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Rejuvenating the "wrapper'

"We treat (the body) like a wrapper, instead of thinking of it as an organ in need of our assistance, like a heart or lungs," says Thor Holm, director of the spa at the Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa.

Aided by his staff of 40 licensed therapists and aestheticians, Holm educates vacationers, conference participants and residents of nearby Fort Myers about body work available at his 40,000-square-foot fitness center, which the Conde Nast Traveler reader poll has twice anointed as one of the top 10 U.S. spas.

"What we're about is renewal, rejuvenation and relaxation," Holm said.

Of course, I didn't take him at his word. I spent a week being rubbed and wrapped, buffed and polished, steamed and creamed. I was even massaged by sound waves _ but more about that later.

The services at the spa include six types of massage (full body, back and shoulder, therapeutic, aromatherapy, reflexology and sports), three wraps (herbal, algae, and milk and honey), a body polish, manicures, five types of facials, a scrub for the back, pedicures and a salt rub.

Spagoers may spend time in a sauna, a steam room, hot and cold plunge pools, a lap pool, 10 whirlpools and a lively Swiss shower, during which 17 shower heads at all levels enthusiastically spew water that ranges from cold to warm to hot, and back again. I laughed all through my Swiss shower.

About half the people who come to Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa, say spa officials, are familiar with body work and consider it an important part of a healthful lifestyle that also includes exercise and good nutrition. I signed up for a body polish, an aromatherapy body massage, a European facial, a milk and honey wrap, a Swedish massage, an aromatherapy scalp massage and a manicure.

Hey, it's hard work relaxing, but body work has many benefits. Body polishes exfoliate the skin and increase circulation, leaving you with softer, smoother skin than ever before. Massages relax tenseness and also improve circulation, helping to move toxins out of the body. The wraps recondition and moisturize the skin.

When you have an appointment at the spa, you show up a few minutes early. In the women's spa (I assume the men's is similar), you store your clothing in the spacious locker room and don a terry robe and slippers provided by the spa. Then you sit in a small waiting area, where you sip raspberry herbal tea and compare spa-induced ecstasies with other participants waiting for their appointments.

Among the women I met were four sisters from three states and their 82-year-old mother, come to the spa for a good time. "We're here to rejoice in the love of family and to relax and enjoy ourselves," said one sister as the others compared reports on their respective hydrotherapies, facials and manicures.

Perhaps the most interesting room is the one in which spagoers can partake of a musical massage. A technician helps you duck under a geodesic dome and up onto a bed suspended from the dome by chains. You settle in, the lights go down, and sound waves from music played through 18 speakers under, over and around the bed "massage" you for 50 minutes. I opted for a combination of traditional Irish music, flute music and sounds from nature, such as rainfall, birds and ocean waves. I still don't understand exactly why, but the experience was remarkable.

The spa also includes a fully equipped fitness center, with Keiser/Icarian weights, exercise bikes, stair climbers, treadmills, Lifecycles, rowers and free weights. Fitness evaluations, nutrition assessments, nutritional counseling, personal training and stress management sessions are available. The athletically inclined also may participate in water aerobics, floor aerobics, stretching, yoga, tennis, racquetball, golf, boating and fishing. You can rent water scooters, too, or kayak through the mangroves on the resort's property.

Chef Marwan Kassem oversees all food preparation. Low-fat spa cuisine and regular meals are available; among the better dishes I tried were baked snapper stuffed with crabmeat, a poached salmon salad and conch soup.

Just a short walk across a wooden bridge from the spa is the hotel, which houses guests in 240 rooms and suites and 84 two-bedroom condominiums. Many rooms overlook the water, and, as a bonus, dolphins often come into the bay, feeding just yards offshore.

Three outdoor swimming pools offer an attractive alternative to swimming in San Carlos Bay, where the water is murky from nearby mangroves and full of seaweed. One lazy afternoon as I bobbed around in the pool by the condo tower closest to the hotel, a man on a raft floated by, snoring softly. It's that kind of place.

If you go

Getting there: If you don't want to drive south on Interstate 75 to Fort Myers and then head west to Sanibel, you can fly to Fort Myers on several airlines. The hotel will arrange shuttle service from the airport _ about a 20-minute trip _ for $15 per person each way.

Hotel rates: The Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa offers several spa packages, which include hotel room, assorted spa services, unlimited use of the spa facilities and fitness center, and unlimited participation in exercise classes.

Rooms alone are $265 to $329 per night, plus 9 percent tax, from Dec. 27 through April 18; rates then drop from $80 to $100 a night through May 31 and an additional $50 or so per night through Sept. 30. A Kid's Klub provides daily activities for children ages 5 to 12.

For more information: Call (800) 767-7777, e-mail to shrssanibel-resort.com, or visit the hotel's Web site (http://www.sanibel-resort.com).

Up next:THE TIN MAN

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