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December 19, 2007

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Where's Juliet?                                          Mandarin Oriental NYC!


Mandarin Oriental: New York City
Between the spa and the restaurants, New York City's Mandarin Oriental provides locals and travelers alike with an urban oasis, right in the heart of Manhattan.
By Juliet Pennington

Even though it's widely overused, the term "urban oasis" was the first thought that came to mind when I stepped into the Thai Yoga Suite in The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York City's Columbus Circle. One minute, you're braving the crowds on the busy city streets below, your senses overwhelmed by a cacophony of horns, sirens and street peddlers hawking their goods, the next you're 35 stories high in a peaceful retreat with a meditative atmosphere reminiscent of a Buddhist temple.

Knowing I was going to be experiencing a three-hour Thai Yoga Massage had me full of anticipation. I've reviewed enough spas over the course of my writing career that getting a highly-touted treatment doesn't usually get me too excited. But this one had piqued my interest for the time allotment alone, not to mention the unusual notion of a yoga session intertwined with a massage treatment.

Thai massage is an ancient therapy used to facilitate a sense of balance and well-being. It originated from the 2,500-year-old tradition of Ayurveda, which, roughly translated, means "knowledge of life" -- the ancient healing method tied to the origin of yoga. This treatment pairs penetrating massage techniques with gentle yoga movements to create a seemingly oxymoronic state of relaxed invigoration.

Upon my arrival at The Spa, Dee and Melissa, two very friendly attendants, greeted me. They gave me slippers, a hot towel to warm my hands and a cup of hot tea. After I filled out a brief questionnaire, I was given a comfortable cotton yoga ensemble and directed to the fully-stocked changing room. After changing, I made my way into the candlelit tea lounge filled with orchids, soothing music and tasty dried fruit and nuts. Kelly, my massage therapist, who had studied her craft in Thailand and elsewhere, soon greeted me.

As I walked into the custom-designed Thai yoga suite, the sights, smells and sounds that surrounded me immediately drew me in. A raised platform of teak wood covered by a firm (but comfortable) mat took up most of the dimly-lit, warm room decorated with dark teak with gold leafing. The lemongrass and ginger aroma and the soft traditional Thai music created an almost ethereal atmosphere. A deep soaking tub, infused with herbs and flowers, sat adjacent to a pebble and water moat, where a waterfall added a gentle trickling stream-like sound.

After Kelly gave me a stimulating foot massage using sea salts, the two of us got on the mat and she explained that she would guide me through a series of movements that would, among other things, relieve muscular and joint tension, align the skeletal structure, increase flexibility, stimulate internal organs, release toxins and balance the body's energy system.

As she gently manipulated my body into stretches and various yoga positions, Kelly encouraged me to let go of physical and emotional restrictions and talked about energy paths and other Eastern teachings. While stretching was a good part of the treatment, there was also a fair bit of just-the-right-amount-of-pressure massaging – including the scalp, which felt great.

After nearly two hours of stretching, turning, twisting and massaging, I was left alone in the room to bathe in the deep, oversized relaxation tub. I thoroughly enjoyed soaking in the silken hot water, which was propelled by numerous jets that hit just the right spots after my treatment.

Feeling an overwhelming sense of tranquility, I experienced just a touch of disappointment at the realization that my three-hour respite of bliss was coming to an end. Little did I know, there was more to come.

I was led to the Relaxation Room, a post-treatment oasis with stunning views of Central Park. There, I got comfortable on a cushioned lounge chair and was served a delicious soy milk mango smoothie, while a heated neck wrap (filled with lavender seeds and herbal rice) was placed on the back of my neck. To say I felt totally pampered would be an understatement. A soothing fountain provided just the right backdrop when, after finishing my smoothie, I put on a silk eye mask provided to me, closed my eyes and drifted off into a peaceful slumber.

While this treatment isn't cheap ($645 for the three-hour version, exclusive of tax and gratuity, and $315 for the 80-minute session Monday through Wednesday and $325 Thursday through Sunday), it's an experience you won't soon forget. And if you want to really indulge, and do so as a couple, there is the 650-square-foot VIP Spa Suite, which replicates an Asian home complete with a fireplace, elevated bath, dual massage beds and a king-sized bed. A three-hour VIP Spa Suite Experience costs $1,150 per couple on weekdays, $1,250 on weekends. A four-hour experience costs $1,600 on weekdays and $1,700 on weekends.

Even though the newest spa offering is what brought me to the Mandarin Oriental, I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the hotel itself and what it has to offer.

First off, you can't go wrong with the location: Columbus Circle at 60th Street. Located on the top of the Time Warner Center at the southwest tip of Central Park, the hotel has 248 guest rooms (pricing starts at $895) including 46 suites (prices start at $2,300) and all have views of either Central Park or the Hudson River.

The spacious rooms combine elegant 1940s–style furnishing with state-of-the-art technology (guests can even listen to their voicemail via the flat-screen televisions that are in every room) and the floor-to-ceiling windows offer wonderful panoramic views of the New York City skyline. The ultra-comfortable beds are draped in luxurious Italian linens by Fili D'oro and accented with fresh orchids during the evening turndown service.

Even though the restaurant offerings on the Upper West Side are plentiful, there's no need to leave the Mandarin Oriental to get some of the best food in New York City. The Lobby Lounge not only has a variety of light fare (I had the delicious five-spiced chips with black bean-ginger hummus and lemongrass chili aioli), but the view of Central Park and the skyline is breathtaking. It's also known as a popular celebrity hangout and, sure enough, I spotted Ted Koppel having a late afternoon lunch while I was there.

Asiate, which was featured in New York Magazine's best new restaurants guide in 2006, has delicious food and, with its 13-foot-high wall of windows, amazing views. The menu, like the ambiance (there's an entire wall of wines offering more than 600 varieties), would impress even the most discerning of diners. Chef Nori Sugie's French-Japanese fusion cuisine is superb and the wait staff couldn't have been more accommodating. Entrees may be ordered a la carte, but there's also a three-course prix fixe menu for $85 and a tasting menu for $125. Try to save room for dessert – especially if you get the tasting menu, which comes with the Bento Box, a collection of six mouthwatering desserts including banana chocolate mousse, ginger crème brulee and apple pie ice cream sprinkled with pie crust.

While there are numerous spas, hotels and restaurants in New York City, if you're looking for the best the Big Apple has to offer, you needn't look any further than the Mandarin Oriental. Mandarin Oriental, 80 Columbus Circle at 60th Street, New York, New York 10023, USA, Tel: 1+ 212-805-8800.

*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

All information presented here is accurate at the time of publication but prices, dates and other details are all subject to change. Please confirm all information before making any travel arrangements.

Pictures From

The Trip



Dee and Melissa greet guests at The Spa


Thai yoga suite


Bathtub in Thai yoga suite

Fountain in Relaxation Room

Cushioned lounge chairs in Relaxation Room

VIP Spa Suite

Bed in hotel room


View of Columbus Circle from hotel room

Flat screen television in hotel room


Five-spiced chips with black bean-ginger hummus and lemongrass chili aioli

Wall of wine in Asiate

Bento Box dessert at Asiate



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