Views from spas – say a chapel here, the ocean there – personalise the experience. At the final luxury hotel on this particular trip, Mandarin Oriental San Francisco, the gal looked across Sansome to one of the old buildings in the city’s CBD (Central Business District, a mere three blocks from both Market Street and Union Square). The 1987-vintage iconic hotel, by architects Skidmore Owings & Merrill. managed without any spa at all until a couple of years ago when a suite in the office block that is integral with the hotel came vacant. The resulting spa is superb.
A Japanese woman from Chiba Province had an array of ingredients that looked like an apothecary’s blending table. She was using Natura Bissé, but the spa also offers Aromatherapy Associates, and La Prairie. I honestly do recommend a spa both before and after a long flight (love the Elemis Spa at Heathrow’s terminal five if I am lucky enough to get a slot for a back massage in one of the new self-massaging chairs). I also recommend as much exercise as possible, before and after a flight, but there is not going to be a lot of time for a serious workout right now. Too much to do.
The spa’s relaxation room offers enough to fill anyone’s brain and stomach. It shows the calibre of clientele when there are copies of today’s Financial Times, alongside lots of fresh fruit and snacks. On my flight I am going to read a really inspirational book, Ellen Charnley’s Living Life to the Full: My Ironman Journey. A top accountant and a super-fit lady, at 41 she discovered she had been born with a congenital heart defect, and needed open heart surgery. Eight months after the diagnosis, she took park, successfully, in an Ironman. Her really thought-provoking book is selling, for $20, during the hotel’s current heart-aware month (or buy it, anytime, from Amazon).
Ellen Charnley’s husband, Donald Bowman, is actually GM of this hotel, and he spent an awful lot of lunch time talking, but not drinking, gin (the photo is just for effect). Look at an iPad in Brasserie S&P, which stands for Sansome, and its cross street, Post, and compose your own gin and tonic. Over 40 gins are listed, with all details of each. Having put your gin into the basket, you then choose your tonic, which may be one of the home-made flavours. Add garnish and, hey presto, your drink arrives. Donald Bowman is here holding the special Heart G&T, with Edinburgh gin aged in old barrels, and the home-made tonic of the month, sensei, with ginger, mint and papaya.
Brasserie S&P, designed by BAMO, is a brilliant conversion of the former ground floor lobby lounge. A whole-wall window entices passers-by, and those who work in those offices. I start with a chilled green tea soba noodle salad, sweet soy chilli sauce, edamame beans and togarashi (chilli beans). I go on to Mary’s chicken paillard, coated in anchovy-garlic crust, with Marcona almond pesto and Blue Lake green-bean salad. Who is Mary? She is Mary Pitman, nuritionalist and mother of David Pitman of Pitman Farms, in San Joaquin Valley. Rather than do dessert we decide to soar up to see the Oriental Suite, number 3808. Inside this suite you have a light-bright haven of palest taupe and a sprinkling of palest teal, but look at the view.
Over 80 members of a wedding planners’ association are currently meeting in this luxury hotel, and it is more than likely that many of them will be awestruck when they see this particular suite. The terrace holds at least 50, ideal for a wedding reception, and that view. From the Golden Gate Bridge to your far left, your eye pans right, past the 848-ft Transamerica Pyramid, and Alcatraz, to the Bay Bridge, to the far right. Here, and in many rooms, especially those ending in -14, you get an amazing sight of the nightly moving-illuminations of the Bay Bridge, paid for by Yahoo’s Melissa Mayer, Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus and his wife, Ali Gelb Pincus, of One King Lane. The show is designed by New York-based computer artist Leo Villareal, and made by Inventronics in Hangzhou. Sadly, I cannot wait and see it as my plane is leaving on time. Where next?