Italian by Design

During a visit to the resort at pelican hill, it's easy to feel like you're in the wrong place. As if a bite of the creamy gelato from the resort's cafe isn't enough to make you lose your bearings, the stunning architecture, featuring stately colonnades and terracotta-capped buildings, will surely get you in an Italian state of mind. Even the nature that surrounds the resort plays a role in the ruse—lush fairways that tumble into the Newport Beach coastline mirror rolling Tuscan hills. "We are fortunate to reside in a Mediterranean-like environment where 100-year-old olive trees, rows of lavender, and mature fig trees evoke a centuries-old landscape," says spa director Kasia Mays. Overall, the resort is a heavenly stand-in for Italy's countryside.

The Coliseum Pool offers panoramic views of the resort's rolling fairways and the azure Pacific Ocean.
The Coliseum Pool offers panoramic views of the resort's rolling fairways and the azure Pacific Ocean.

Reminiscent of the methodical and detailed technique of Andrea Palladio, the resort is an elegant homage to this great Renaissance architect—one of Italy's finest. His style is carried through to The Spa at Pelican Hill, where guests enter a vast 28-foot Palladian rotunda. This grand statement complements the size of the 23,000-square-foot, 22-treatment-room spa, which was a joint effort by consultants Sylvia Planning And design and Savvy Spas. The grandeur and scale of the spa, which can cater up to 230 treatments per day, might seem daunting from an operations standpoint, but Mays says the space actually allows for a busy day to seem tranquil.

The men's whirlpool offers a relaxing respite
The men's whirlpool offers a relaxing respite

With a staff of 75, the spa has plenty of hands on deck to ensure that guests are receiving the customized attention they deserve. "Well before their arrival, we introduce ourselves and help discern their goals, and it's from this union that a creative and highly personalized spa experience is crafted," says Mays. "Our mission is to create an experience that resonates deeply within one's soul because of the time, the mindful nature, and dedication spent anticipating their arrival, and delivering on that promise."

Dead Sea salts and Himalayan salt crystals are used in baths
Dead Sea salts and Himalayan salt crystals are used in baths

In order to zero in on this mission, spa-goers are asked if they would prefer to replenish, invigorate, or relax while visiting the spa. "The concept behind these three personalized intentions really is the golden thread that ties the entire highly personalized experience together," says Mays. Guests can choose to replenish with treatments such as the Marine Wrapsody ($180, 60 minutes), which restores minerals in the body with a marine algae cocoon, or the Cristallo ($90) bath, which offers a Himalayan salt crystal soak to heal and detoxify. The Lulur Italiano ($340, 2 hours) invigorates the body with a light exfoliation and a luxurious massage, while the Mediterranean Mosaic ($180, 60 minutes) relaxes, replenishes, and invigorates with a blend of three different body muds and clays.

Guests enjoy the resort's beachside location.
Guests enjoy the resort's beachside location.

The skin-replenishing and -smoothing Body Gelato ($180, 60 minutes), one of the spa's most popular treatments, offers a different main ingredient each season. The winter Body Gelato features pomegranate, while honey is used during the spring, lavender in the summer, and figs during the fall. These locally sourced ingredients are incorporated into a scrub, a wrap, and a gelato flavor, which is created exclusively for the spa and is offered to guests after their treatments.

A couples' room provides a taste of the outdoors
A couples' room provides a taste of the outdoors

Local produce is not only found in services but also used to create palate-pleasing cuisine. "Our executive chef hand picks the freshest fruits and vegetables that grow on the Irvine Ranch," says Mays. "These organic and raw food combinations are mindfully portioned and have credible nutritional value, making healthy cuisine a multi-sensory experience." Dishes such as Beet Carpaccio with Goat Cheese & Baby Arugula and Greek Yogurt Mousse, Fresh Berries, & Strawberry-Lavender Reduction further tantalize and indulge guests.

Fresh produce, such as pomegranates, are worked into the menu
Fresh produce, such as pomegranates, are worked into the menu

It's native touches like this that add some California flair to a decidedly Italian spa. "Our guiding principles of a strong Italian influence needed to be accented with a California crafted look and feel," says Mays. In addition to a sea-and-sand inspired palette, the spa embraces its locale with certain services, such as Coastal Elegance ($640, 4 hours). This package offers a Terra Stone Massage, a California Sugar Glow Body Treatment, an Oxygen Awakening Facial, and a Crystal Cove Fitness Walk, which is an excursion along the neighboring state park. "Guests love the ability to explore the local flora and fauna along the 3 1/2 miles of pristine coastline," says Mays. "It's the perfect way to begin your day and to get a sense of place, and more importantly, set a sense of pace for your getaway."

The landscape and architecture make clients feel like they are lost in Italy.
The landscape and architecture make clients feel like they are lost in Italy.

For those who have difficulty making decisions, The Master's Palette ($1,060, 6 hours) is a head-to-toe treat, including a therapeutic Paio massage, a soothing Therapy Bath, a nutrient-rich Natura's Diamond Experience, an indulgent Body Gelato treatment, a signature spa manicure, pedicure, and a shampoo and style. Impulsive spa-goers who prefer to make their own schedules can opt for A Timeless Package ($2,000), which caters to a guest's every whim with an "endless number of treatments," available at any time of day.

The spa does a superb job of treating the body and it also focuses on nurturing the mind and spirit. Every week, resort guests are invited to pass by the spa for the Friday Evening Spa Soiree. While enjoying a glass of prosecco, they are encouraged to tap into their artistic sides by picking up a paintbrush and adding a meaningful icon to the Canvas of Intention. "We began the first canvas last December, and the feedback has been profound and very moving," says Mays. "Each canvas includes hundreds of personal stories and intentions that are offered into the universe. It's an experience that moves people to tears and reconnects their minds, bodies, and souls, which, in my opinion, should be experienced daily."

With such attention to detail, it's no surprise that the spa has been recognized for many awards. In addition to recently being named a Five-Star Spa by the 2010 Forbes Travel Guide, it's been included in Condé Nast Traveler's Hot List: 2009, and was just named a Favorite New Spa in American Spa's 2009 Professional's Choice Awards. The attention is also coming from close to home, and 45 percent of the spa's clientele is from the neighborhood. "With mindful and conservative pricing, our guests enjoy our services, not only for beautifying and pampering experiences but also for therapeutic value," says Mays. "Our biggest complaint is that our guests don't want their experience to end, and for nearly 40 percent of them, it continues weekly."

This successful return rate and many awards has much to do with Mays, her staff, and their unwavering work ethic. "As we round out a full year since opening, the resonating values of exceptional service, meaningful connections, and therapeutic treatments continue to be the overwhelming feedback we receive from our spa guests on a daily basis," says Mays. "We've learned that if you build something special with a thoughtful story and a passionate heart, the experience becomes priceless and cannot be replicated."


(Newport Coast, CA)

OWNER: Irvine Company Resort Properties


OPENED: November 2008


70% women, 30% men


23,000 square feet; 22 treatment rooms


aromatherapy, body treatments, couples' treatments, facials, fitness, hand and foot treatments, hydrotherapy, makeup application, massage, microdermabrasion, nailcare, prenatal services, reflexology, salon services, waxing, yoga


Body Gelato ($180, 60 minutes)


A Timeless Package ($2,000), which includes a "day of luxury." Guests can have any treatment they desire at any time of day.


-Barex Italiana
-Body Bliss
-Natura Bissé


-Top Hat


Darrell Schmitt Design (Los Angeles)


Sylvia Planning And design (Sedona, AZ) and Savvy Spas (Phoenix)