Mystery shopper - Part one
Glorious mud?

Calistoga, in California’s Napa Valley, is famous for its thermal waters and mud. Jane Scrivner tries out two very different mud experiences but found both had room for improvement in terms of staff and picking up on the finer points

By Jane Scrivner | Published in Spa Business 2012 issue 3


INDIAN SPRINGS SPA & RESORT

Background
Dating back to 1861, Indian Springs is one of the oldest resorts in Calistoga. Its 16 acres (6 hectares) are blessed with four geysers producing thermal mineral waters and a vast natural deposit of volcanic ash which were used as a cure by native Indians over 8,000 years ago.

Since 1998, the 41-bedroom resort has been a family-owned business ran by husband and wife Pat and John Merchant and their children. The spa was extended two years ago to include 10 new massage rooms. There are now 27 treatment rooms in total, plus a post-treatment lounge, an outdoor veranda and a Buddha Pond. There’s also a newly refurbished mineral pool fed by the natural springs. The signature treatment is a restorative mud or mineral water bath – costing us$85 (€70, £55) or us$75 (€62, £48) respectively – while standard massages start at us$125 (€103, £80) for 50 minutes and Pevonia facials go from us$85 for 25 minutes.

The experience
Spread out over a large plot of open land with a separate pool building, spa and outdoor relaxation areas and inviting colonial-style lodges, the resort has a ranch feel. It was easy to find and to locate the spa.

Unfortunately the visit didn’t get off to a good start. My colleague and I were greeted by a receptionist who took full payment on my card plus an extra us$95 (€79, £61) deposit for towels, robes and slippers. I would’ve liked to have been told/asked about this charge as I knew it would take three more days to reappear in my account. Disconcertingly, she also kept one hand in her pocket the whole time.

To finish, we were given a free pool pass to use at later date due to remodelling work – not much use as we’re based 5,000 miles away. The pool was in fact lovely, it had a Great Gatsby-style colonial beauty, and I wondered why weren’t we told it was closed when we booked over the phone just 15 minutes before.

We were asked to wait for our therapist to collect us at 9.30am. At 9.45am, by which point we’d been sitting for 20 minutes, I went back to the counter to be told that Indian Springs ‘always set its clocks 15 minutes fast’. Very confusing. I was now concerned we weren’t going to be finished in time for our meeting.

Things began to get better with the mudbath… aaamazing. Instructed to strip naked – that’s one way to get to know your co-worker! – we showered under warm water before moving towards huge concrete baths full of volcanic ash mixed with spring water. While it wasn’t strictly mud, its jet black colour made it look like it and it squelched just like it too. Initially, because it was so thick, we lay on top of the warm mud and handfuls of it was scooped over our bodies and daubed on our faces until the only thing showing was our mouths and eyes. The experience was gorgeously warm and fabulously authentic and as I wallowed, the reception debacle leeched out of me and I began to relax.

Think ‘monster from the deep’. That’s what we looked like walking over to shower cubicles that did little to hide our privacy. Having finally removed the mud, we were escorted to two fabulous, overflowing old Victorian baths. The very warm water – made bearable (just) with tall glasses of deliciously cooling cucumber/fruit-flavoured water – was on the level of ‘it’s so extreme it must be doing me good’! Then after a quick steam, we were taken to a cool wood cabin featuring low beds with clean white sheets. Being wrapped in the fresh linen, with cucumber placed on my eyes, was very nurturing. While I was only in there for 15 minutes, it actually felt as though I’d had days of relaxation.

We meandered out to the Buddha Garden and sat in glorious sunshine to complete what was a very thorough, very nourishing experience. We would have been happy to stay longer to enjoy the sunshine, but our meeting beckoned.

Details: www.indianspringscalistoga.com

SOLAGE SPA, CALISTOGA

Background
Opened in 2007, the 89-bedroom Solage Calistoga was the first (and still only) property by Solage Hotels & Resorts, a new brand developed by Auberge Hotels & Resorts (sb05/4 p22). Built with a strong focus on sustainability, the resort sits within a 22-acre (9-hectare) plot which opens up to oak-studded hills.

