When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused. —Rainer Maria Rilke
When drowned by stress, I go to one of my Happy Places which is often the ocean.
In my 2015 travels one of my happiest solo travel stays was at Hotel Santa Marta –a beauty break amidst botanical gardens winding down, down, down to the shore. Sheer. Bliss.
The near 15-acre (6-hectare) estate is located on its own private bay, Santa Cristina, and was chosen for the opening night party of this year’s European Travel Bloggers Exchange. I had already booked a stay there for a restful retreat after the networking/workshops of the conference ended, but by the time the ship reached sand I was in love with a wonderland lit by sunset.
The Spanish Mediterranean coast is as beautiful as beaches in Southern Italy and France. I was there in spring when, like late fall/winter low season, a single sea view room can be as low as 115 Euro per night. I love boutique hotels for their privacy, but plan ahead because this paradise stays booked, particularly by Europeans who vacation along Costa Brava in high season.
The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.— Kate Chopin
The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea.–Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I loved swimming in the pool and sea, writing on the balcony, and sleeping to the sound of waves in the ultimate room with a view. It’s the perfect solo, group, or romantic retreat in Lloret de Mar.
I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.–-Anna Quindlen
For more on the beauty of Girona and the Costa Brava Coast, see my 5-Part Series (links below) and go here for more information.
I did it. I bared all to be pampered like a princess at Royal Mansour Spa. I was bathed like a baby. And I liked it.
Marrakesh Must-dos for a Girl’s Day Out are what I call the 3 Ss — souk shopping, Jemaa el- Fnaa Square, and a scrub. By day, the largest market in Africa hops with henna and monkeys and snakes, Oh My. And by night, pop-up food stands serve with a shake (aka) belly dancers. But to really Go Moroccan, after a day of dodging noisy motorcycles, pushy peddlers, and some pungent smells, globe trotters can wash away a world of care.
For locals through the ages, public bathhouses, like those found in Turkey and Rome, are places to steam to release steam weekly. Those covered head-to-toe on the street disrobe and socialize here, but for those too shy to go public with strangers, private spas and hotels are ways to test the waters.
My first two hammams were with three friends at two different private spas. While those experiences were good, this Goldilocks found the third bed at my last close encounter—the slab of stone on which the washing takes place—to be just right. It’s not surprising that at Royal Mansour Spa, a luxurious mini medina of private riads built by the king’s decree, one will receive regal treatment. The spa is open to the public for those wanting to splurge.
Up to a party of six can receive hammams simultaneously. I went solo, but a party it was nevertheless. Whether your fantasy is to be Jasmine preparing for Aladdin in Arabian Nights, or a mom, who after years of bathing little ones and watching the Disney version gets to rediscover her own child within, letting go under waves of water is wonderful.
First I was given a plush robe and slippers to walk from the dressing room to the entrance of the hammam across the hall. At the cold pool where the hammam begins and ends, the attendant took the robe from my shoulders and led me to a warm, king-sized slab of stone. She filled a silver bucket of water from a beautiful basin, poured it on me, and left me to stretch out and steam.
Next, she lathered me with black soap and olive oil, sabon beldi, and left me as my skin became more supple for what was to come. Slippery like a seal or mermaid, I waited, till it was time for her to scrub off my scales.
She untied a gold bag that contained an exfoliating glove or kese. She told me to turn over and sanded my back side from scalp to heels, then my front side from forehead to toes, taking layers of peeled skin till silk was exposed underneath. Next, she covered me in local Argan oil with honey from the Maroc Maroc line. On my face, she used a mix of Argan oil and powder. I was rubbed with aromatic Vallée des Roses cream, and on my hair, she used almond shampoo, then an orange masque for conditioner. More buckets of warm water.
We walked back toward the frigid pool for a final dip, but first, she instructed me to take a tepid shower with multiple nozzles. Wrapping me in the robe, she led me to the “relaxing room” where I had my own tented bed to sip mint tea served by the waiter. Or was he just a dream?
