New ownership and management of the Claremont Resort & Spa in Berkeley, Calif., promises to add even more luxury to the castle-like hotel in the Berkeley and Oakland hills. The Claremont was part of the sale of CNL Hotels & Resorts to Morgan Stanley in April.

The sale included eight luxury properties. Among the others were the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix and the Grand Wailea on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands.

Morgan Stanley brought in Boston-based Pyramid Hotel Group as the management company for the Claremont. Sometime in the next year, the hotel is expected to start upgrading guest rooms and meetings space, according to Susan Hollers, director of sales and marketing.

"The scope of the renovations is still to be determined, but they are looking at different color schemes and changing case goods and soft goods," she said.

The gleaming, white landmark hotel, parts of which date from the California Gold Rush of 1848 to 1855, is spread over 22 acres of landscaped gardens on a hillside above Berkeley and Oakland that affords views of San Francisco and the bay.

In the 1980s, the Claremont underwent a $40 million renovation that was designed to maintain its historical charm while adding modern amenities, such as air conditioning, during a major room overhaul. A European-style spa was built poolside.

In 2000, the hotel underwent yet another guest room renovation. And in 2001, a new, larger spa opened in the main building.

"We are known as an urban resort smack dab in the middle of a bustling area of commerce," said Hollers. "You can get anywhere from here quickly, including San Francisco.

"We are unlike anything in the area and consider our competitors not local hotels but places like the Sonoma Mission Inn [in California's Wine Country] or the Hotel del Coronado [near San Diego], places where you can have a romantic weekend, go to a spa with girlfriends or have a business meeting."

Pull of pampering

The 20,000-square-foot spa has become a focus of the resort. It contains 32 treatment rooms, double the size of the former spa, and a creative selection of treatments, including "Signature Journeys," multiple hours of hydrotherapy soaks, massages and various relaxing and energizing treatments.

One example is the Brazilian Rainforest Journey, a three-hour experience of soaks, body wraps, massage, skin exfoliation (coffee and nut polish is used) with a final moisturizing treatment using rose hip and plantain lotion. The treatment sells for $350.

Hollers said the spa was an integral part of the hotel experience.

"We sell the spa in the reservation process and always ask about spa packages," she said. "It's ideal for girlfriend getaways and corporate incentives."

Hollers estimated that about 35% of the hotel's guests take advantage of the facility's services.

"Spa use is growing, and competition is sprouting," Hollers said. "Spas are not considered luxuries anymore but necessities. Getting a massage, for instance, is looked at as a healthy way to increase circulation.

"Our spa is very much wellness-based and doesn't focus on anything frivolous or trendy," she added. "We try to keep on top of what's new, such as hydrafacials, which we started this summer, but we'll never be the kind of place to go to for Botox injections."

The former spa was turned into part of the Claremont Club, a country-club-like facility with an outdoor swimming pool, a cafe and an indoor fitness center with space for yoga and other fitness classes. These facilities are part of a Living Well Center that is open to hotel guests.

The hotel charges a resort fee of $24 per room, per day.

Selling the hotel rooms can be a challenge because all 279 units are different, said Hollers, who said she believed that having different rooms added to the hotel's charm.

The exceptions are the 40 rooms in the spa wing, which was built after the main building was constructed and is thus more modern and its rooms more standard.

At 550 square feet, rooms in the spa wing are larger than the rooms in the other part of the hotel, which are between 250 and 300 square feet.

Dining at the Claremont

To locals, the Claremont is known as the place for cocktails and dinner.

At Jordan's, the resort's elegant fine-dining restaurant, the cuisine is Californian, with a Pacific Rim influence. Low-calorie, health-oriented dishes are available for those on a spa program.

The Paragon Bar and Cafe is a more casual restaurant known for its views of the bay and cocktail lounge, which is popular at sunset. The bar offers 179 vodkas. Another dining option is the Bay View Cafe.

The Claremont also is a huge wedding and meetings venue. Its 30,000 square feet of meetings space includes 24 meetings rooms and two ballrooms. All are equipped with high-speed Internet access and Wi-Fi.

Room rates range from $270 to $1,000 per night. Available packages include the Weekdays Away for stays Sunday through Wednesday nights. The rate is $249 per person, per night, with a two-night minimum required. A 50-minute spa treatment and daily breakfast is included.

To contact reporter Laura Del Rosso, send e-mail to [email protected].

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