A Wine Soaked French Retreat

Grape treatments rule at this spa

Lolling in my whirlpool bath, I gaze out at sun-dappled vineyards and the magnificent 18th century Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. This is my second day at Les Sources de Caudalie, a spa in the heart of the Bordeaux wine country, and I can't remember ever before feeling so pampered. My body has been soaked and massaged, my skin enveloped in soothing creams and balms. And every one of these treatments--including the pale-purple water of my whirlpool bath--is derived from the grapes growing outside the window.

Leave it to the French to come up with a wine spa. Les Sources de Caudalie, which opened in September near the town of Martillac, says that its "vinotherapy" regimen will help people feel better and look younger. Best of all, the spa's clients can do this while staying in a luxury hotel and dining on gourmet food and fine wine, including vintages produced right on the premises.

Caudalie's owners are Mathilde and Bertrand Thomas, a young French couple who, five years ago, launched a line of skin-care products made from grape seeds and skins. Mathilde Thomas, 28, says the products were inspired by Joseph Vercauteren, a University of Bordeaux pharmacology professor who has found that applying antioxidants contained in grapes can inhibit damage to skin as the body ages. Thomas had a ready source of grapes: Her parents, Daniel and Florence Cathiard, own the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte winery, which was throwing away tons of grape skins and seeds left over from crushing.

Today, Caudalie has $5 million in annual revenues and employs more than 50 people. Its products are sold worldwide by cosmetics chains such as Sephora. Loyal customers include Madonna and Princess Caroline of Monaco. Now, the Thomases and the Cathiards have invested $10 million to build the spa and its adjoining hotel, alongside a natural spring on the chateau grounds. The 29-room hotel has been fully booked since it opened. The Thomases now are in talks with a California winery to open a spa there.

PAMPERING. My stay at Caudalie began with a relaxing soak in heated water from the springs, mixed with an extract from grapevines. Next came a body wrap, in which I was slathered with warm honey and the yeast used in wine-making. Then came a facial, using scrubs and masks made from crushed grape seeds. Later I was massaged with grape-seed oils. None of the treatments uses fermented grapes, so there's no danger you'll emerge smelling like coq au vin. Because Caudalie's products are blended with scented oils, they don't look or feel much different from ordinary cosmetics.

But there's plenty of wine at the spa's two restaurants: the rustic inn-style La Table du Lavoir, where I lunched, and the fancier La Grand'Vigne, where I headed for dinner. At La Grand'Vigne, two-star Michelin chef Didier Banyols runs the kitchen, and his sommeliere wife, Marie-Louise, oversees a wine cellar containing 10,000 bottles. My five-course meal included roast sole with a fricassee of wild mushrooms, apple tart with ice cream for dessert, and a selection of wines.

Don't go looking for bargains at this spa. A weeklong stay costs about $2,600. Even a weekend getaway for two--which seems popular, based on the number of couples I saw when I visited--costs at least $700 per person. For more information, check Les Sources de Caudalie's Web site at www.sources-caudalie.com, or call (335) 57 83 83 83.

Is all the pampering worth the price? I can't tell whether the treatments have slowed down the aging of my body. But it can be wonderful spending two days with nothing more to think about than massages and meals.

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