The Michelin-star restaurant gives some clue as to the class of the resort, while the full-service Spa Solage has won five awards in as many years – most recently voted as one of the top 10 US spas by Condé Nast Traveler’s 2012 Readers’ Poll.

Covering 20,000sq ft (1,858sq m), the spa lies at the heart of the resort and is made up of five parts including the main Bathhouse and separate buildings housing 14 treatment rooms, a reception, a retail area and the changing rooms. The signature treatment is the Mudslide, a three-part therapy which includes the application of a local mineral-rich clay and volcanic ash blend; a soak in geothermal mineral spring water sourced onsite; and resting in sound/vibration chairs. Costing us$98 (€81, £63) us$148 (€122, £95) for 60 or 90 minutes, the Mudslide takes place in the Bathhouse with its geothermal pool, whirlpool and eucalyptus steamroom, its three Mud Rooms and three Tub Rooms, plus the relaxation area. Overall, the menu has a large selection of body, face and beauty treatments, as well as couples and wellness packages and the main product houses are Éminence, Kate Somerville and Marie Veronique. Fifty-minute facials or massages start at us$135 (€111, £87) and us$125 (€103, £81) respectively.

The experience
Like Indian Springs, Solage Calistoga was close to our hotel and couldn’t have been easier to find. We called to book the signature Mudslide treatment an hour before. The process was straightforward and we were told to arrive 30 minutes early (more on this later), although they did miss a chance to upsell a 90-minute, rather than a 60-minute, service which I might have considered.

With a spread of small buildings linked by meandering pathways, the resort immediately gives you a sense being somewhere else – a good place to be. Spa heaven. Even the busy spa reception had a calmness to it and following a seamless check-in we went to the spacious changing rooms that were well-stocked with more folded towels than a girl could ask for – although as an eco-spa this led me to question how many fluffy towels they could get through. It usually takes quite a bit to move me from ‘spa interrogator’ to ‘spa enjoyer’ but at Spa Solage I was there before even doing up my robe.

We wandered to The Bathhouse passing several bowls of fresh, crisp green apples and camomile tea stations. The place was immaculate in design, landscaping and cleanliness. The weather was beautiful and the smell in the air was that of outdoor woodiness. Having arrived early, we relaxed by a beautiful pool before being greeted by our ‘therapist’ who looked a bit like a girl guide. Dressed in a polo shirt, rain jacket, cropped trousers and sneakers, she looked as though she was about to take us on a cross country romp in the rain! She explained the three-stage treatment process (mud, bath, relax) clearly, but it began to sound like a do-it-yourself therapy with her just collecting and depositing us at each point. I wondered if she was more like a ‘server’ or ‘director of mud facilities’.

The treatment began with choosing one of four oil blends to mix into our mud, but they all smelt gorgeous so I picked two! After blending, we were presented with a small aluminium bucket with about 3cm of ‘mud’ in the base. I’ve used inverted commas here because in my book, mud is dark, looks dirty (although very clean) and has a certain odour – at Indian Springs it was black, lumpy and there was masses of it – but this stuff was very light grey and it didn’t look as if there’d even be enough to cover my post-Christmas indulged body!

We were directed to the Mud Room, a large, modern minimalist space with concrete slabs proffering two towels, pillows and cups of water. We were instructed to cover ourselves in mud and lie on the towel until she knocked, at which time we were to wash using either the indoor or outdoor showers. The showers with their natural thermal water, and long thin heads that produced blade-like jets, were the best part of the first stage.

Next was the Tub Room, which was also modern and minimalist in style and featured gorgeous, huge bathing tubs. I sank into the warm water to relax and soak. Another knock, we got out and were guided next door to be shown to our So Sound Chair that, we were told, would work with sound frequencies on our bodies at a cellular level. We were plugged in, reclined and left to relax. The music through the headphones was a combination of dolphins, whales and pan pipes with heavy bass. It was an odd sensation and I tried to turn it down to see if the resonance was more subtle, but it didn’t make a difference.

