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Florida's 500 Years of Spas
By Bijan Bayne

The Florida Spa Experience: Then and Now

The Fountain of Youth has always been in St. Augustine, Florida, where Don Juan Ponce de Leon found the natural spring he thought the Taino natives of Puerto Rico referred to in their lore. It was the height and healthy apperarance of the Timocuan tribe that convinced the explorer he was in the right place. A century ago, industrialist Henry Flagler began developing The Sunshine State, from St. Augustine to Palm Beach. St. Augustine's Lightner Museum occupies the site of one of his earliest spa resorts, which housed the world's largest swimming pool, steam rooms, and saunas. Tourists of all stripes still visit northeastern Florida to turn back their biological clocks, only now their options are more diverse. From the white paradise of Debbie's Day Spa & Salon on Anastasia Boulevard in St. Augustine, where the vintage furniture in the 11 treatment rooms evokes a bed and breakfast- to the spa at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, where a new 30,000 square foot state-of-the-art spa is scheduled to open in September, this is the pampering place.

The Ponte Vedra Inn and Club dates to 1928, but guests would never suspect it. This meticulously landscaped getaway offers golf, tennis, fitness and a spa within walking distance of one's room. The steady rhythms of the tide greet you- the beach is right outside your door and visible from your deck. European-style reservation frees guests from a standing front desk check-in. Gov. and Mrs. Jeb Bush, and Bruce Springsteen have stayed here. You'll dine on the delicacies of Chef Herman Mueller, who has catered for the White House.

The current spa will soon give way to one with 22 treatment rooms and two couples rooms, five water treatments, grottos, a central relaxation courtyard, and an element where one feels as if seated atop a glass of Alka-Seltzer. The spa staff has traveled to study treatments and menus from Baden Baden to the South Pacific. The new facility's motif will be bamboo, stones and waterfalls, the exterior roofed in the orange clay tile consistent with the resort at large. The Inn and Club also has 15 clay tennis courts, whose underground watering system assures no interruption of play for maintenance. The 8,000 square-foot gym has 75 stations with an ocean view, and 60 classes, including Pilates and spinning.

The Inn and Club experience is that of a walking village, one need not drive to access any amenities. Be sure to day trip to St. Augustine, where sites such as the original Fountain of Youth, America's Oldest House, and resplendent Flagler College are worthy of tours. Between your relaxing stay at this resort, and your exploration of the healing sites of DeLeon's and Flagler's times, your visit to the St. Augustine region will be rejuvenating.

Bijan C. Bayne is a travel writer and critic in Washington, D.C.

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