Hats off to Savannah’s hip hotels

The Poseidon Spa is expertly decorated by Deb Golding with themes of fire and water.

I didn’t plan to visit the newly opened Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah, Ga. I was staying at another hotel and simply on a literary tour. It was fate that brought me to the threshold of this 126-room hotel, highlighted with arches and turrets. But then every structure and step you take in Savannah is drenched in myths and drama from the past. It was the best selling novel, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt (four years on the New York TimesBest Seller List) that enticed me to visit this well-preserved neighborhood studded with stories that paralleled one of favorite novels.

The mansion caught my eye while I was on the private tour of Savannah’s historic district from Oglethorpe Tours. This locally based company offers the most comprehensive tour of the mansions and characters as described on pages of the novel, which has drawn so many tourists to this compact, legendary neighborhood. Our guide, Ginny, spoke of the novel’s idiosyncratic characters from Jim Williams and Danny Hansford to Chablis and a voodoo princess. She gave us the scoop on Savannah’s eccentric social institutions such as the Married Women’s Card Club.

The mansion is one of seven hotels throughout the nation owned by the Kessler Collection. The original mansion was built in 1888. The hotel was added on to the structure. The vintage and the trendy blend so well you can barely tell where the original mansion ends and where the hotel begins. The astounding art collection includes more than 400 original paintings. Amidst the collection are three of the world’s coveted Bosendorfer pianos, exuding harmonies within the hotel. Equally mesmerizing is the mansion’s women’s hat collection, covering fashions from 1860 to 1960.

Although I was a stranger, I asked if I could visit the rooms, and with that inimitable gracious Southern hospitality it was arranged for Tim, the mansion’s butler, to show me the Bohemian Butler Room, which was anything but standard. From the Italian marble writing desk to the 27-inch flat screen television to a stunning open-air bathtub with all the bells and whistles.

Taking the hotel business to a new level, the mansion has something for everyone, especially for those with a taste for the culinary arts. Opened on April 11, the mansion was designed to be a total “immersion” in the art, architecture, music and cuisine that is the “heart and soul” of Savannah’s history.

Demonstrating their quest of renewing the spirit, I visited the 700 Kitchen under the direction of Chef Darin Sehnert. His teaching menu offers diverse choices such as “The Art of Entertaining: Salad Party,” “The Cuisine of Northern Italy” and specialty courses on pies and tarts, holiday cookies, and ice cream and frozen desserts. Classes are taught in their state-of-the-art kitchen. There are three Culinary Getaway packages, including the “Savory Savannah Sampler,” a three-day/two-night package that includes a dinner in the 700 Drayton Restaurant, an evening carriage tour of historic Savannah, two culinary programs at the 700 Kitchen and an aromatherapy massage in the hotel’s Poseidon Spa. The rate is $990 plus tax.

But if you’ve come to Savannah just to chill out for a few days, take the elevator (a trip in itself with a stunning image of Savannah on the elevator’s ceiling) to the Poseidon Spa, expertly decorated by Deb Golding with themes of fire and water. Echoing the theme of water are treatments such as “Lost at Sea,” which is an oceanic detoxifying wrap, OgenAge Facial and a Poseidon Lavender Bliss Manicure and Pedicure. It takes four-and-a-half hours and costs $410 plus 20 percent gratuity. This intimate spa is lighted by flickering candles and relaxed by soft music. And to the right of the spa entrance are more paintings reflective of the Kessler commitment to the arts.

Across the street from the mansion are 20 well-manicured acres. The centerpiece is a white fountain next to a soaring monument to the Confederacy in what was once the parade ground of Savannah’s militia. While heroes of the Civil War look on, the mansion on Forsyth Park captures the future with flair and finesse intermingled with the charm reflecting the graciousness of a bygone era.graciousness of a bygone era.

For further information:

_ The Mansion on Forsyth Park, (The Kessler Collection), 700 Drayton St., Savannah, GA 312401 www.mansiononforsythpark.com (888) 711-5114

__Savannah Historic District www.historicmap.com

__Savannah Scene (www. Savannahgeorgia.com/scene)

__Oglethorpe Tours www.oglethorpetours.com

__The Midnight in the Garden of Evil Book Tour is 2-1/2 hours ($18 per person) and operates Mon-Sat at . 2 PM ( 912) 233 8380 in a 14 passenger van. Best to reserve tickets in advance.

Pamela Price is the co author of “100 Best Spas of the World” published by the Globe Pequot Press (www.globepequot.com).