Our treatments finished and we drifted from the tranquil spa back to the poolside where a hen party was in full swing in a cordoned off area. Drinks were being poured, ex-boyfriends discussed and the whole scene was mildly irritating. We moved to a private whirlpool and steamroom area for some peace and it was glorious, until the party decamped there too!

Despite this, we were having a lovely time. We were relaxed, had spent the best part of the day just indulging in beautiful surroundings and had tasted some delicious spa food. We got to thinking about how the other treatment rooms were laid out and – in line with the high levels of service we’d already experienced – our request for a viewing proved unproblematic.

Accompanied by the manager on our walk, we took in the beautiful landscaping and planted pathways. I wondered out loud: ‘Do you still see how amazing this place is, or has it become just normal to you?’ Her response was totally unexpected, she looked at me as if I was deluded. And with that one look, the whole experience felt tainted, as if we’d been duped into thinking this was a wonderful haven and that all was not what it seemed.

Back at the pool we then began to voice all the small details we’d decided to overlook – the mean quantities of the mud, the fact we’d had to do it all ourselves, and the intrusive hen party. On top of this, we were then charged an extra us$25 (€21, £16) when we checked out – although we were told to arrive 30 minutes early, it wasn’t pointed out that we would be charged for using facilities in that time. In normal circumstances it wouldn’t have mattered, but it just seemed this was just the final deceit.

Details: www.solagecalistoga.com

Summary
While the treatments and spas were very different – one more authentic, the other more luxurious – both were beautiful and given the chance I’d go back to either again. They were both good value for money and my skin felt amazing for days after. But in each case, the experience was spoiled a little by bad manners, a lack of thought and a lack of attention to detail and good old-fashioned customer service. It really is the little things that make a big difference.


WHAT’S THE SCORE?
INDIAN SPRINGS SPA & RESORT
Ease of booking 10
Facilities 7
Cleanliness/maintenance 7
Staff – receptionist 0
Staff – therapists 8
Experience 5
Treatment 9
Value for money 9
Overall experience 10

Right to reply
INDIAN SPRINGS SPA & RESORT
Brian Rios, General Manager, Indian Springs

Brian Rios General Manager Indian Springs

I agree that when booking the information about the pool should have been shared. In regards to the ‘spa time’, we’ve found allowing an extra 15 minutes means we don’t cut back on treatment times and signs are posted throughout to notify guests of the change. I’m still highly confused by the extra us$95 hold that was placed on the credit card, this is not standard operating procedure. We strive to continually exceed the expectations of all our guests. If we failed to meet some service expectations in this case, I completely apologise. I am glad that overall it was an enjoyable experience.



WHAT’S THE SCORE?
SOLAGE SPA CALISTOGA
Ease of booking
(although more detail needed in retrospect)
10
Facilities 9
Cleanliness/maintenance 9
Staff 5
Experience/treatment
started at 8 but reduced to
4
Value for money 6
Overall experience 7

Right to reply: SOLAGE SPA CALISTOGA
Karen Ray, Spa Director,
Solage; and director of spa operations, Auberge Resorts


Karen Ray Spa Director Solage; and director of spa operations, Auberge Resorts

I’m confident this wasn’t a typical Spa Solage experience. We strive to provide a nurturing, healthful environment for guests seeking a quiet spa experience, as well as those who might want to celebrate an important occasion or annual getaway. The spa strikes a unique balance by providing private treatment rooms for individuals and couples, along with communal areas such as geo-thermal pools and cabanas for socialising. Spa Solage successfully blends the best of traditional services with a modern approach and this personalised service has resulted in significant guest returns and industry accolades.


 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Spa Business
2012 issue 3

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Glorious mud?

