Cocooned in a hydrotherapy capsule, my spa experience at the Cavalier Hotel seemed more like a trip to outer space than a historic hotel. But the combination of seapower and spa takes this iconic beach resort to a new dimension: health and wellness without pretension.
The original Cavalier Hotel opened in 1927 without a spa. Saving the beloved resort became a labor of love for local citizens. The new SeaHill Spa is owned by Suzanne Garcia who operates a day spa in Chesapeake, Virginia. Creating the SeaHill Spa was entrusted to Garcia. The vast indoor swimming pool and glamorous beach club, completed the Cavalier’s re-imagination this year. Sinatra sings as you register; architectural details, exposed columns, and antique telephones maintain the “Roaring 1930s” mood. With 85 guest rooms and suites (reduced from 195), the hotel is new again.
The combination of seapower and spa takes this iconic beach resort to a new dimension: health and wellness without pretension.
Lunch in the garden for a taste of chef Dan Elinean’s coastal cuisine, from oysters to crab cakes, venison, and Chesapeake Bay rock fish at Becca’s Restaurant.
A submarine beached at pool level, SeaHill Spa has no windows but lots of innovation. Bringing the ocean indoors, seaweed-based products by Osea are used for facials and body treatments. Created in California, this organic, vegan line delivers sea-inspired energy. Spa director Kelly Lanza runs a tight ship staffed by 20 therapists. Featured treatments by Jurlique and Kerstin Florian, and a hair/nail salon, make for complete luxury.
Beach buffs will enjoy the massage table created by Germany’s Sammy Ghareni with a layer of quartz crystals to cradle your body with warmth. Another treatment combined massage, facial, and scalp invigoration. And no sand in your hair!
Salubrious salt air enhances a large dry sauna. A wall of Himalayan salt bricks allows you to breathe deeply, and relax. The indoor swimming pool, a star attraction at the old Cavalier, now has salt-filtered water in the 61-foot pool and large whirlpool, open to spa guests free of charge.
Save the sandy beach for walks, jog or ride a bike on the boardwalk. The Beach Club provides an infinity pool, lounge chairs, indoor and outdoor bars, and popular restaurant. (Cabanas for massage could be coming.) Admission is free to hotel guests.
Entering a new era, The Cavalier made the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Extensive renovation and restoration by Gold Key/PHR Corp. preserved the hotel’s neoclassical features. But windows are sealed throughout most of the seven-story hotel, and walk-in showers replaced bathtubs. Now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, it is a member of Historic Hotels of America. Rooms range from basic to suites with claw-foot bathtub and glass-wall shower, Frette robes. Added features include a rum distillery and club-like Hunt Room restaurant.
Surrounded by residences, The Cavalier preserves traditions. Savor the silence of wind-blown verandahs, croquet lawn, and sunken garden. Forget the roar of Navy jets from Atlantic Fleet headquarters; southern style hospitality has a new face. In-season hotel rates begin around $300; suites start about $130-150 additional. cavalierhotel.com
Health challenges led spa historian Bernard Burt to Canyon Ranch in Arizona, inspiring his 1986 book "Fodor's Healthy Escapes" for Random House. The co-author of "100 Best Spas of the World" (Globe Pequot), his byline has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, American Health, Spa Management Journal, and on Examiner.com. Based in Washington, DC, Burt is chairman emeritus of the Washington Spa Alliance and founding director of the International Spa Association.