Rome at HomeNo immediate plans for Europe? Indulge instead in a heavenly cultural experience at San Francisco’s Acqua di Roma.
It’s just begun to rain in San Francisco, the kind of rain that’s peculiar to spring where the drops seem to shimmer, each one surrounded by light, despite cloudy skies. Dashing along the sidewalks of Chinatown toward Montgomery Street and the waterfront, I reach the juncture where this colorful neighborhood collides with North Beach and the Financial District. My destination is in sight. There, on the corner of Montgomery, a distinguished stone building rests, its serious exterior hiding the luxurious Acqua di Roma spa within.
From the outside, the building looks for all the world just like a bank. And for good reason: This is the former Banca Italiano Colombo, an historic city building that used to house one of San Francisco’s first Italian banks. Its sister property is the Palazzo Ben Essere spa, just outside of Rome. Acqua di Roma’s founder, Gian-Paolo Veronese despite having an impressive education in business and financing earned at Oxford and in Florence is passionate about holistic health, and pulled out all the stops transforming this particular corner of the city to fulfill his wellness vision.
When I enter the spa, it’s obvious that the interior is anything but corporate. Renovated by architect Mark English and international spa designer Sam Margulies, the interior d©cor is the work of designer Eduardo Nieto, who specializes in customized hand carving and wood inlays, with their distinct ambience reflecting artwork from Old World masters. Perhaps even more importantly, the building’s renovation and the creation of the spa space were closely managed by Michael Boucher, who oversaw the installation of non-toxic building materials including Venetian limestone plaster, an energy efficient HVAC system, insulation created from recycled denim, and a range of natural materials that includes cork, hemp, stone, and non-toxic paints. The result is a seductively beautiful and sumptuous space that immediately invites relaxation.
Veronese, a lifelong San Franciscan who has traveled extensively throughout the world, explains that the spa’s menu and decor embrace cutting-edge technology, world healing modalities, and the Italian tradition of healing termes, or hot springs. I have to agree with his assessment that no one does spa pampering quite like the Italians.
“The concept of healing is very important to us,” offers Veronese. “Our vision is to be a healing sanctuary. We’ve incorporated that ideal into not only our treatments and therapies, but also in the inclusion of sacred geometry and feng shui principles in our decorating, and our many green initiatives.”
Perhaps the most impressive recycling effort is the transformation of the former bank’s central vault into a luxurious treatment room. Therapies run the gamut from traditional massage, hydrotherapy, and aromatherapy, to bio-energetic rebalancing sessions, mud therapy, homeopathy, preventative medicine consultations with a naturopath, and Criosystem, a non-invasive skin therapy that helps reduce skin imperfections.
I’m here for two of the spa’s signature treatments, a Bella Donna Facial, followed by a La Dolce Vita body therapy. Alma Arciniegas, who trained in Barcelona at the Institute of Aesthetics and Medicine and now serves as Acqua di Roma’s technical director and head esthetician, leads me into the vault-turned-treatment room, and helps me settle into a comfortable position. She uses a lemony facial grommage and gentle peel to cleanse and smooth my skin. Next comes a series of essential oils, masks, and rich creams that effectively soothe my Rosacea-prone skin. She uses gentle strokes and light pressure as she works her various potions into my skin, and ends the treatment by massaging my neck and shoulders.
Next, to begin the 150-minute La Dolce Vita therapy, Arciniegas exfoliates me gently from head to toe with a sweetly scented scrub. Next, she slathers me with a thick, mineral-rich mud that’s been blended with red algae and a mix of essential oils to relax and detoxify my entire body. Once I’ve rinsed and patted my skin dry, Arciniegas gives me a full body massage, customizing the pressure and stroke technique to relieve my chronically tight shoulders and upper back muscles. She spends a little extra time loosening my left hip, where I seem to harbor extra tension.
Spa treatments are also under the direction of Carlo Barrella, the founder of Int©gr©e, an integrated beauty and wellness system. Acqua di Roma offers a series of Wellness Programs, ranging from a four-week Wellness Tune Up to a six-week Cleansing and Purification program all perfect San Francisco treats for anyone who travels frequently to the city, or is lucky enough to live in the area. Lectures on healthy living are also offered, often hosted by industry experts.