Mystery shopper - Part one

Glorious mud?


Calistoga, in California’s Napa Valley, is famous for its thermal waters and mud. Jane Scrivner tries out two very different mud experiences but found both had room for improvement in terms of staff and picking up on the finer points

Jane Scrivner, Jane Scrivner
The mudbath was ‘fabulously authentic’

INDIAN SPRINGS SPA & RESORT

Background
Dating back to 1861, Indian Springs is one of the oldest resorts in Calistoga. Its 16 acres (6 hectares) are blessed with four geysers producing thermal mineral waters and a vast natural deposit of volcanic ash which were used as a cure by native Indians over 8,000 years ago.

Since 1998, the 41-bedroom resort has been a family-owned business ran by husband and wife Pat and John Merchant and their children. The spa was extended two years ago to include 10 new massage rooms. There are now 27 treatment rooms in total, plus a post-treatment lounge, an outdoor veranda and a Buddha Pond. There’s also a newly refurbished mineral pool fed by the natural springs. The signature treatment is a restorative mud or mineral water bath – costing us$85 (€70, £55) or us$75 (€62, £48) respectively – while standard massages start at us$125 (€103, £80) for 50 minutes and Pevonia facials go from us$85 for 25 minutes.

The experience
Spread out over a large plot of open land with a separate pool building, spa and outdoor relaxation areas and inviting colonial-style lodges, the resort has a ranch feel. It was easy to find and to locate the spa.

Unfortunately the visit didn’t get off to a good start. My colleague and I were greeted by a receptionist who took full payment on my card plus an extra us$95 (€79, £61) deposit for towels, robes and slippers. I would’ve liked to have been told/asked about this charge as I knew it would take three more days to reappear in my account. Disconcertingly, she also kept one hand in her pocket the whole time.

To finish, we were given a free pool pass to use at later date due to remodelling work – not much use as we’re based 5,000 miles away. The pool was in fact lovely, it had a Great Gatsby-style colonial beauty, and I wondered why weren’t we told it was closed when we booked over the phone just 15 minutes before.

We were asked to wait for our therapist to collect us at 9.30am. At 9.45am, by which point we’d been sitting for 20 minutes, I went back to the counter to be told that Indian Springs ‘always set its clocks 15 minutes fast’. Very confusing. I was now concerned we weren’t going to be finished in time for our meeting.

Things began to get better with the mudbath… aaamazing. Instructed to strip naked – that’s one way to get to know your co-worker! – we showered under warm water before moving towards huge concrete baths full of volcanic ash mixed with spring water. While it wasn’t strictly mud, its jet black colour made it look like it and it squelched just like it too. Initially, because it was so thick, we lay on top of the warm mud and handfuls of it was scooped over our bodies and daubed on our faces until the only thing showing was our mouths and eyes. The experience was gorgeously warm and fabulously authentic and as I wallowed, the reception debacle leeched out of me and I began to relax.

Think ‘monster from the deep’. That’s what we looked like walking over to shower cubicles that did little to hide our privacy. Having finally removed the mud, we were escorted to two fabulous, overflowing old Victorian baths. The very warm water – made bearable (just) with tall glasses of deliciously cooling cucumber/fruit-flavoured water – was on the level of ‘it’s so extreme it must be doing me good’! Then after a quick steam, we were taken to a cool wood cabin featuring low beds with clean white sheets. Being wrapped in the fresh linen, with cucumber placed on my eyes, was very nurturing. While I was only in there for 15 minutes, it actually felt as though I’d had days of relaxation.

We meandered out to the Buddha Garden and sat in glorious sunshine to complete what was a very thorough, very nourishing experience. We would have been happy to stay longer to enjoy the sunshine, but our meeting beckoned.

Details: www.indianspringscalistoga.com

SOLAGE SPA, CALISTOGA

Background
Opened in 2007, the 89-bedroom Solage Calistoga was the first (and still only) property by Solage Hotels & Resorts, a new brand developed by Auberge Hotels & Resorts (sb05/4 p22). Built with a strong focus on sustainability, the resort sits within a 22-acre (9-hectare) plot which opens up to oak-studded hills.

