Sweet Spot

Pennsylvania: At the stylish new Hershey spa, get ready for total chocolate immersion.

March 04, 2001|By Jody Jaffe and John Muncie | By Jody Jaffe and John Muncie,Special to the Sun

At the chocolate factory in Hershey, Pa., cocoa beans are soaked, sprayed, warmed, pummeled, turned to a silky goo and wrapped in silver foil.

A mile away at the chocolate spa, clients are soaked, sprayed, warmed, pummeled, turned to a silky goo and wrapped in silver foil.

Somewhere, Milton S. Hershey is smiling.

Hershey, the man who made millions from America's sweet tooth, may be best known for his ubiquitous Hershey bar, but it was more than innovative chocolateering skills that made him an icon. He was a master marketer. After all, it isn't a town called Nestle that sees 5 million tourists a year.

Nearly 100 years after Hershey began mixing milk chocolate with mass production, the hotel he built is following its founder's formula: if you've got a niche, exploit it. So when Hotel Hershey opened a spa two months ago, it was no surprise the gimmick was chocolate: chocolate wraps, chocolate baths, chocolate lotion and chocolate scrubs.

Dubbed the Chocolate Spa, the $7 million, 17,000-square-foot addition to the already grand hotel opened Jan. 15 to a flurry of media attention.

Somewhere, Milton S. Hershey is grinning.

We arrived on a dreary winter day with the sky so heavy it seemed to be held up by the twin brick smokestacks of the Hershey fac-tory. But a heavy sky in this chocolate town can be a good thing. Clouds trap the roasting cocoa aromas; open your car windows and it smells like you are swimming inside a Hershey bar. For travelers, it's enticing; for locals, it may mean bad weather.

"In the morning if you can smell the chocolate, you know it's going to be nasty," said Craig Deimler, a 28-year-old salesman from nearby Harrisburg. Deimler, fresh from his first facial, was wrapped in a white robe, eating chocolate-covered strawberries and sipping hot chocolate. His wife, Melissa, decided to celebrate her 29th birthday at the Hershey Spa and made her husband come with her.

Not that going to the spa was a hardship -- except, perhaps, financially. Milton Hershey may have developed cheap milk chocolate, but his namesake hotel hasn't developed a cheap spa. We dropped close to $1,000 in less than 24 hours. And we were on one of the package plans.

Mediterranean look

Completed in 1933, the 235-room Hotel Hershey overlooks this little turn-of-the-20th-century company town with streets by the name of Chocolate and Cocoa and streetlights shaped like Hershey Kisses. The hotel was built in a Mediterranean style that looks charmingly foreign on a hilltop in southern Pennsylvania. Hershey based the design on European hotels he had visited while vacationing with his wife, Catharine "Kitty" Hershey.

A flight up from the reception area is the hotel's centerpiece: an open, two-story-high Spanish-style patio decorated with intricate tile work, carved wood beams, fountain and cloud-painted ceiling.

Opposite the patio is Hershey's other pride and joy, the Circular Dining Room, where dinner for two runs into the triple digits. The food is as good as any big-city posh restaurant (don't miss the mushroom soup), and the service is attentive. Windows, trimmed with ornate Victorian-style stained glass, wrap around three-quarters of the dining room, which overlooks the formal garden. As big as it is, the room has no support pillars, so every guest has an uninterrupted view of the fancy gazebos, manicured hedges and pools outside.

At night, a single white taper flickers on each table; branches drape elegantly from potted trees. Gentlemen must wear jackets to dinner, and all the women we saw wore dresses. There's a Gatsby-visits-Barcelona feel to the place.

Hotel check-in is at 4 p.m. We arrived early and killed time at the fitness center. Part of the spa complex, the gym is brand new and still smells of paint, not sweat. It's brightened by large picture windows overlooking the gardens and miles of rolling hills beyond. The gym has a substantial line of Cybex machines; its four treadmills and two recumbent bikes feature individual televisions and headphones. The facility also offers an assortment of exercise classes at $10 a pop, which seems piggy given the prices spa guests are already paying.

Across the hall is a Mediterranean courtyard housing the 30-by-50-foot swimming pool and whirlpool. Water in the swimming pool is warm, and the whirlpool is hot, but the jets lack oomph.

Bathed in cocoa

We scheduled our spa treatments before dinner and the next morning. Treatments vary, but the routine stays the same: A host or hostess shows you to the dressing rooms, decorated with beautiful tile work, boldly flowered carpet, upholstered stools and Victorian lights. You're given a waffle-weaved robe and bubble-gel plastic sandals. You store your clothes in a locker with an electronic lock.

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