claremont resort & spa

It’s 8 am on a Saturday, and while most of the people I know aren’t even beginning to wipe the sleep from their eyes, I’m in the spa waiting area of the Claremont Resort & Spa””along with at least a dozen other women in identical white robes. From the looks and sound of it, my peers range from brides-to-be to debutantes on an early weekend excursion. About three minutes pass before spa attendants pour into the room, one by one, calling out clients’ names and ushering them towards a facial, massage, or some other such ministration. The room empties rapidly””it’s clear that even on sleepy, unassuming weekend mornings, the Claremont Spa means business.

Located just a couple miles from downtown Berkeley, the Claremont is a ritzy, hillside haunt that offers beautiful seclusion to entrepreneur types, but with breathtaking views of the San Francisco skyline, for good measure. Set atop 22 acres of sculpted gardens, the Claremont is also home to a world-class spa that boasts one of the most innovative and extensive treatment menus around. From pumpkin soufflé facial masks to hydrating essential oil wraps to a jaunt in a therapeutic flotation tank, this sanctuary’s offerings are clearly suited to only the most discriminating connoisseur. 

I’m in for a singular treat today””the Mayan Temple Journey, which is one of the Claremont’s highly touted Signature Journeys. The seven Signature Journeys take their inspiration from exotic locales around the world and are among the most intense pampering experiences you’re likely to get at the spa. Each journey is two and a half hours long and typically includes a lush botanical bath, vigorous body scrub, and soothing aromatherapy massage. Best of all, the treats are as creative and evocative as their names””the Brazilian Rainforest Journey includes a healing aloe vera body wrap and a full body coconut milk massage, while the Phillipine Journey’s brand of paradise involves a fresh ginger and raw sugar scrub and a bath suffused with plant extracts.

The Mayan Temple Journey begins with a bath of desert sage and chamomile, and is followed by a gentle scrub of blue corn rice powder. The room in which I’m given my treatment isn’t unlike a rainforest””it’s dimly lit and humid with the steam from overhead showers that send down cascades of warm water. After my aesthetician administers the scrub, she turns the showers on me. I’m lying on the massage table as she does this, which suits me fine””I’m much too relaxed to have to get up and stand underneath one myself. The scrub is followed by a moisturizing rubdown with fresh avocado and lime and topped off with a cactus glaze. After this, I’m treated to a “hot stone” massage, not with rocks, but with the pit of the avocado that my aesthetician slathered on me just minutes before. It’s a delicious, sensuous treat that easily summons up the mystic delights of the pre-Columbian era.

While the treatment is top-notch, the hustle and bustle of the spa may not be ideal for patrons looking for a quiet escape. I can’t fully relax into my massage, because the pitter-patter of feet and echo of voices outside the massage room reminds me that I’m just one among many here. And while the women’s locker room””complete with a deluge shower, large whirlpool bath, and two cavernous tubs set against a bay window with a gorgeous view””has all the appeal of an old-fashioned bathhouse, the constant coming and going of visitors makes it somewhat difficult to enjoy a leisurely soak.

Of course, if you want to brush shoulders with the good life, there’s no better place to be than the Claremont. Some of the world’s most respected wellness professionals have contributed to the spa’s creative and luxurious treatments, so the pampering is unrivaled. All the same, the busy, yet efficient spirit of the place doesn’t quite match the kind of atmosphere the Mayan Temple Journey brings to mind””one that’s more gentle, more intimate, and not quite so awake at 8am on a Saturday morning.

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