The Michelin-star restaurant gives some clue as to the class of the resort, while the full-service Spa Solage has won five awards in as many years – most recently voted as one of the top 10 US spas by Condé Nast Traveler’s 2012 Readers’ Poll.

Covering 20,000sq ft (1,858sq m), the spa lies at the heart of the resort and is made up of five parts including the main Bathhouse and separate buildings housing 14 treatment rooms, a reception, a retail area and the changing rooms. The signature treatment is the Mudslide, a three-part therapy which includes the application of a local mineral-rich clay and volcanic ash blend; a soak in geothermal mineral spring water sourced onsite; and resting in sound/vibration chairs. Costing us$98 (€81, £63) us$148 (€122, £95) for 60 or 90 minutes, the Mudslide takes place in the Bathhouse with its geothermal pool, whirlpool and eucalyptus steamroom, its three Mud Rooms and three Tub Rooms, plus the relaxation area. Overall, the menu has a large selection of body, face and beauty treatments, as well as couples and wellness packages and the main product houses are Éminence, Kate Somerville and Marie Veronique. Fifty-minute facials or massages start at us$135 (€111, £87) and us$125 (€103, £81) respectively.

The experience
Like Indian Springs, Solage Calistoga was close to our hotel and couldn’t have been easier to find. We called to book the signature Mudslide treatment an hour before. The process was straightforward and we were told to arrive 30 minutes early (more on this later), although they did miss a chance to upsell a 90-minute, rather than a 60-minute, service which I might have considered.

With a spread of small buildings linked by meandering pathways, the resort immediately gives you a sense being somewhere else – a good place to be. Spa heaven. Even the busy spa reception had a calmness to it and following a seamless check-in we went to the spacious changing rooms that were well-stocked with more folded towels than a girl could ask for – although as an eco-spa this led me to question how many fluffy towels they could get through. It usually takes quite a bit to move me from ‘spa interrogator’ to ‘spa enjoyer’ but at Spa Solage I was there before even doing up my robe.

We wandered to The Bathhouse passing several bowls of fresh, crisp green apples and camomile tea stations. The place was immaculate in design, landscaping and cleanliness. The weather was beautiful and the smell in the air was that of outdoor woodiness. Having arrived early, we relaxed by a beautiful pool before being greeted by our ‘therapist’ who looked a bit like a girl guide. Dressed in a polo shirt, rain jacket, cropped trousers and sneakers, she looked as though she was about to take us on a cross country romp in the rain! She explained the three-stage treatment process (mud, bath, relax) clearly, but it began to sound like a do-it-yourself therapy with her just collecting and depositing us at each point. I wondered if she was more like a ‘server’ or ‘director of mud facilities’.

The treatment began with choosing one of four oil blends to mix into our mud, but they all smelt gorgeous so I picked two! After blending, we were presented with a small aluminium bucket with about 3cm of ‘mud’ in the base. I’ve used inverted commas here because in my book, mud is dark, looks dirty (although very clean) and has a certain odour – at Indian Springs it was black, lumpy and there was masses of it – but this stuff was very light grey and it didn’t look as if there’d even be enough to cover my post-Christmas indulged body!

We were directed to the Mud Room, a large, modern minimalist space with concrete slabs proffering two towels, pillows and cups of water. We were instructed to cover ourselves in mud and lie on the towel until she knocked, at which time we were to wash using either the indoor or outdoor showers. The showers with their natural thermal water, and long thin heads that produced blade-like jets, were the best part of the first stage.

