Luxury SpaFinder

About a year ago, the publishers of Spa Finder ditched its hugs-all-around tone, amped up its flat design, and changed its moniker to Luxury SpaFinder. The reasoning: the spa-going audience knows promotional pablum when it sees it. So 12 months later, has Luxury SpaFinder successfully made the jump from shill to thrill, from marketing dross to luxe-living gloss? (Thanks to the folks at for that last Pulitzer-worthy sentence.)

Well, sort of. Luxury SpaFinder is a considerably improved product, but it remains very much a work in progress. On the plus side, the book looks sensational--it gave everything else lying on my coffee table, including the detritus from a mac-and-cheese lunch gone tragically awry, a serious complex. Whereas comparable luxury and travel mags try so hard to shine that they end up unreadably ostentatious, Luxury SpaFinder keeps things simple and elegant: a tight shot of a Kauai heliconia here, a broadly framed photo of an estate/croquet lawn combo there. Nothing feels forced or chintzy.

The question, then, becomes whether the words live up to the design... and I don't think they do just yet. Obviously, the shift from a promo-first publication to one with bona fide editorial grit doesn't happen overnight, and it's clear that at least a few of the mag's writers didn't get the memo. The May/June issue's fitness-focused feature on a Kauai vacation doesn't give enough in the way of description or critique, while the cover feature on England's Chewton Glen might have been better served by a simple presentation of well-appended photos. Separately, if anybody can figure out exactly what the editor's-note description of Chewton Glen as "the Cal Ripken of English country-house hotels" means, please send me an e-mail care of this space.

By virtue of its name, you'd think that "Spa Sleuth" might be invested with a bit of personality and/or edge, but it merely drones aimlessly for four pages about the Capri Palace Hotel and Spa's "famous" leg school. "Dr. Canonaco could easily be mistaken for an aging Shakespearean actor playing the implausible role of a dashing professor with a particular interest in women's legs"... wait, don't tell me. That's from "Twelfth Night," right? Bad silliness.

Considerably better are the "Spa Cuisine" and "Spa Travel Guide" featurettes. The former lays out the basics about the new phenomenon known as "synergetic cuisine," while the latter explores a 14-pack of Miami spas, pointedly distinguishing the benefits and drawbacks of each. I was also entertained by the light, snarky tone of "Spa Savant," in which "Vera Value" and her HFH ("Hedge Fund Hubby") hit the Vegas spas on a (relative) budget.

And Luxury Spa Finder seems newly willing to stir things up a bit, as witnessed by the monthly "Spa RX" feature, in which writer Aimee Lee Ball investigates the underlying science of spa treatments. In the May/June issue, she examines the technique known as manual lymph drainage and revisits an earlier story on spa cellulite treatments (which prompted one hell of a reader letter, to which she responds in great depth). Meticulously reported, this section alone goes a long, long way toward enhancing the mag's credibility.

So yeah, Luxury SpaFinder has its moments. Once its stories catch up to its design, it should prove a coffee-table mainstay, for spa junkies and luxury lovers alike.

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