Sanctuary by the Sea

The best amenities and treatments from around the world have joined together to make an oceanfront home at ESPA at Acqualina, in Sunny Isles Beach, FL. Opened in December 2006, the two-story property has the distinction of being ESPA's first branded spa in the U.S. Known for its blend of European concepts and Ayurvedic philosophies, the England-based spa consultancy has launched some of the most celebrated spas in the world at five-star properties such as the Peninsula, Ritz-Carlton, and Mandarin Oriental resorts.

The location of the newest ESPA is no exception. The spa is part of the 4.5-acre Acqualina, A Rosewood Resort near Miami that includes a boutique hotel and luxury condominiums. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the 20,000-square-foot spa incorporates this tropical setting into both its decor and menu. "We honor each culture in the design of our spas worldwide and try to use materials and influences according to the specific geographical location," says Susan Harmsworth, CEO and founder of ESPA.

Guests can relax on the beach before or after treatments.
Guests can relax on the beach before or after treatments.

The aquatic journey begins immediately as guests pass through a walkway of granite water walls to enter the reception area. The ocean-inspired design continues throughout the modern spa in details such as Capiz shell and sea grass wall coverings, shell and driftwood artwork, mosaic tiles evocative of beach glass, and mother-of-pearl accents. These natural materials and shapes are complemented by crisp, white upholstery and an abundance of South Florida sunshine.

Natural materials are used throughout ESPA at Acqualina.
Natural materials are used throughout ESPA at Acqualina.

Aside from merely decorative touches, the oceanic influences can be found in the spa's many amenities. For starters, most of the spa's 16 treatment rooms include slate showers, and many have views of the beach, where seaside yoga classes are held. If the view proves too tempting to resist, guests can move to the oceanfront terrace, complete with a spa pool and heated jet pool with a Roman waterfall. All guests are encouraged to arrive at least one hour early to partake in the intense regimen of European heat and water therapies, including a Finnish sauna, crystal steam room, ice fountains, and experience showers with cool arctic and warm Caribbean mists. "We always say that the spa is an ocean sanctuary and will provide guests with the rejuvenating energy of the Atlantic life rhythm," says spa director Vivianne Garcia-Tuñon. "It's funny because we are surrounded by the ocean in Miami, but we are the first spa I know of down here that has ocean views throughout."

The relaxation area offers inviting beds with a bit of privacy.
The relaxation area offers inviting beds with a bit of privacy.

A number of signature body treatments—called holistic journeys—also draw inspiration from water and other elements of nature. The Ocean Journey ($295, 2 hours), for instance, celebrates the cooling and calming characteristics of the sea. It begins like all ESPA treatments with an in-depth consultation and a foot massage to promote spiritual grounding. A salt and oil body scrub is next, followed by a relaxing hot stone massage. Finally, a linen wrap of fresh algae or nourishing marine mud combines with ESPA essential oils to soothe skin and restore balance to overactive minds.

Guests enjoy tea
Guests enjoy tea

Although the spa offers an extensive treatment menu, it prefers to book blocks of ESPA Time in two-hour ($295), three-hour ($445), and four-hour ($590) increments, rather than specific treatments. Clients begin their reserved timed slots with a therapist consultation while enjoying a relaxing Vietnamese flower footbath. The therapist asks a series of lifestyle and Ayurveda-based questions to determine the client's needs and dosha before making a recommendation.

A Vietnamese foot ritual during consultations.
A Vietnamese foot ritual during consultations.

"We want to retrain and re-educate guests that sixty minutes is not enough time to make a change in someone's body, and we're about really making a change," says Garcia-Tuñon. "We're not a spa that tries the newest and most innovative services just to attract clients. We want treatments that really work."

The tropical grandeur continues throughout the resort and its pool.
The tropical grandeur continues throughout the resort and its pool.

Although this type of customization could create a scheduling nightmare at many spas, ESPA at Acqualina remedies it by requiring that all of its 32 employees work full-time and by ensuring that each therapist is dually certified and trained to perform all body and face treatments. Because most rooms include showers and all have the full-range of ESPA products, a variety of treatments can be performed in a single room.

Guests wanting to continue the spa experience at home can select from ESPA's expansive retail line. Using blended essential oils for relaxation and stress reduction and other natural ingredients, the collection includes high-quality skincare products, oils, revitalizing seaweeds, cleansing muds, Ayurvedic infusions, exfoliating sea salts, and therapeutic herbs. Garcia-Tuñon says the line's natural benefits and unisex appeal have led to strong sales. "ESPA's products are formulated to be therapeutic and are not cosmetic or gimmicky. We are not led by marketing and do not launch products according to an ingredient that is trendy at the time," Harmsworth adds. "We are not a quick fix company and do not use aggressive methods and ingredients. If we design a treatment, the methods and products used must have a synergy and rationale in making the them effective and memorable."

ESPA at Acqualina
ESPA at Acqualina

The spa currently serves about 50 clients a day, including an even mix of resort guests and locals. Although Garcia-Tuñon is pleased with the positive reaction the spa has received thus far, she and ESPA already have plans to make it better. In addition to growing the client base, one of the main goals is to help the property transition into a hybrid of a destination and resort spa. "Most of our current clients are looking for a place where they can spend the entire day. We would eventually like for guests to be able to come to Acqualina, stay in our resort, and have a full-week program in the spa," she says. "We want to be a destination spa where people can come to take fitness classes or detox for a week, and we are training our staff to move in that direction."

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