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Relaxing at the Ritz on the shores of Lake Las Vegas

Enjoy Luxury by Lake Las Vegas at the Ritz

by Wendy O'Dea

Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las VegasI felt as if I was melting - my skin about to fall away and leave me stranded.

I was lying on a massage table suspended over a tub-like basin as steam emanated from beneath me and enfolded my pores, opening them up like flowers in springtime. The room was bathed in a warm red light with new age music softly floating overhead. I still recall the scent of eucalyptus and lavender as my face was slathered in cool lotions and masks. My senses were boldly awakened, not only as a result of this unique spa treatment called La Culla, but because I'd escaped to the new found desert hideaway of Lake Las Vegas.

Las Vegas usually conjures up images of flashing neon, cheap buffets and smoky casinos. That's why the inclusion of "Las Vegas" is a misnomer for this upscale Mediterranean suburb, which sits within the Lake Mead National Park about 20 miles from the Vegas Strip.

Ron Boedekker, the brainchild of this fancy enclave, had viewed the then stark desert landscape on a flight from Los Angeles and saw a crater-size hole nearly 150 feet deep in places.

"It occurred to me that if the hole was filled with water," he said, "it would look like Lake Como in Northern Italy." It took five years after turning on the spigot before that massive hole officially became Lake Las Vegas.

Surrounded by brown and rose colored Nevada rock, Lake Las Vegas is both a lake and an upscale community built around its shores. Two-miles long, it is the largest privately owned lake in the Southwest and is part of the 2,600-acre Lake Las Vegas residential and golf community. Six hundred private mansions and luxury homes (including Celine Dion's) are perched on hillsides overlooking the water and two luxury resort hotels, the Hyatt Regency and the brand new Ritz-Carlton, decorate the shoreline.

It was at the Ritz's Spa Vita di Lago ("Life of the Lake") that I surrendered to La Culla. The Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas is the only site in the U.S. offering this two-hour multi-sensory massage, steam and facial originally pioneered in Italy. After having nearly every muscle massaged, spritzed and steamed, I left the spa as loose as a noodle and loafed around in my cushy robe, sauntering between the hot tub and the Vichy rain shower.

La Medici, Ritz-Carlton Lake las vegasHours later a friend and I were met by a dashing Italian maitre d' at the entrance to the Medici Café & Terrace. He charmed us with an accent reminiscent of Marcello Mastroianni, flirting and engaging us with his brilliant white smile and deep black hair, a piece of it falling seductively over his face. Had we not been so relaxed from our spa experience we may have considered fighting over him. Instead we settled down into comfy upholstered armchairs overlooking the garden and set out on a culinary adventure, sampling the eight-course tasting menu with matching wines.

The Medici dining room is airy and refined, with high ceilings dripping with teardrop-shaped crystal chandeliers. The food was innovative and bursting with unique flavors. The tasting included a rich foie gras, a short rib so tender it practically fell apart when you looked at it and an overflowing plate of handmade chocolate truffles, complete with gold leaf decorations.

Returning to the room well on my way to a food coma, I crawled into the cozy bed, complete with Frette linens and a soft down comforter, and drifted into dreams of Italy.

Although no Lake Como, the Ritz has managed to achieve a sense of Tuscany that feels less contrived than other themed hotels in nearby Las Vegas. It houses 349 guest rooms and 35 suites with marble bathrooms so large they could serve as guest quarters. With Mediterranean clay tiles, arched doorways and soft weathered colors, the exterior architecture is similar to many of Europe's waterside villages, right down to a recreation of the Ponte Vecchio, Florence's famous bridge.

The bridge is a small but convincing copy of the original sans Italian artists, musicians and lovers strolling the hand in hand. However, the management has not overlooked romance. Guests can book a number of evening activities, such as Wish Upon A Star, a candlelight dinner for two in the gardens followed by a romantic stargazing session; Stars & Cigars, stargazing while enjoying a glass of cognac and a fragrant stogie; or the less seductive Star B Que, a chuck wagon-style dinner followed by a guided stargazing session.

For romance without leaving the room, the hotel also offers a number of in-room bath options prepared by a personal "bath butler."

The Art of Romance includes a bottle of champagne, a bowl of strawberries and three-dozen red roses placed around a bath infused with essential oils and hundreds of yellow rose petals. A cigar, cognac and the writings of famous poets accompanies The Gentlemen's De-Stress Bath, tinged with a blend of ginger, black pepper, rosemary and lavender.

Not to be left out, the Ritz also offers a Kid's Bedtime Bath, complete with bubbles, children's toys and a treat of milk and chocolate chip cookies.

Ritz-Carlton, lake las vegasAlthough the Ritz is the focal point of MonteLago Village, a $500 million development, the Village also includes restaurants, retail shops, condominiums, a European-style casino and a Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course.

The shopping area, once completed (only a few shops are currently open), will include over 35 high-end boutiques and restaurants. Chef Joseph Keller, well known for spearheading numerous critically acclaimed restaurants, including Napa Valley's French Laundry, is involved in the Village's Como Steakhouse and may soon open a cooking school and additional restaurants at MonteLago.

Boedekker's original vision was to create an "anti-strip" family destination, which they have done, albeit for families wealthier than the average American. There are a number of activities available for visitors of all ages, including fly-fishing, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming and even private yacht excursions.

The hotel was also developed with business in mind, offering two ballrooms, ten well-appointed function rooms and two luxurious boardrooms. But I wasn't there for business. I was there for some well-earned R&R.

My average day consisted of sleeping in, eating a light breakfast, hitting the gym (a quick 20 minutes to get the endorphins flowing) and then hitting the pool or spa. Mix in some lessons on learning how to fly-fish (I caught nothing) along with some great wine and food and you've got a pretty complete Ritz experience.

Although I intentionally avoided the Vegas strip, I confess that I did explore the small and extremely manageable scene at the MonteLago Casino. Two short rows of blackjack, craps and roulette tables are surrounded by a collection of new slot machines that, unlike most slots, produce a paper credit when you win as opposed to the clink clink clink of coins hitting metal. Although much less exciting and dramatic, it also changes the environment into one of quiet sophistication. And I liked that gaming was not the focus but rather featured as another amenity.

I tried my hand at blackjack at MonteLago where I found the dealers a bit dull and robotic (unlike the lively dealers at casinos such as the Hard Rock). But dull and robotic is fine when you're winning. Two hours netted me about $60 - not nearly the cost of a night at the Ritz but enough to put toward the next days spa treatment, the Grapes of Tuscany Bath.

I expected to soak in a tub littered with grape skins or rough vines from Tuscan vineyards. Instead, a therapist applied a chardonnay gel to my body, sprinkled it with sugar and then proceeded with an exfoliation that, if left to my own devices, I would have licked off. This was followed by a long hot bath enjoyed with my choice of wine or champagne (I chose the latter), the water jets blasting the sugar and gel into a bubbly sweet-smelling soak.

La Culla treatment room, Ritz-Carlton spa, Lake Las VegasSufficiently wrinkled and a bit buzzed, I made my way back to the massage table and the therapist magically reappeared, completing my treatment by applying a body butter made with a mix of olive oils and goat butter.

After my treatment, I sat in the relaxation room at the spa drinking green tea and perusing Gourmet magazine. I've always been an enthusiastic but not terribly adventurous cook, yet I suddenly felt reinvigorated, my internal Martha yearning to break free. Frozen passion fruit meringue cake? Why not? Chorizo and potato egg custard with New Mexican chili sauce? No problem. I'm sure my future Italian lover (the maitre d'?) will be quite pleased.

IF YOU GO...

Lake Las Vegas Resort: for more information and background on the vision and development of Lake Las Vegas log onto www.lakelasvegas.com.

The Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas: 1610 Lake Las Vegas Parkway, Henderson, NV 89011; (800) 241-3333 or (702) 567-4700; www.ritzcarlton.com. Rooms range $229-579 per night. The Presidential Suite is a hefty $5,000 per night.

Directions: From Las Vegas, head east on I-215 toward Henderson. This will eventually turn into Lake Mead Highway. Continue until you see signs for Lake Las Vegas Resort, on your left.

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