For those who simply can no longer appear publicly in a bathing suit, summertime is not a season for simple pleasures. For that subset whose incomes permit a weeklong stay at $1,000 per night and who seek extreme privacy, self-indulgence, a hint of lost aristocracy, and sprightly, trim servants at every corner, however, The Canyon Ranch is their Shangri-La.
Snugly nestled in the gentle, green Berkshires, The Canyon Ranch at Lenox, Massachusetts, is the modern American sanatorium, the 21st century replacement for Bath, Marienbad, and Baden-Baden.
The Canyon Ranch does not accept casual drop-ins, stays of fewer than three nights, or dinner reservations from those not staying at the spa. How Mr. Henry managed to slip inside the compound’s lofty stone gates may be the subject of a future post, but not this one. Let him merely relate that on a recent afternoon he found himself in the pool-house men’s room furtively wriggling into his Speedo long-legged racers (chosen not for their Olympic provenance but because when he wears the scanty Speedo classic racer, other Henry family members roll their eyes, point, hoot, and in general behave with the scantiest appreciation for Mr. Henry’s delicate dignity).
After a delightful swim all to themselves in a mammoth pool, Mr. and Mrs. Henry repaired back to the bathrooms to throw on long trousers and to await the promised 4-star, low-cal, modern scientific dinner. For those of you currently searching for an exciting way to disinherit your progeny, look elsewhere. Though the swim was delightful, the dinner was a bore.
For starters, alcohol is not served at The Canyon Ranch, red wine’s vaunted salutary effects on the cardio-vascular system notwithstanding. The compound is drier than south Utah. Since guests, glassy-eyed from an afternoon massage or lecture on the large intestine, are shuffling around in their comfortable clothes, i.e. fat pants, and since they are annoyed and hungry from the small portions served by hectoring Ranch menu experts, the mood in the dining rooms is decidedly downbeat.
Joylessness, in fact, seems to pervade the place. Because they are on their feet working all day, the staff are fit and perky. The guests, on the other hand, are uniformly dumpy and glum, each over-indulged face fixed in a sulk from denial of its customary hourly stuffing. In the Holiday-Inn style corridors they do not speak. At each brush past a chaise longue amply filled with another terrycloth-robed New Yorker, they avoid eye contact. Is this the way mental hospitals feel?
As a sanatorium, The Canyon Ranch must be judged a success, and a success as a fat farm for the super-rich, too. But as a health spa it fails.
From a choice of six entrées, two were white pasta. (Clearly, the executive chef has not read Mr. Henry’s Dietary Dicta.) Mr. Henry’s smoked trout served on leaden mashed potatoes was dry and fusty. Mrs. Henry’s curried garbanzo beans served on a thimbleful of soggy rice were over-spiced. Salad dressings were exceptionally uninspired, heavily dependent on a not-very-good oil of unascertainable origin. Vegetables were slathered in the same oil in lieu of a fine Tuscan extra virgin, a glaze of veal stock, or good, old-fashioned, tasty butter. The only choices of vegetable, by the way, were spinach or (are you ready?) edamame -– an utterly inappropriate side dish because they are eaten with the fingers. Dessert presented the thorny dilemma of choosing ice milk or sherbet. Service was rushed and faltering, more New Jersey diner than Old World restaurant.
Sweet was the evening’s single flavor theme, a scandalous absence of food awareness completely consistent with bad middle-American eating habits and completely inconsistent with sustained slimness.
Just before he committed some serious breach of etiquette, Mr. Henry grabbed his faithful consort and sprinted for the car. In half an hour he was embracing a draught Guinness in the basement of The Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, MA, listening to a pleasant imitation of James Taylor, and enjoying the scuffed, quirky, Yankee authenticity of it all. Though the hallways creak, the beds do not.
At breakfast in the lovely old Dining Room, The Red Lion serves the finest oatmeal imaginable, accompanied by a maple syrup that actually contained a goodly modicum of boiled tree sap.