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Grand Bohemian, Asheville, NC

The Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville, the newest offering from the Kessler Collection of luxury hotels, is all the buzz in this bohemian city on the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway and mountains beyond.

There’s been buzz here before: Between 1888 and 1895 George Vanderbilt had the largest private home in America built here, a castle by all definition - The Biltmore Estate.

It is, therefore, fitting that the newest nod to luxury – and Grand Bohemian is quite luxurious – is located in Biltmore Village, just up the road from Vanderbilt’s creation. The village was originally a settlement to house and supply locals working at the Estate. Today, the trendy address holds mostly retail space, and the Tudor-style of the Grand Bohemian and its adjacent Manor House fits perfectly with the architecture of the Village, where even the McDonald’s has an Old-World flare and tin-punch ceiling.

The hotel and manor have a combined total of 104 rooms. Attention to the décor and amenities is splendid, as is the artwork that adorns public and private spaces. You’d be hard-pressed to look anywhere without spying a piece fit for the world’s finest collectors. And that is what adds even more credibility to the project.

Here’s why: Kessler might be a hundred years late in his arrival to Asheville – the Biltmore Estate as well as the Grove Park Inn were built around the turn of the last century - but he is in no way tardy with his taste and verve for collecting great and unusual art, the same way Vanderbilt himself did.

Visiting the main house of Biltmore Estate brings you up close to countless oddities and rarities of the magnate’s travels. The same access exists in the Grand Bohemian. From lobby to hallway, from restaurant to banquet room, from inside each boudoir to outside the elevator, art is everywhere adding to the overall experience.

For that experience, Mr. Kessler has created his own vision of a hunting lodge that would have been worthy of Vanderbilt’s world-renowned estate just up the road. And, in fact, the Vanderbilts did have a hunting lodge at one point.

So yes, the Grand Bohemian features mounted animal heads and antlers on the walls - more than seem countable - but alongside are fireplaces and chandeliers, carvings and rich, masculine textures and colors that evoke a woodsy warmth and outdoor feel that pay homage to an era when and area where hunting and fishing were revered.

However, the idea of a spa is one amenity that possibly eluded the outdoorsmen who traipsed the Biltmore Estate in search of game.

Yet, the three-treatment-room Poseidon Spa here is a boutique gem that would have surely been as popular with sports enthusiasts then as it is with us, and other guests, today.

In keeping the Poseidon name, Kessler has kept with the spa brand established in his other properties (including the standout Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah, and the also-new Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront; update 2018: a new waterfront Bohemian property is coming to Savannah.)

Poseidon Spa offers signature services including massages, wraps, manicures and pedicures. It lacks a locker room and shower facility, but since it is primarily marketed to hotel guests, the ease of access to luxurious in-room facilities more than makes up for it. (Also, the spa director informs us that they do have access to a hotel room for day guests who need changing/shower facilities.)

Says the spa's director of operations, Kelly Fisher: "So far people really have been blown away. Even though some locals weren’t crazy about a two-story building going up in Biltmore Village, they have been amazed at what Kessler Collection was able to bring into that space. We find people coming back regularly, and especially to the Red Stag Grill once or twice a week. We're really proud. I think a lot of it just speaks to Mr. Kessler’s story behind what he builds – staying true to Mr. Vanderbilt and his history, which is how Asheville began.

"Everyone comes into the spa, at the end of (property) tour completely wowed. We really focus in on spas in intimate, cozy places. A lot of people are looking for that now. The trends in the industry are definitely shifting. Huge spas are not on the table for a lot of businesses. Guests are really responding to it. They feel really taken care of, very welcomed. Like a B&B, it's the same idea with a boutique spa, like you’re coming into someone’s house or personal spa and are taken care of every step of the process.

"We are definitely reaching out into the community, too," Fisher adds. "We are designating charities in our treatment specials every month." The first month's charity will be Asheville's Manna Food Bank. The spa offers its 80-minute Poseidon massage for the price of a 50-minute for any donation to the food bank.

For us, what Poseidon Spa lacks in size, it more than makes up for in quality. In fact, we rank it the best couple’s treatment for the square-footage that we’ve ever had.

