A World Away

CONSIDERING THE FRENETIC PACE OF LIFE IN MANHATTAN, it's hard to believe that a halcyon escape is only a few hours away. Whether city slickers are on the hunt for ski slopes, fall foliage, hiking trails, or just a breath of fresh air, the Hudson River Valley of New York state, just north of New York City, is a popular weekend escape year-round. Not only does the region cater to those with a penchant for the outdoors, but it also appeals to those who prefer to take a more leisurely approach to escapism. Nestled amid the Catskill Mountains, serenity-seekers are transported to another world at the Emerson Spa in Mount Tremper, only two hours from the city.

The 17th-century Indian doors welcome spa-goers.
The 17th-century Indian doors welcome spa-goers.

Surrounded by a 600-square-mile forest preserve, the location of the Emerson Resort & Spa has a storied past. It's believed that the area inspired the great American poet and property's namesake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, to write his first essay entitled "Nature." The site, just a 15-minute drive from where the infamous Woodstock festival took place, was also a dairy farm in the mid-1800s that developed as the first stop for people exploring the Hudson Valley via rail during that time. Today, guests can still get a taste for the past on property with the historic barn that has been turned into the Emerson's famed Country Store, offering everything from furniture to skincare products.

 Asian-inspired iconography is sprinkled throughout Emerson Spa to create a unique ambience
Asian-inspired iconography is sprinkled throughout Emerson Spa to create a unique ambience

Unfortunately, a fire in 2005 led to the destruction of another historic building on site, the original Emerson Inn. Following a whirlwind 15 months of designing and building, the phoenix arose from the ashes. A luxurious 25-suite inn, complete with a 10-treatment room spa, opened in March. The Emerson had been operating a spa since 2000, but the owners took the opportunity of new construction to more than double the resort's initial offerings. The original spa, located across the street from the Inn, still welcomes spa-goers with its eight treatment rooms. Although the new spa carries on the stellar reputation of the three-time, four-star awarded original spa—the only spa outside of New York City in the state to receive this honor by Mobil Travel Guide—the look and feel is completely different.

Shirodhara is one of the many Ayurvedic treatments offered at the spa
Shirodhara is one of the many Ayurvedic treatments offered at the spa

The new Eastern-inspired spa takes center stage at the Inn as guests are introduced to its majestic entrance in the resort's lobby. Intricately carved floor-to-ceiling wooden doors flank the reception desk at the Inn and lead spa-goers into a haven of relaxation. These 17th-century original works of art were purchased from a collector of Indian artifacts by the Emerson's owner and set the tone for the revamped spa experience. "When creating the new Emerson, the team knew immediately that these doors should play an important role," says spa director Susan Keene. "We wanted guests to feel like they were stepping into a different world, a different age, far away from the stresses of everyday life."

Guests are encouraged to spend time in the spa's steam room and Kama Ayurveda-stocked showers.
Guests are encouraged to spend time in the spa's steam room and Kama Ayurveda-stocked showers.

Upon entering the spa, guests immediately encounter Asian iconography. The spa is also accented with a jeweled palette of reds, blues, and violets, which further relay the Eastern feel. The Asian-inspired Inn is not what one would expect in the thick of the Hudson Valley, but it certainly is something one would crave. "The owner had one intention when creating the new Inn and spa, and it was to blow minds," says Keene. "One of the first guests to enter the resort commented that they couldn't believe that they were in the Catskills—mission accomplished."

Keene, who was involved with the spa through its development phase, carefully considered every detail. "In opening a spa, you become very personally connected to every aspect of the spa and the day-to-day running of it," says Keene. "When you've picked the linens, the products, the uniforms, the menus, the staff, the music, and the amenities, you become very conscious of everything going forward with a sense of ownership. It's daunting but exciting at the same time."

Beautifully designed, the spa's retail area offers a broad range of products.
Beautifully designed, the spa's retail area offers a broad range of products.

