By Lynn Waddell
Eternally green and dripping with Spanish moss, Safety Harbor's signature live oak tree twists and sprawls, some of its massive limbs stretching outward, nearly resting on the earth, while others kiss the sky.
Locals say it's no coincidence that the county's oldest live oak, called the Baranoff Oak, is rooted only a block from the natural mineral springs at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa. The springs at this St. Petersburg/Clearwater area resort – only miles from some of the world's best beaches – have been heralded for their therapeutic qualities since being discovered by Spanish explorers.
After a week of harried travel I needed a taste of vitality. So I visited the spa and found that, like the town's famous Baranoff Oak (named for a prior Safety Harbor Resort owner), it continues to grow and regenerate.
A Resort Rejuvenated
The historic Safety Harbor Resort and Spa on Tampa Bay, just a short distance from Clearwater Beach and the Gulf of Mexico, has undergone a multi-million-dollar facelift with renovations to all guest rooms, public areas, ballrooms and the spa. From the lobby, History Hall depicts the story of the legendary springs in archival photos and is decorated with potted palms and rich, traditional furnishings with hints of the original Spanish Colonial style. Floor-to-ceiling arched windows light up the fresh, relaxing interior as they overlook the pool and bay.
Public areas and ballrooms have been redecorated with the same elegant décor. In addition to the historic Four Springs Ballroom, the new Athena Ballroom offers bay views and sparkling chandeliers.
In total, all 174 guest rooms have been renovated with new décor and furnishings, new lighting, pillow-top beds, the softest of linens and updated amenities in the bath and dressing areas. The resort couldn't be more inviting.
Despite these transformations, the resort's gem remains its 50,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, which now features a new Spa Sanctuary and Tranquility Garden. It also includes a Medical Wellness Center, designed to offer nature a little assistance.
The new Spa Sanctuary enables guests to have one-stop revitalization and receive a combination of treatments – massages, facials, wraps – in the same private treatment room, with each specialist coming to you.
It was in such a room that I received the one of the spa's premier facials with additional botanical skin resurfacing – more than an hour of blissful pampering to the sound of soft instrumental music. It was difficult to choose from the tempting menu of services, which can be found at http://www.safetyharborspa.com/spafitness/spaservices_facials.htm.
Swathed in a comfy terry-lined robe, I reclined in a heated leather facial bed while esthetician Diane gently swathed my face and neck with a gentle cleanser and then moisturized my hands and feet before placing them in heated mitts and booties. She continued the steps of exfoliation, mask, skin conditioning and moisturizing. The extractions were so gentle that I could have easily fallen asleep.
It was hard to leave the warm cocoon, but my feet ached for attention after a previous weekend of high-heeled sightseeing. With a cool cup of cucumber-infused mineral water in hand – coolers throughout the resort offer purified water from the natural springs – I floated to see the foot god, Bobby, who waited in a new private treatment room of the full-service salon.
Perched on a new white-leather pedicure chair that kneaded my back as my feet soaked, I let Bobby begin his magic with an indulgent pedicure. My feet were gently scrubbed, exfoliated and massaged with an array of conditioners before being dipped in wax and covered in cellophane and booties.
After a period of relaxing with my covered feet propped up, Bobby peeled the wax off like a glove, and my feet felt as if they had just been born. By that point the polish seemed inconsequential but looked perfect.
I regretted having to put on my shoes but wanted to explore quaint Safety Harbor's Main Street, known for its antiques shops, mom-and-pop restaurants, shady parks and no red lights. To my surprise, I also discovered a beautiful bayside park and biking trails near the resort.
Eventually I gravitated back to the Baranoff Oak and studied its graceful twists, wondering what in its more than 300-year life had made it take those turns. And I then realized my self-renewal hadn't ended at the spa.
For more information on planning a luxury retreat to the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, call 888-BEST SPA (888-237-8772) or 727-726-1161, or visit www.SafetyHarborSpa.com.