Couple’s treatments can often be hit or miss, sometimes good for one partner and not the other. This can happen especially when trying to deliver the same treatment to two different people.

Our Poseidon Spa couple’s experience at the Grand Bohemian Asheville had a unique approach that more spas could learn from: we were in the same room, yet we had different treatments – how simple is that?

Concerning couple's treatments, Kelly Fisher also told us, "A lot of times husbands want to go for something a little more simple, and the wives want to go all out. Having the couple’s room definitely creates an environment where the guy feels safer."

Fletch Says...

Of course as a long-time spa-goer, I love all kinds of spas, but I especially liked this couple's treatment, so that while I had the 80-minute Privai Anti-Aging Massage (full-body exfoliation, body wrap, massage, scalp treatment, and acupressure face treatment), a mere arm’s length way, Kathy was experiencing the spa’s signature 80-minute Rebalancing Ritual.

Her treatment, too, included full-body exfoliation, body wrap and massage, but she had the addition of hot stones. The printed spa menu notes: “This is the perfect treatment for travelers.” Based on her reaction, it’s apparently the perfect treatment for travel and spa writers, also.

Therapist Darinda Davis and I went over my info form and discussed what I liked in a massage and what places I wanted her to focus on during the session. She started the treatment by having me do a deep inhalation of the Privai Oil (green tea, pomegranate and lemon verbena) that would be used during the massage. It is from a new company that just launched their product line in Las Vegas.

In a minute I was snuggling into the warm padding of the massage table. Darinda had followed my wishes and went lightly on the exfoliation, which, while I know is important to remove the dead skin cells, shouldn't, in my opinion, be uncomfortable.

Darinda first gently brushed much of the exfoliant off, then applied warm, wet towels, wiping my skin clean. She applied the towels in long strokes, which made me feel like I was in a shroud. Anti-oxidant repair oil was applied to my whole body, and the damp heat readied me for the next step, the massage.

Darinda again followed what I had requested, working especially on my shoulders, arms, and legs. Her hands and forearms worked in unison to hit just the right spots, and when she finished with each section, she draped a hot towel over it, which seemed to trap the good feeling.

Additionally, I was impressed with several parts of the treatment and the equipment. The table was comfortable, which some might think would be a given, but there seems to be a new trend toward high-tech tables that are contoured and shaped to fit the body, some of them with tapered sides so your arms can hang down to rest on a level below. I’ve come across one recently that had a cutout in the table for your face as opposed to the standard cradle that is added and removed as appropriate. Call me old-fashioned ...

At the Poseidon, the table was wide so my arms could easily rest at my sides, and it was covered with thick, soft sheets that let me snuggle in and stay warm. Thus, when Darinda wanted to work on my arms or move me to the side to stretch my neck, I didn’t feel like I had to hang on to avoid feeling like I was falling off. I really appreciated how Darinda used her forearms to cradle my neck, and then a rolled towel, to take me through a series of neck stretches.

The acupressure facial followed by an energetic scalp massage was a great way to finish up. Her fingers addressed pressure points on my face. She applied Matrixyl 3000, an anti-aging cream that holds three times its weight in water and helps the skin retain moisture.

While the cream soaked my face, Darinda began to massage my scalp in what the spa calls a “shampooing” motion. If my head had been a carpet and she was trying to remove a wine stain, I could have bought the analogy. Nevertheless, the result was splendid. Her fingers firmly worked pressure points on my head, and to finish flew wildly through my hair, and all I could imagine was it had to make me look like Albert Einstein – is static electricity part of the treatment?

Anti-aging? I’m not sure how many years (or hours) the treatment knocked off my looks, but as to my attitude – I left feeling wonderful – spa hair and all.

Kathy Says...

Much like what Fletcher experienced, my take on the couples’ treatment is that the Poseidon Spa hit all the things I love and did so in one amazing treatment: a good facial, a relaxing massage, a medium-pressure exfoliation using a dry brush, a great scalp rub and foot rub, plus massage and hot stones to boot. I'm in heaven.

