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Oil, water mix well in skin city

The Qua pours on the H2O and a range of treatments -- some more impressive than others -- at its oversized desert oasis.

March 04, 2007|Benedetta Pignatelli | Special to The Times

Las Vegas — THE journey to the Qua Baths & Spa, in the Augustus Tower at Caesars Palace, is a quick lesson in Las Vegas' brand of Baroque. First you ascend the 44 steps of the grand staircase, and then you follow a long hallway lined with marble and Aubusson rugs, black and gilded chandeliers in blossom, past two wedding chapels and the illustrious Restaurant Guy Savoy.

Only trumpeters issuing a fanfare would make the experience more complete. Which is why the faux-rustic entrance of the Qua -- and its modest patina of buff-colored Eldorado Stone -- seems like a mirage.

The illusion disappears once you step inside and find yourself surrounded by stained zebrawood, rustic walnut planks finished in tung oil, lighting fixtures draped in linen and heated stone chaise longues. With 50,000 square feet, the Qua dwarfs all the other beauty establishments devoted to sybaritic pleasure in Las Vegas. Perhaps its creators were inspired by the great emperor Caesar Octavianus Augustus, who built the Terme Romane di Baia outside of Naples, the most lavish and sophisticated destination spa of its day. But this being Vegas, forget historical precedent. Sometimes grandiosity alone is enough to argue for anything here in the desert.

The treatments themselves are wide-ranging, at times wild, and meticulous. Each begins with a dip in a series of cleansing pools that dutifully mirror the three totems of ancient Roman bliss -- or so the empire's scribes would have us believe. Named Tepidarium, Caldarium and Frigidarium, these mineral-laden ponds, calibrated at 98, 104 and 72 degrees, are meant to acclimate, relax and detoxify the body.

The most dramatic treatment is called Dancing Waters, which directs seven strategically placed water spouts onto your back. Lie on your stomach for 30 minutes with warm water pouring over you and you can't help but feel your seven energy centers -- rattled no doubt by Las Vegas' almost tyrannical energy -- relax. This $90 ritual is accompanied by a Polynesian salt scrub.

Less aqueous treatments include the Frankincense & Myrrh Body Wrap (75 minutes for $210), the Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage (60 minutes, $170), the Poker Face facial for men (50 minutes, $155) and, for couples, the only-at-Qua LunaCeption Ritual (75 minutes for $420). The treatment, I was told, is supposed to increase fertility by synchronizing the couple's breathing during the side-by-side massages performed in the presence of Venus statuettes and during specific lunar phases. Which would make scheduling a tad constrictive.

Seeking neither mummification nor conception, I was drawn to the Volcanic Clay Body Mask. After drying off from the pools and changing, I had a brief wait and treated myself to a cup of Goddess of Mercy tea -- management is very proud of their tea lounge -- and wandered, taking in the heated Laconium room and the Arctic Ice Room, where spa-goers sit naked in 55-degree temperatures while snow drifts down from the glass ceiling.

Soon I was ushered into one of 51 treatment rooms by Frank Kennedy, a onetime resident of upstate New York. After a vigorous exfoliating scrub, Kennedy applied a generous coating of china and ash clay, working deftly and prudently around my draped towel. Kaolin, or white clay, is often used in cosmetic masks, and Bentonite, ash clay, is said to improve elasticity. These clays, intended to work as detoxifiers, left me feeling as if I'd spent all day rolling on center court at the French Open. While we waited for the clay to dry, Kennedy treated me to a neck and shoulder massage, and once the clay had worked its magic, I received a copious rub-down with lavender lotion.

My second treatment was in the Crystal Body Art Room. Here my "artisan," as they're known in the patois of the place, offered me a light sea sponge rubdown followed by an application of lotion before getting down to work.

Crystals -- the ever-popular Swarovski crystals -- are applied with a light adhesive (think eyelash glue) and are supposed to remain in place up to five days. Your mileage may vary.

The selection was meager. There was "sexy" and designs that included hearts and butterflies and a giant flying turtle. Frankly, I expected a more creative range from a town that hosts five Cirque du Soleils. I settled on a pseudo-Aztec sun that took all of four minutes to apply and began to shed its rays in four hours.

Another unique aspect of Qua -- or so they say -- is the "spa-socializing." To that effect, they have created seven spa-socializing areas, including the tea lounge and the fitness center (where even the Technogym stationary bikes have been positioned in a circular pattern to invite conversation).

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