Like Scarlet O’Hara at the Wilkes’ picnic, I was encouraged to nap. Unlike her I obeyed. Outside my curtain, birds sang about the balcony. After my rest, I sat by the pool and thought about how good it felt to feel be like a little girl again. Arms raised and lowered to be dressed and undressed. Back massaged, and my hair caressed. I left smelling of oranges, roses, and almonds. And feeling pretty.
Thank you, Royal Mansour, for the invitation to tour your haven and for the hammam. Indeed, the experience was a whole new world.
Update: La Mamounia’s love affair with artists has lasted 100 years! The luxury hotel provides a Beauty Break for the Soul and is a Muse to many. Congratulations, La Mamounia, for making the Condé Nast Traveler Gold List in 2022 and Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Award in 2018 for “Best Hotel in the World.” I’ll never forget an afternoon when you gave a southern girl living in Marrakech an early spring.
Winter in Marrakesh is usually shorter and milder than in most places, but I was ready for it to be gone. I needed a Beauty Break. Badly. I’m not talking about a manicure, makeover, fancy frock, or new ‘do. I’m talking about the kind of beauty we find in creation — nature spun by God and art fashioned by man. I needed an artist date so I took a ten-minute ride to La Mamounia. I’d read about its splendor — the architecture, history, and drama — that make the luxury hotel a masterpiece. Also, La Mamounia’s love affair with artists has lasted 100 years.
As much as I love to write on weekends, I needed inspiration. Julia Cameron convinced me long ago in The Artist’s Way that in order to create something, we need “artist dates.” She says, “Creativity lies in paradox: serious art is born from serious play.” Likewise, Clive Matson said in Let the Crazy Child Write! that our best work comes from our subconscious — our inner child — and that child needs room to roam. In Tennessee, my artist dates were walks beside a lake or weekends where I’d marvel at the massive arches and stained glass of a Gothic cathedral hidden in the mountains. I’d return home refreshed and write with clarity. Poet John Keats was right: “Beauty is truth, and truth is beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.”
Looking up at blue and out at green is what we all need. Studies show that workplace productivity increases when employees have windows with views. Natural light and green space reduce stress and boost morale. The University of Washington lists many benefits of going green, including alleviating symptoms of Alzheimer’s, dementia, stress, and ADD. Nature breaks also enhance cognitive, imaginative, and social functions.
From the moment I entered the gates, I was energized by the warm staff, gorgeous gardens, soothing waters, and palatial design. La Mamounia quenched my thirst for spring with fountains of blessings. Everywhere you look, beauty brims here.
Artists have been drawn to Morocco for its natural beauty and creative culture for centuries. For the last one hundred years, La Mamounia is where superstars have stayed … Nelson Mandela, Charlie Chaplin, Kirk Douglas, Omar Sharif, Sean Connery, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Orlando Bloom, Salma Hayek.
Until 1923, La Mamounia was the palace of Prince Moulay Mamoun, son of Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah, ruler of Marrakech in the 18th century. Guests are still treated like royalty and rock stars (and yes, Elton John and The Rolling Stones slept there, too).
While directing Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much at La Mamounia, Alfred Hitchcock, the King of Thrillers, was inspired to make the movie The Birds. Judging from the way a flock of fine, feathered friends eyeballed me from orange trees while I had lunch on the terrace, I understand why.
Winston Churchill said Marrakesh was “the Paris of the Sahara” and “the most beautiful place on earth.” He loved painting at La Mamounia. Con Coughlin reported in The Telegraph, that Churchill invited President FDR to meet him there where they made history.
We are art, spun from the hand of the Creator. Made in His image, we get pleasure from creating, too. I learned at home in Tennessee that sometimes writers need to close their laptops and go find pretty. I found inspiration then in paintings hanging on the Frist Center walls, in light reflected off Old Hickory Lake, and in woods surrounding a Monteagle B and B. I now live in Marrakesh where beauty energizes me on a grand scale. No hotel I’ve seen thus far compares to this.