Referring to ancient trade routes that connected Asia to the Mediterranean, the Silk Road concept was carried through from the spa's aesthetic to its treatment menu under Keene's watchful eye. She describes the services as "the best of traditional spa offerings mixed with global therapies and ancient Ayurvedic rituals." This is evident from the menu that seems to trot the globe, featuring everything from Swedish Traditional Body Massage ($90, 50 minutes; $135, 80 minutes) to Buddhist-derived Ashiatsu ($95, 50 minutes), Indian Head Massage ($90, 50 minutes), a European-inspired Hot & Cold Circuit ($125, 60 minutes), and the Hot Oil & Herb Poultice Massage ($105, 50 minutes), which is popular in Thailand.

The delicious spa cuisine was met with such rave reviews that it has made its way to the resort's restaurant menu
The delicious spa cuisine was met with such rave reviews that it has made its way to the resort's restaurant menu

For guests who prefer a more local approach, Keene also made sure to honor the spa's location. Regionally inspired treatments, such as the Maple Body Butter Wrap ($150, 75 minutes), which revitalizes dry skin with a gentle exfoliation and application of a sweet-smelling, nourishing cream, are proving to be a draw with guests. The menu also offers treatments featuring ginseng, an indigenous crop of the valley, like the Emerson Signature Ginseng & Pearl Powder Facial ($150, 80 minutes). "Guests appreciate the sense that they are getting a treatment featuring ingredients indigenous to the Catskills," says Keene.

The Eastern theme of the spa is carried through to the lavish guest rooms.
The Eastern theme of the spa is carried through to the lavish guest rooms.

Customer feedback is taken very seriously at the Emerson, and it played an important role during the spa's development. A three-city focus group made up of avid spa-goers and former Emerson Inn guests was organized to review ideas and concepts for the new spa. "We incorporated many of their ideas into the design," says Keene. "These ideas included details such as adding one more couples' room, continuing to focus part of the menu on Ayurvedic treatments, and offering a full fitness center."

Opening up the lines of communication with guests at the development phase has certainly paid off. Keene notes that many guests currently plan their stays around the availability of spa treatments. "We have seen many more people arrive a day early or stay a day later simply because they want to get more treatments than were available at the time of booking their reservation," she says. "We've already seen a good number of overnight guests who keep returning for spa visits."



Considering this feedback has also led to a boost in the percentage of Emerson's day spa traffic, who come from anywhere in a 90-mile radius and make up close to 30 percent of the clientele. "Our day spa business has never been stronger with many repeat guests," says Keene. Part of the lure are the packages that cater to locals, such as the Discovery Day Package (starting at $129), which includes either a 50-minute Traditional Body Massage or Botanical Balance Facial, along with full-access to the fitness center, sauna, steam room, resistance pool, relaxation lounge, and a spot of afternoon tea. Fitness center memberships are also offered to locals, starting at $65 per month.

Another Emerson amenity that draws a crowd is the Spa Café, which Keene describes as an "overwhelming success." Healthy and delectable selections, such as smoothies and Lettuce Wraps with Pulled Seasoned Chicken, Shallot Relish, and Soy Vinaigrette Dressing, can be enjoyed inside or out on the deck overlooking the babbling Esopus River. The café's popularity has led to the addition of spa cuisine items to the resort's main restaurant menu.

Considering the healthy treats, picturesque setting, cozy accommodations, and serene atmosphere throughout the property, it's fair to say that guests luxuriate in the destination-spa feel. Each suite at the Inn comes complete with Swiss showers, two-person air-jetted tubs, and Kama Ayurveda products, allowing guests to enjoy a spa-like environment before they emerge from their rooms. Details such as fireplaces, private decks, plush robes, and a stocked wine refrigerator make the time pass quickly if the spa is overbooked.

Moving forward, Keene is working towards incorporating more wellness treatments and activities to meet the spa's continued demand. Assessing the first nine months of operation, Keene seems pleased with the status of the spa and confident about its future. "The new facilities, with most everything connected to each other and everything located along the stream banks, give the reinvented Emerson a synergy that our guests have really taken to and appreciate," she says. "I predict that the Emerson will become one of the premier destination spas in the country."

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