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Crystal Springs Resort in New Jersey

“Kick from inside your foot!” yelled my teammate Nancy, whom I had just met moments ago.  Like me, she was middle-aged and medium-sized; unlike me, she was blonde.

I was, for the first and perhaps last time in my life, playing foot golf, an up-and-coming precision sport where players propel a ball into a cup nested below ground with as few shots as possible.  Unlike regular golf, the ball is a soccer ball that players kick with sneakered feet instead of strike with iron clubs.  Like regular golf, and most other sports, I’m not very good at it.

But neither were the other members of my thrown-together foursome, and we at least had fun laughing at ourselves and encouraging each other on the warm day at Crystal Springs Golf Resort, home to three alpine-style hotels and seven lush golf courses, spanning Hamburg and Vernon, New Jersey, about an hour’s drive from New York City.

Though I’m not a good player, I try to be a good sport, and I did enjoy the no-stakes game on the well-maintained green course surrounded by greener mountains.  But I really wasn’t sorry when it was time to return to my suite in the resort’s Grand Cascades Lodge, with its full kitchen, fire-placed sitting room, and balcony offering a mountain view that I could enjoy without having to play golf of any kind.  But I’d have to savor these delights later and instead indulge in the soaking tub and Molton Brown toiletries in order to get ready for an evening that promised to be much more my style—starting with a tour of one of the world’s premier wine cellars.

The pale tan stone of the interior walls gave off a romantically medieval aura, but I had to focus on the small black iron spiral stairs as I descended into the cool, cozy cellar.  Or to be more precise, the seven wine cellars of Restaurant Latour, Crystal Springs’ flagship dining place, named for the favorite wine of the resort’s late founder Gene Mulvihill, of which the cellar houses a larger collection than any place else in the world, including Chateau Latour.  Unfortunately, at bottle prices in the five figures, samples aren’t included as part of the tour, though I did enjoy the complementary Champagne.

One of the most intriguing stars in the cellars’ collection is a 1795 Madeira from Thomas Jefferson’s collection.  Sadly, it’s no good.  Crystal Springs’ sommeliers know this thanks to their exclusive Nuclear Magnetic Resonance wine scanner, developed for the resort at the University of California at Davis, which can test a wine without ever opening the bottle or damaging the cork or vintage in any way and found the Jefferson Madeira undrinkable.

But that’s okay.  The cool cavernous cellars offer a choice from more than 130,000 bottles from Italy to California, nestled on wooden shelves, behind arched windows, in dark temperature-controlled rooms.  It was like being in an underground nursery for wine, falling in love with bottles of joy.

As I wound my way back up the stairs, I thought maybe there was something for a non-golfer here after all.

In the morning, I headed over to Grand Cascades Lodge’s sister property Minerals Resort for a massage at its Elements Spa, a small space with the usual muted tones and healthy snacks.  The massage was a welcome treat, after my not really strenuous afternoon on the foot-golf course, but the highlight for me was the complementary foot soak afterwards.  An attendant pushed aside the 70s-style clear-bead divider for me to pass through and seat myself above a foot bath for as long as I wanted.  Like all experiences, pampering requires time to take hold of you.  It’s the extra touches like this that let its benefits sink in.

After my massage, I chose to forego foot golf in favor of continuing my relaxation at Grand Cascades Lodge’s Biosphere, a $7-million, 10,000-sf combination pool complex and greenhouse under a retractable ceiling that allows year-round tanning and keeps the small trees and colorful flowers in and around the infinity pool blooming.  Whether swimming in the pool, soaking in the grotto-nestled hot tub, or stretching on a lounge chair, it’s like being in a safe and well-tended tropical jungle, with a water park.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to give up the glorious views for dinner, as the mountains are easily visible from the pane-glass walls of the casual Crystal Tavern, where I indulged in three of my favorite flavors:   Cape May Salt oysters, summer-squash risotto, and peach upside-down cake, all which were fresh and pure tasting.

In the morning, I rode the elevator down from my suite to the Reflections Spa.  Not only is Reflections different from Elements, it’s different from most of the hotel and day spas I’ve visited.  Featuring fiery glass on its walls and 8,000 quartz crystals suspended from its ceiling, the feel is more stimulating glitz than the soothing calm of most spas.  The snacks are more indulgent too; where most spas offer fruit and granola, Reflections puts out pastries and petits fours.

After changing into my robe and slippers, I headed for the steam room, where the fiery theme continued with orange tiles lining the benches and walls of the individual open stalls.  With my pores steamed open, it was time for my Chai-Soy Detoxifying Facial, which stimulated my sensitive skin with spices and clay.  But once again, the high point for me was the post-facial foot soak, a rare feature that Reflections shares with Elements, while giving its own spin.  Though I could have chosen more usual spa offerings like herbal tea or mineral water, I happily accepted a flute of Moet from the attendant.

“When you’re ready, I’ll turn you,” she said softly.

Though I enjoyed rubbing my feet in a bed of salt as I faced the center of the dimly lit room, I did have a significant drive ahead.  So after a few moments, I signaled; the young woman swiveled my chair around, and I lowered my feet into the warm water.

Facing the red wall, I felt alone with myself.  Being where you’re not part of the main activity can be a refreshing opportunity for retreat, relaxation, and reflection, and a reminder of your own preferred pleasures in life.

Others may enjoy their foot golf; I prefer my foot soak.

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