enhancing color and a choice of essential oil

s, mineral salts, tea sachets or algae. There are skin care therapies, intensive facials that use the latest biotechnology, massage, nail care, hand and foot therapies and hair removal services. As golf is key at Sawgrass, home to the PGA Tour and Senior PGA Tour, there are a number of treatments geared to the golfer’s needs, along with golf fitness training sessions.

staugustine-7My time here was limited, so I made the most of it. Though the spa offers 25-minute Express Therapies for clients who are really in a hurry, I wanted more: the Ayurvedic therapy known as Shirodhara ($195, 110 minutes). Therapist Brooke took me through the experience, using a gentle stream of warm herbal oil, which she dripped slowly on my third eye (center of forehead) to induce a relaxing meditative state. A drip of cool oil followed, as did a fabulous head and hair massage; I kept thinking: I don’t want this to end. My hands and feet were also massaged, and then encased in warm mitts and booties.

With regret, I left the spa, wishing I had time for a Signature Pedicure ($55), for the nail care area here was simply lovely; unlike some, that are tucked away in windowless corners, this one had beautiful outdoor views, which I would have enjoyed along with the pampering.

The Sawgrass Marriott Resort has 508 guest rooms, suites and golf villas, 99 holes of championship golf, nine ATP tennis courts, three pools, a children’s program, seven restaurants, a beachfront Cabana Club and thousands of square feet of meeting and exhibit space. This time of year, combination golf and spa packages start at about $700; they include accommodations, a round of golf on The Players stadium course, cart fees and advanced tee times, one fifty-minute spa service, unlimited use of spa facilities for two and breakfast for two at Caf on the Green.

staugustine-8Back in St. Augustine, the 13,000-square-foot PGA Tour Spa Laterra is part of the 6,300-acre Laterra resort community in the World Golf Village. This spa, too, is thoughtfully designed, and features three floating cabana treatment rooms (there are 11 rooms in all), a circular relaxation room, a reflecting garden and a koi pond. The selection of massages, facials and body treatments is extensive, featuring such popular therapies as a warm sea stone massage, facial peels and hydrotherapy. Here, too, there is a good selection of treatments for men, as well as golf conditioning and training. A full complement of hair and nail services is also available.

Soon after I arrived at the spa, I met Dolores, an artist of the nails, who, as Emeril puts it, kicks everything up a notch. Now I could have the spa pedicure I craved. Dolores’s version at $65 was a true facial for the feet; it included a cleansing soak, an exfoliation and a rich creamy massage–and finished with cuticle care and lovely polish.

staugustine-9Accommodations at Laterra 152 in all include hotel, studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom suites. All have private patios or balconies. Guests have access to world-class golf, the Serenata Beach Club and all the attractions of World Golf Village.

Spa packages start at about $523 per couple, depending on the season; they include two nights accommodations, an in-room spa experience the evening of arrival, with a choice of the Soothing Milk Bath or the Signature Citrus Scrub Shower Ritual for 2 and a bottle of wine. The next morning, the day starts with a Private Nordic Walk through the King & Bear Neighborhood with one of the PGA TOUR Spa Laterra Personal Trainers. Later, there’s a choice of either a 60-minute Aromatherapy Massage or Therapeutic Touch Massage for each in the couple’s room.

Lightner Museum


Ponte Vedra Inn & Club


Sawgrass Marriott Resort

800-457-GOLF or 904-285-7777

Laterra Resort & Spa


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