Spa and Fun The French Way in Sandpiper Bay

Forget maintenance. After a long winter, I needed a beauty overhaul that only a vacation and intensive spa treatments can offer. Where to go? There are plenty of choices, but when I heard that L’Occitane recently opened its first North American spa at Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Florida, I leapt. How could I not? The marriage to these two venerable French brands was irresistible.

Club Med resorts boast Cordon Bleu cooking, children’s programs (key, as my sons were coming with me), and more sports than the X Games. L’Occitane’s roots are literally en Provence, where fields of the region’s infamous lavender—the basis for many of its products—have made the company synonymous with natural, organic beauty. I would visit in March, when Sandpiper would presumably be humming at top capacity, so I called ahead to ensure the spa would be able to accommodate me. I also sought guidance: Club Med Spa by L’Occitane (a second one just opened at Club Med in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic) brims with delectable treatments: detoxifying and anti-aging facials, body wraps, waxing, exfoliations, massages, haircuts, mani-pedis—even services specifically designed for teenagers and deluxe rooms catering to couples.

I was guided to the “Secret of Youth” anti-aging facial—guaranteed to hydrate my flaky winter complexion—and the Lavender Soothing Massage. If I can’t live in Provence, I reasoned, then immersing myself in L’Occitane’s essential lavender massage oils sounded like a great compromise. I learned that the fine Augstifolia lavender used in many of L’Occitane products grows in specifically designated areas of Provence at altitudes over 800 meters. Also called “blue gold” for their purity, scent, and superior oils, the flowers are revered for their restorative properties. For that reason, all services at the L’Occitane spa begin with a ritual foot cleansing by light of L’Occitane’s lavender scented candles.

Superbe! The lavender aromatherapy worked instantly, and I quickly unwound into a dreamy bliss. My concern: how was I going to stay alert to ask trenchant, hard-hitting questions required of a reporter on assignment for Beauty News? No worries. Nicky, my facialist, informed me that Club Med Spa recently launched a series of do-it-yourself workshops for guests who, like me, have tons of questions but just don’t want to ask them in the middle of getting a massage. “We started the workshops,” Nicky added, ”because our products are well known, but so many people don’t know how to use them properly.” Sounded like a must-attend to me.

Hosted in the spa’s Zen Garden, the workshop offered key ingredients of a great party: wine and food and unfettered access to L’Occitane’s tantalizing products. (Nicky would talk as we slathered, massaged, exfoliated ourselves into divine bliss.) Fun? You bet. Helpful? Absolutely. As Tara, a self-proclaimed fan of L’Occitane admitted at the outset of the workshop, “Whenever I go into a store I never know what to buy. It’s overwhelming.” An hour later, Tara and the rest of us felt like pros. L’Occitane’s venerable Immortelle anti-aging products, we learned, are named after delicate Immortelle flowers that stimulate collagen production and are the backbone to its Precious crèmes and balms (look for the gorgeous sapphire-blue containers). The yellow pots of myrtle-infused Divine Crème pack a holy trinity of hyleronic acid, vegetable oils, and Vitamin C, and their proven track record of eliminating wrinkles and smoothing skin tone have earned Divine Crème a cult following among loyal clients. The Brightening crèmes, featuring nasturtium extracts to smooth skin tone, are perfect for anyone doing battle with age spots and hyper-pigmentation.

L’Occitane’s Shea butter products—from cleansing milk to face water and serum—nourish and protect itchy, sensitive skin that’s prone to redness. (The tins of 100 % Shea Butter are also a miracle panacea for treating eczema, as I discovered when hunting for natural products for my son.) And the pale-green bottles from the Angelica line pay tribute to the lacy, pale-green Angelica plant, which grows up to several feet in days. In fact, the plant’s exceptional ability to self-hydrate, makes it ideal for restoring and plumping combination or dehydrated skin.

Nicky spent as much time explaining the basics, like why serums—more widely embraced in Europe than the U.S.—are different than moisturizers (moisturizers’ longer molecules don’t penetrate as deeply as serums, which are used to nourish skin).

As I left the workshop, I couldn’t help wondering why other spas don’t go to similar lengths to educate clients. The workshop was innovative, fun, and informative. In fact, my beauty brain felt as illuminated and glowing as my now dewy-fresh skin. Best of all, I was able to indulge on a family vacation without feeling one iota of guilt. During my facial, massage, and workshop, Club Med’s incredible GO’s were teaching my sons to hang by their toes and flip from a trapeze and perfect other circus tricks they’d later perform on stage, with lights, props, and costumes.

“When can we come back?” they asked.

Sooner rather than later, I promised. Kids under four stay free at many of its resorts this summer, and while mine are too old to qualify for this particular deal, nothing’s going to keep me away from the Zen garden and massage rooms. And the white-chocolate bread! How could I forget to mention that?!

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