Says Spa Director Fisher, "This is definitely our signature treatment for this property as far as being able to incorporate as much of the body as we can in all therapies. This one really is all encompassing."

Poseidon Spa proves the adage: Good things come in small packages. Or, as we can attest: Don’t judge a spa by its size.

My Rebalancing Ritual began with therapist Daniel McCurry mentally preparing me - Darinda did the same for Fletcher - with a nice, deep inhalation of Privai oil.

After checking with me on room temperature and the music level, he started out by performing a dry scrub on my feet using silk polishing powder blended with Privai oil (clay, silk powder, rose oil and ylang ylang were the combination). And to think, I’d been worried about the Kiawah Island sand on my feet from my flip-flops. Thanks to Daniel, not a problem. Following the foot scrub, he applied a relaxing hot towel to clean off those tootsies.

He then exfoliated the back of body with just the right pressure. While I was face down, he used nice hot packs on my back on either side of my spine to help loosen the muscles and prepare for the massage to come. While he exfoliated my legs, my back got the hot packs; then my legs got them while he did my back. Super relaxing, I must say.

After the exfoliation, he applied Aromafloria Mangosteen body butter to my back and legs. It smelled yummy. Says Fisher, "We use them (Aromafloria) because they are a fantastic company. They have taken paraffins out of their products. They're also wind powered."

The way Poseidon Spa has its customers turn over on the table is different, too, and I like it. The therapist holds the covering closer to your body by pulling the sheet up in the middle, more like a tent over you, while you flip over underneath.

Once I was face up, Daniel placed a soft eye pillow over my eyes, then exfoliated the front of my body and applied more of the oh-so-fab, warm body butter, all nice and melty. He did the same on my arms. He also lightly exfoliated my neck and decolletage.

Then came a terrific face massage with specific acupuncture points and more of the silk polishing powder, mixed with antioxidant repair, an anti-aging serum of green tea with ECGC in it.

He also applied Matrixyl 3000, with hyaluronic acid (that Fletcher described). While this super-moisturizing cream was working its magic on my face, the therapist began the "shampooing motion" scalp massage using acupressure points. We all need more scalp massage, I've decided.

Daniel also did some great neck stretches on me, as Darinda did for Fletcher.

Next, he placed small, warm stones between my toes - loved it - then wrapped me in a “cocoon” of a heating blanket and a quilt. Wrapping helps open up the pores and raise the body core temperature so you readily receive all the benefits of the products.

I told the spa director afterward that I especially like how Poseidon does not use that awful, crinkly mylar for the wraps. It's always so noisy, distracting and hard to keep in place. Instead, they opt for big, soft blankets, so as Fletcher said, you're all warm and cozy. Just what you should be in a spa, n'est-ce pas?

"It cuts down on number of people who get claustrophobic," Kelly adds, "and you can pull an arm out if you need to so you don't feel trapped. It feels like a big snuggle. And while you were wrapped, Daniel placed three, big warm chakra stones on you – one in the center of the chest, one over the solar plexus and one on the belly. Most people don’t notice the stones going on (though I did), but they do notice when they are lifted off."

There was also a bolster under my knees while I was wrapped to alleviate stress on the lower back.

While I was wrapped - about 20 minutes - Daniel performed the signature face massage, and scalp, neck and shoulder massage. The facial was especially nice, and designed, I was told, by both an esthetician and massage therapist working together. Daniel used a gentle foaming cleanser good for my sensitive skin from the Privai line, a velvet verbena scrub and massaged my face with oil before removing it with a cleanser and finally, warm towel. Again, terrific.

Next came removal of the hot stones before my Poseidon customized massage. And Kelly was right; when he removed the chakra stones, I did feel a neat “expansion.”

Post massage, he finished with a hot towel on my legs and feet before helping me sit up with an oversized hot towel on my whole upper back.

The entire marvelous process was topped off for both Fletcher and me with raspberry green tea and nice, warm, matching neck pillows. The "after" photo at left perfectly portrays how we feel about the Grand Bohemian, Asheville, and its “petite boutique spa,” the Poseidon.

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