The Cloister hotel on Sea Island, Georgia, has been a favorite of well-heeled Washingtonians for years. With the appointment of Ella Stimpson as director of the resort’s renowned Spa at Sea Island, a new generation of spagoers discovered why Hollywood stars as well as the Bush family flock to this coastal barrier island. With five miles of pristine beaches, nature preserves, three golf courses, and sports, it is total seclusion elevated by southern hospitality.
Approaching the hotel through a grove of ancient oak trees, you get a sense of calm security. Buildings blend into gardens, none higher than three floors. Doormen welcome you into a reception hall, a warming fireplace sets the mood for tea or lunch in one of the restaurants. Guest rooms arranged on garden courts come with suite amenities, separate bath and shower, and screened porch overlooking the sound. Posh furniture ensures relaxation.
Steps from the hotel, the 65,000-square-foot spa and fitness center are separate worlds. Entering the spa wing, you are surrounded by a tropical rain forest, with tall palm trees, indoor stream, chaise lounges. The lap pool and exercise equipment are in an adjoining wing, open night and day.
Wrapped in a comforting robe, enjoy complimentary wine or tea, The spa menu ranges from Jasmine wraps to bathing regimes and sea salt pedicures. Skincare by Babor is featured, with therapists trained by the Babor company from Germany. They offer body treatments as well solutions to problems, head to toe. You can relax in the nail salon, have a hair treatment, then walk or catch a buggy back to the hotel.
According to Spa Director Ella Stimpson, their goal is to serve guest’s personal needs. No newcomer to the wellness lifestyle, Stimpson began her career in 2000 as a personal trainer at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. During her nine-year tenure, The Broadmoor Spa earned a Five-Star rating from Forbes Travel Guide. Then in Las Vegas, where she most recently served as Executive Director of Spa Operations for Wynn and Encore Las Vegas, the first casino spa to be awarded a Forbes Five-Star rating. During her time in Las Vegas, Stimpson also served as Chairman of the International Spa Association (ISPA) from 2011-2013, and now is on the Board of Directors.
Your path to self-discovery at Sea Island can begin with a walk in the labyrinth, or a visit to the Performance Therapy Center. The Fitness Center lists group sessions, from Aqua Fit to Zumba, plus personal training on Pilates equipment. Tennis and squash courts can be booked. For enhanced sports performance, check out massage treatments offered at The Lodge on one of Sea Island’s golf courses. If you need to recharge, try a cold rush in the cryotherapy cabinet.
During my pre-Christmas visit, with balmy weather and holiday decorations, the 9 restaurants offered Southern specialties and heart-healthy options. Notably in the Georgian Room, with choices such as black bass, pea agnolotti with quail egg, poached hen, and grilled tofu. Wellness Menu selections at Southern Tide, a beachfront restaurant, and the golf club’s Colt & Alison restaurant show that executive chef Jonathan Jerusalmy takes health and fitness seriously in preparing a menu that appeals to his fit clientele.
An exceptional destination appealing to those who appreciate gracious service and southern hospitality, Sea Island offers an extensive array of adventures into its natural habitat. The best introduction is aboard a nature tour by boat. Captain Clay met me at The Cloister dock for a casual ride through salt water marshes and estuaries of the Inter-Coastal waterway. He spotted all kinds of water fowl, which would delight birdwatchers. Scheduled tours by bike, kayak, or on foot can be reserved.
With completion of a new wing this spring, adding 63 rooms, The Cloister will offer 267 rooms and suites, priced from $400 (winter), $550 (spring). Reservations: 800/732-4752; www.seaisland.com