SAN FRANCISCO -- There's an opulent oasis of tranquillity in the heart of the bustling city by the bay. The Nob Hill Spa, in the Huntington Hotel, opened in January to provide solace for mind and body.
On Nob Hill, the high summit of the stylish city center, the spa combines the best of the area's cultural diversity to offer a combination of athletic stimulus and ultimate relaxation.
Guests enter the spa through the lobby of the Huntington Hotel, lavishly decorated with Victorian-era furnishings. However, around the corner and up a set of swirling stairs, the ambiance changes to reflect the Asian influence of feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement.
A lesson in principles: In fact, the entire spa is arranged according to the Chinese principles of harmony, longevity and good fortune. An infinity pool, designed to continuously overflow its edges, is next to floor-to-ceiling windows, which provide guests with a panoramic view of the city. Close to the bubbling hot tub, patrons can enjoy a fireplace or relax in overstuffed chairs.
The 11,000-square-foot spa has 10 treatment rooms that are assigned names and decorated to reflect the cultural diversity of the city. Behind each door, furniture, mirrors and hand-stenciled decorations have Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Victorian themes. Fireplaces in three rooms add warmth and ambiance. The couples treatment area is equipped with two tables for simultaneous indulgences.
An early fitness walk: Before I enthusiastically succumbed to a signature treatment in the longevity room, I wanted to explore the Nob Hill neighborhood. Exercise trainer Kristin Neidlinger led several guests on an early-morning fitness walk and brief history lesson.
Because of the precipitous terrain, Nob Hill was not developed until after 1878 when cable cars were able to negotiate the steep slopes, she explained. During the gold rush days, the mansions of the Central Pacific Line railroad barons were built on top of the hill.
Known as the Big Four, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and C.P. Huntington amassed fortunes and constructed homes to reflect their wealth. Other affluent families followed suit. The Tobin family, founders of the Hibernia Bank, built a large Victorian Home on the site of what is the Huntington Hotel and the Nob Hill Spa.
Across from the hotel, Huntington Park, once the site of Collis P. Huntington's mansion, adds greenery to the grandiose surrounding buildings. The only remaining mansion intact after the 1906 earthquake and fire, the brown sandstone James Flood mansion, houses the Pacific-Union Club, a private men's club.
Hotel landmarks such as the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental, the Fairmont Hotel and the Stouffer Renaissance Stanford Court Hotel replaced the other mansions.
We walked past the gilded doors at the front of the imposing Grace Cathedral, the main Episcopalian church in the city. Designed to resemble Notre Dame in Paris, the church began construction in 1928. However, the large building was not completed until 1964.
Next, we headed north through the Russian Hill area, named after a pair of Siberian settlers reported to have been buried there. Several elderly Asian residents practiced the fluid movements of Tai Chi in Ina Coolbrith Park. We stopped to admire their concentration as well as the unobstructed view of Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.
Looking at Lombard: Since it was early, we ventured downhill to the base of Lombard Street, known as the crookedest street in the world. One of the city's most photographed sites was relatively free of the usual throngs of tourists who decide to drive the 27-degree zigzagged street. We climbed the adjacent set of stairs past blooming rose and azalea gardens before returning the spa.
If a walk isn't sufficient to pump up the heart rate, visitors can take a variety of aerobic, salsa or rhythm and fitness classes offered throughout the day. Or you could tone with Yoga, Pilates, stretch and strengthen and Chi Kung. A small workout room has several treadmills with a spectacular view of the city as well as other weight equipment.
After soaking in the hot tub after the walk, I was ready for an hourlong longevity massage. Zeng Quan Lee applied pressure to release tension in my sore muscles. Lee lectured on & quot;the importance of opening blockages in energy pathways. & quot; He not only applied pressure to specific sites, he offered advice on how to where to self-administer massage therapy for when my spa treatment was only a pleasant memory.
Other amenities: For those with unlimited time or resources, the spa offers a menu of body treatments such s a meridian wash, green tea scrub and blue cypress herbal wrap. A variety of facials include regenerating anti-oxidant facial as well as a champagne facial.
After a treatment or swim, steam and sauna facilities are available in both the men and women's locker rooms.
The Nob Hill Spa Menu, served on a private balcony overlooking the downtown and bay, was too enticing to bypass. We sampled the Vietnamese prawn and lobster spring roll with rice noodles and fresh water chestnuts and the Mediterranean grilled vegetable wrap with sun-dried tomato, hummus, roasted peppers and baby spinach. The food was as good as the view.
Renewed and refueled, I reluctantly returned to reality.