Next was the Tub Room, which was also modern and minimalist in style and featured gorgeous, huge bathing tubs. I sank into the warm water to relax and soak. Another knock, we got out and were guided next door to be shown to our So Sound Chair that, we were told, would work with sound frequencies on our bodies at a cellular level. We were plugged in, reclined and left to relax. The music through the headphones was a combination of dolphins, whales and pan pipes with heavy bass. It was an odd sensation and I tried to turn it down to see if the resonance was more subtle, but it didn’t make a difference.

Our treatments finished and we drifted from the tranquil spa back to the poolside where a hen party was in full swing in a cordoned off area. Drinks were being poured, ex-boyfriends discussed and the whole scene was mildly irritating. We moved to a private whirlpool and steamroom area for some peace and it was glorious, until the party decamped there too!

Despite this, we were having a lovely time. We were relaxed, had spent the best part of the day just indulging in beautiful surroundings and had tasted some delicious spa food. We got to thinking about how the other treatment rooms were laid out and – in line with the high levels of service we’d already experienced – our request for a viewing proved unproblematic.

Accompanied by the manager on our walk, we took in the beautiful landscaping and planted pathways. I wondered out loud: ‘Do you still see how amazing this place is, or has it become just normal to you?’ Her response was totally unexpected, she looked at me as if I was deluded. And with that one look, the whole experience felt tainted, as if we’d been duped into thinking this was a wonderful haven and that all was not what it seemed.

Back at the pool we then began to voice all the small details we’d decided to overlook – the mean quantities of the mud, the fact we’d had to do it all ourselves, and the intrusive hen party. On top of this, we were then charged an extra us$25 (€21, £16) when we checked out – although we were told to arrive 30 minutes early, it wasn’t pointed out that we would be charged for using facilities in that time. In normal circumstances it wouldn’t have mattered, but it just seemed this was just the final deceit.

Details: www.solagecalistoga.com

Summary
While the treatments and spas were very different – one more authentic, the other more luxurious – both were beautiful and given the chance I’d go back to either again. They were both good value for money and my skin felt amazing for days after. But in each case, the experience was spoiled a little by bad manners, a lack of thought and a lack of attention to detail and good old-fashioned customer service. It really is the little things that make a big difference.


WHAT’S THE SCORE?
INDIAN SPRINGS SPA & RESORT
Ease of booking 10
Facilities 7
Cleanliness/maintenance 7
Staff – receptionist 0
Staff – therapists 8
Experience 5
Treatment 9
Value for money 9
Overall experience 10

Right to reply
INDIAN SPRINGS SPA & RESORT
Brian Rios, General Manager, Indian Springs

Brian Rios General Manager Indian Springs

I agree that when booking the information about the pool should have been shared. In regards to the ‘spa time’, we’ve found allowing an extra 15 minutes means we don’t cut back on treatment times and signs are posted throughout to notify guests of the change. I’m still highly confused by the extra us$95 hold that was placed on the credit card, this is not standard operating procedure. We strive to continually exceed the expectations of all our guests. If we failed to meet some service expectations in this case, I completely apologise. I am glad that overall it was an enjoyable experience.



WHAT’S THE SCORE?
SOLAGE SPA CALISTOGA
Ease of booking
(although more detail needed in retrospect)
10
Facilities 9
Cleanliness/maintenance 9
Staff 5
Experience/treatment
started at 8 but reduced to
4
Value for money 6
Overall experience 7

Right to reply: SOLAGE SPA CALISTOGA
Karen Ray, Spa Director,
Solage; and director of spa operations, Auberge Resorts


Karen Ray Spa Director Solage; and director of spa operations, Auberge Resorts

I’m confident this wasn’t a typical Spa Solage experience. We strive to provide a nurturing, healthful environment for guests seeking a quiet spa experience, as well as those who might want to celebrate an important occasion or annual getaway. The spa strikes a unique balance by providing private treatment rooms for individuals and couples, along with communal areas such as geo-thermal pools and cabanas for socialising. Spa Solage successfully blends the best of traditional services with a modern approach and this personalised service has resulted in significant guest returns and industry accolades.



Originally published in Spa Business 2012 issue 3

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd