“And these are our Monet-inspired gardens,” explains Jennifer, the receptionist at Mirbeau Inn and Spa, who is giving my travel companion, Aubrey, and I a tour. “The bridge, pond and flora are meant to transport you to the French countryside.”
Although it’s winter and the flowers are not in bloom, the scenery makes me feel instantly relaxed. The property is situated on 12 acres of forest parkland in the charming storybook village of Skaneateles, although you would have no idea you’re in New York while here. A wooden walking bridge curves over a frozen pond, surrounded by cottages, small pines and snow-covered ground. Now I understand why the hotel’s name is “Mirbeau,” which loosely translates to “reflected beauty.” I can only imagine how beautiful the setting is in the warmer months, filled with vibrant flora, whimsical weeping willows, floating lily pads and warm colors reminiscent of paintings done by renowned French impressionist Claude Monet.
Inside, we’re shown the fine dining restaurant, rustic bar area and two common spaces, one with high ceilings, tables, a fireplace and front-row views of the gardens and the other a more cozy room with a fireplace, couches and bookshelves. Jennifer continues the tour, bringing us down to the spa.
“All spa products from our Caudalie, Farmhouse Fresh and signature Mirbeau lines are all-natural and cruelty-free,” she explains, showing us their spa boutique. Adjacent on one side is a full gym as well as a Motion Studio where fitness classes like Zumba, aroma yoga, pilates and spin are held, while the other side has the entrance leading to the spa itself. While the entire setup is impressive, I stop in my tracks once I’m inside the women’s locker room.
“I think I need to get my bathing suit. Now,” I say, my voice pitched with excitement. “This is the most amazing spa I’ve ever seen.”
Jennifer smiles. “Let me get you your room keys.”
My cottage room is charming and comfortable, with pale yellow walls, blue curtains, a fireplace, a well-stocked snack and wet bar, sumptuous bedding and sweeping views of the courtyard. The real treat is the bathroom, which features a European tiled walk-in shower, over-sized French-style soaking tub, lavish bath and body products and double sinks. For a moment I entertain the thought of pouring myself a glass of local “The Seeker” Sauvignon Blanc (2011) from Marlborough and submerging myself in the hot waters of the stand alone tub; however, I remember the heavenly spa and quickly change into my bikini. While the room is wonderful, I can already tell I’ll be spending much time outside of it enjoying the inn and spa’s other luxurious amenities.
Spa Mirbeau features a 14,000-square foot facility with 18 treatment room, a eucalyptus steam room, dry cedar sauna, a resting room with stone fireplace and heated foot massage pool, and an outdoor Aqua Terrace with a 15-person hot tub, waterfall, fireplace and wellness bar. I’ve opted to pamper myself with their “Wine and Honey Body Wrap,” one of their newest vinotherapy treatments. To open my pores before the experience I spend 15 minutes in the stream room, breathing in the minty scent of eucalyptus while feeling my pores open up and the toxins pour out of my body in beads of sweat. Although I have to keep standing under the cold shower to assuage the heat, I feel completely relaxed.
I take a quick dip in the hot tub, which makes me feel like I’m swimming (yes, it’s that big) in the wilderness with giant rock formations and a waterfall, before drying off and going to wait for my masseuse in the relaxation room. The soothing music is making me drift off to sleep when I hear my name being called.
“Ms. Festa?” calls an attractive blonde woman as I stand up. “Right this way.”
Her name is *Kate, and she leads me through a maze of treatment rooms to the one where I will be having my treatment. A fireplace gives the room a soft glow, while radiant heat flooring adds warmth to the space. Soothing spa music fills the air.
The treatment consists of a warm blend of wine and honey that nourishes the skin and protects against dehydration. It’s all natural — so much so you can eat it. While I don’t’t taste it, my feelings are anything combining wine and honey must be delicious.
We begin with me taking off my clothes and laying under a towel on top of thin paper that will be the base of the wrap. Kate starts by having me sit up as she applies the thick, curative paste onto my back, as well as my legs, arms and stomach. From there, I’m wrapped in a warm cocoon, instantly relaxed and sleepy. She massages the areas of my body not wrapped, like my scalp, neck and shoulders, for about 15 minutes before I am unwrapped. While I thought I would feel sticky, I feel very clean, although I am instructed to rinse off in the shower before the treatment’s ending which includes a massage. I try not to doze off as her skilled hands unwind my muscles, but by the time the 50 minutes are up Kate has to gently wake me.
“Take your time getting up,” she instructs. “I’m going to bring you a glass of cucumber water.”
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so relaxed and detoxified in my life, and I mentally plan to ditch any plans I had made for the following day to spend more time enjoying the spa and fitness center. Now, however, it is time to explore Skaneateles.
Exploring The Area
During the spring, summer and fall guests can rent bicycles from Mirbeau free-of-charge; however, since it is winter Aubrey and I decide we’re better off taking a car over the snow and ice, anyway. The charming village of Skaneateles is fill with tree-lined streets, antique shops, art galleries, artisanal eateries and 19th-century buildings reminiscent of Norman Rockwell paintings. You’ll also find Lake Skaneateles, a long, narrow and deep glacier-formed Finger Lake where people can enjoy fishing, boating, water sports and relaxing in the nearby park. Additionally, there are a variety of local hiking and biking spots, like Guppy Falls, Carpenters Falls, Baltimore Woods Nature Center, Carpenter Falls & the Bahar Nature Preserve and the Charlie Major Nature Trail.
After exploring the village and enjoying a scenic one-mile trek to Guppy Falls, Aubrey and I head to Anyela’s Vineyards for a taste of the area. For $3 we’re allowed to choose five tastings from the menu, as well as enjoy a complimentary sampling of their 2011 Rose of Pinot Noir, an unusually dry rose with flavors of cherry, raspberry and stawberry and a spicy finish.
While there are many excellent vineyards and wineries in the Finger Lakes, the family-owned Anyela’s is different as they protect their vines from the cold even after the fall harvest, removing them one-by-one from the trellises and burying them to insulate the fruit buds. This process allows for ripe fruits and flavorful wines.
I start with their 2011 Dry Riseling, which has a dry fruit flavor and crisp finish, before moving on to a blend unique to their vineyard, the Cuvee Blanc.
“Even if other vineyards tried to recreate out Cuvee Blanc it would still be different,” explains John*, our wine tasting guide. “They may get something similar, but the percentages of the different wines in the blend will always be different.”
The wine features a unique blend of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Cayuga White that has a distinct citrus quality, as well as a smooth finish that lingers on the palate. I haven’t even finished the tasting before I’ve decided to buy a bottle, as I can picture this pairing well with my favorite meal of baked chicken and sauteed spinach.
Moving on, John pours — generously, I might add — a tasting of their 2010 Noiret. This is their third vintage of the unusual grape, with the wine offering flavors of berries, pepper and distinct spice. While I wouldn’t purchase this as an everyday drinking wine, it would pair well with a Thai meal or if you’re simply craving something deliciously strange. The next wine we sample is also flavored with berries and spice, a 2009 Overlay Verse 5. A blend of 47% Cabernet Franc, 29% Pinot Noir and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s unique to the vineyard and a bit more drinkable than the previous wine with a medium body without a bite.
We finish the tasting with their 2011 Minuet, a blended rose featuring bright cherry, raspberry and floral notes that’s delicious and a slightly sweet. Despite the fact we’re taking part in a wine pairing dinner tonight we purchase the Minuet and the Cuvee, eager to continue exploring the Finger Lakes through our palates.
For dinner, Aubrey and I dine at Mireabu Inn and Spa’s onsite French Steakhouse. We opt for a three-course wine pairing dinner, which will showcase both American and French wines as well as French Country-style dishes made with local ingredients. Although Aubrey and I are just friends, we can’t help but feel as though we’re on a romantic date. As with many of the spaces at Mirbeau we’re treated to a front-row view of the courtyard, while accents like pristine white table clothes, whimsically-draped curtains, candlelit chandeliers and comfortable seats crafted with rich mahogany create a relaxed fine dining vibe.
The menu changes often so the restaurant can use the freshest available ingredients, although they always feature healthy spa-inspired creations as well as tableside presentations like the filleting of a whole fish and the carving of a Cowboy steak for two. Tonight there are a range of unusual but delicious-sounding options, for example, a “Monkfish Osso Buco”; a risotto crafted from cauliflower and served with baby carrots and local chou vert kale; and an Alsatian-inspired strudel featuring asparagus , Gruyere and toasted walnuts baked in phyllo dough and drizzled with Gorgonzola cream.
We place our orders and tell the sommelier about our wine preferences before a young man carrying a selection of hearty breads comes over.
“Tonight we have a honey curry butter with your choice of ciabatta or garlic knot bread.”
We’re also brought an amuse bouche, a “seafood sausage” that contains lobster, egg white, scallops, shrimp and cream melted into a sausage form. The texture is velvety, with a distinct and delightful shellfish taste.
The first course I have selected is the “Lapin Roti,” a roasted tenderloin of rabbit wrapped in Serrano ham and grilled. On the side of the protein-rich starter are endive leaves topped with house bacon “lardons” and mustard vinaigrette. Our sommelier pairs the dish with a 2011 Dr. Frank Semi Dry Riesling, which features flavors of apple blossom and citrus. The citrus of the wine complements the complex flavors of the rabbit, ham and bacon, while a slight sweetness offsets the smokiness of the dish.
While I already feel satisfied, my palate is once again excited when the main course is brought out. I’ve selected the “Homard a la Colonial,” which features a wok-roasted half-pound lobster with shrimp, scallop and langoustines in a spicy-sweet Thai red curry sauce. On the side is a tuft of Jasmine rice as well as a spoonful of cilantro whipped cream and scallions. The sommelier has decided to pair this dish with a 2010 Michael David ‘Petite Petit,” a substantial, dense and full bodied wine from the Lodi Wine Region in California. While most people often choose whites when eating seafood, this particular varietal features a blend of 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot that goes well with the curry sauce. While the wine coats the palate with flavors of black fruit and vanilla, it features enough richness and backbone to standup to the intense flavors of the curry sauce and succulent lobster.
Before dessert, we indulge with a decadent cheese course featuring Moody Blue, a rich, creamy blue smoked over fruit wood; Drunken Goat, a semi-firm pasteurized goat cured in Cabernet; and Parmesan Reggiano, a hard granular cheese made from raw cow’s milk. To help enhance the experience, the delectable cheeses are served with honey comb, tomato onion jam, a 30-year aged balsamic and a variety of breads and crisps. Each offering has its own distinct texture and taste, from the crumbly, tangy blue to the more sweet and delicate goat. The highlight of the experience is drizzling the balsamic onto each morsel, so rich and sweet it could be used on ice cream.
Finally, it’s time for dessert. Luckily, I’ve opted for something light yet satisfying, a chocolate mousse made with caillebaut 65% dark chocolate and hazelnut brittle. This course is paired with something I’d never heard of, a Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Port. While not as heavy or sweet as a typical port, the wine gives the perfect finish with flavors of raisins, sugared dates, chocolate, caramel and a hint of orange peel. It was made to be enjoyed with chocolate, and as I indulge in a chocolate mousse and hard chocolate bowl, I’m in heaven.
We opt for a nightcap, whiskey on the rocks, and sit back to take in the view. Even at night it’s beautiful, the crystal ice glistening in the dark. As has happened many times this day, I forget that I am not in the French countryside, but am instead in the same state most associate with honking taxi cabs, bustling streets and stressed locals. At Mirbeau Inn and Spa you don’t even have to leave the property to travel the world, escape from your worries and experience the finer things in life.
Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor’s, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn’t really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.