The white cotton waffle-weave robe is delivered as a fresh bundle tied with its own sash. Why the robe, I wonder, for a facial described as “a skin quenching cocktail of vitamins and antioxidants applied using oxygen.” Wouldn’t a drape be enough? But I haven’t yet learned to expect more than is promised.

Unrolling the robe reveals an embroidered logo—a ginkgo leaf, symbol of healing and longevity. And indeed, time and aging do appear to turn backward at The Spa at Belmond Charleston Place.

Situated on the fourth floor of the luxury downtown hotel, The Spa is more than a setting for relaxation. A steady, quiet undercurrent of purpose and professionalism flows beneath the trappings of music, scent and light control.

Staffers extend their cheery welcome to celebrities, bridesto- be, body builders, the achy, the tense, the tired, the native Charlestonian and the traveler far from home.

“It’s as if we’re greeting someone in our own home—it’s unpretentious,” says Annette Sandford-Lopez, director of The Spa and its health club. “We do have a lot of high-profile guests,” she says, “but we focus just as much on local residents.”

The Spa’s services—some specifically for men, women or children—fill a tall cream-colored brochure, also available online. Facials, body scrubs, a seaweed detox and a Moroccan oil ritual are among the numerous services focusing on smooth, healthy skin. Multiple types of massages—Swedish, deep tissue, reflexology, warm stone—aim to relax the muscles and joints. Manicures, pedicures and an array of waxes and hydrating treatments leave clients more confident in appearance. The Spa’s appearance is more confident as well, with many areas having been recently renovated. Sandford-Lopez notes that all-new exercise equipment now fills the enlarged fitness center. It sits adjacent to the rooftop pool deck with its serene, infinity-edge pool with retractable roof. On a sunny day, the deck gives the impression of visiting the Mediterranean.


A new rooftop bar is also opening this summer, giving patrons an unprecedented view of one of the most posh stretches of historic King Street. Here, they can order a meal from the hotel’s restaurant or sample the signature Pampered Peach Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka cocktail.

Beyond the sense of being seriously pampered, some serious business takes place almost unnoticed at The Spa. “Our staff is trained to recognize potential skin conditions that could lead to melanoma,” says Sandford- Lopez, who grows intense when she discusses the spa’s I Will Reflect initiative.

Charleston’s wonderful climate and beaches may cause sun-damaged skin, she points out. Eight years ago, she began training the staff to identify potential signs of skin cancer, asking the Medical University of South Carolina to help with the training. “We touch and see skin every day. It’s our obligation and our duty to tell people if we notice something that looks harmful. We don’t scare people and we don’t diagnose. But we can point out changes,” Sandford-Lopez says.

She has been in her position for over a decade and so have many of the facility’s other staffers. Their philosophy? “Great quality service,” she says. “To go beyond expectations.” Exactly. Heather, my esthetician, begins the facial with a soothing massage that unexpectedly extends behind the ears, down the neck, across the shoulders and down my arms to the elbows. (I understand the robe now.) The Intraceuticals Rejuvenate Restoring Oxygen Treatment, a facial developed here, is yet to come.

It begins with a cleanser, then an exfoliant, then a serum designed, Heather says, to revive the skin.

Protective patches cover my eyes during the most memorable part of the facial: a rejuvenation serum applied through what looks like a stainless steel airbrush. The serum is delivered in a stream of oxygen to force it into the skin, plumping up the lines that come with age. Now, in rapid succession, come an eye gel, a hydration gel, and finally, a silky moisturizer.

After 50 minutes on the treatment table, my face and neck feel smooth and tight to the touch. Getting up, I have the sense of walking lighter, freer— like a leaf. I hate to surrender the robe.

Margaret Locklair, a Lowcountry freelancer, can be reached at locklair@homesc.com