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Rooftop bathing rituals are on offer at San Francisco’s Hotel Vitale.


In-house guests place one slippered foot in front of the other and know they are staying in a hotel with a message: The top of the left slipper is embroidered with the word “Slow,” the right, “Down.”

So, as a guest saunters around her spacious room or schleps herself down the corridor to Spa Vitale, with each step, the message becomes a mantra for our exceedingly fast-paced lives: Slow Down. Slow Down. Slow Down.

There are other little spa lifestyle touches incorporated into the concept and decor of San Francisco’s Hotel Vitale: things like dried lavender springs hung on guest rooms doors, water-worn river rocks worked into the design of guest room night tables, leaf-patterned lighting features, lots of earth tones, natural materials (including limestone soaker tubs) and walk-in rain showers. There are yoga and stretching classes, and the newest offering — life coaching sessions. There’s a gym, too, but it’s smallish so guests get preferred access to two nearby fitness clubs. It’s all in keeping with the hotel’s mission statement: fast peace for a fast-paced world.

Opened a couple years ago to serve the traveller in pursuit of health, wellness and what hotel staff calls “luxury, naturally,” the 199-room, waterfront hotel offers guests an inspirational view of the Bay Bridge sweeping grandly over San Francisco Bay.

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Along with other things culinary, visitors to the Ferry Building can enjoy tasting the various local olive oils.

Located in the revitalized waterfront area known as the Embarcadero, Hotel Vitale is right across the street from the landmark Ferry Building Marketplace, which is also part of the area’s revitalization. The building is now home to all things culinary including artisan foods, shops, restaurants and a farmers market. It seems as if merchants — mostly local growers, producers and artisans — have been carefully selected to reflect a spa lifestyle. Foodies can enjoy things like olive oil tastings, nibbling on pieces of hand-made truffles or lingering over an exotic blend of herbal tea.

After lapping up the local culinary scene, the spa experience is a just dessert. Tucked into the penthouse floor of Hotel Vitale, Spa Vitale is tiny — just three treatment rooms plus the spa’s most distinguishing feature, a rooftop “treatment room” minus walls and with only the sky for a ceiling.

Behind a screen of potted bamboo plants my bath is being drawn. Spa clients who book The Bathing Ritual ($60 US for 25 minutes) are given the choice of enjoying a lavender bath for balance, tangerine to rejuvenate, rosemary to refresh and goat’s milk to awaken the senses. Goat’s milk please. I’m offered an herbal tea and cool cucumber compresses for my eyes. The daredevil in me erupts as I shed my robe and step into the foamy white bathwater spilling over the tub into a cedar casing. There is something oddly liberating about having a bath on a hotel rooftop while imagining the dozens of people in nearby office buildings who, except for the forest of bamboo that surrounds this deep, multi-jet tub, would be within eyeshot of a body soaking away its stresses. The sun on my face and the wind on my skin is a connection with nature — urban style. Within arm’s reach there are chilled towels and a pitcher of iced water. This bath en plein air is followed by a massage — Swedish mixed with a little Shiatsu, a little Thai.

Just off the lobby at Americano, a swish scene where the Italian cuisine flirts with Californian, it may seem incongruent that a hotel focusing on health and wellness is also home to one of the city’s hot spot restaurant/lounges, but, then again, maybe not. When it comes to the pursuit of “slowing down,” each to their own.

Anne Dimon is a spa and wellness travel writer and founder/editor of www.traveltowellness.com.


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The landmark Ferry Building in San Francisco’s revitalized Embarcadero is a temple for foodies.