Bergamos is not just any other spa.
The Blow Dry Bar at Bergamos spa.
The couples treatment room at Bergamos spa.
Gharieni Libra Water Table at Bergamos spa.
Marylyn Reed owns Bergamos Retreat.
Salt stones are carefully placed in a treatment at Bergamos Retreat.
Women gather in the Bergamos Retreat.
Bergamos Retreat has its own wine bar.
Longing for a cool, quiet escape from Houston’s sweltering heat — a luxurious getaway when you only have a few hours to spare? Take an afternoon off and treat yourself to a restorative spa day quite unlike anything we’ve experienced this close to home.
Bergamos Retreat is the largest freestanding day spa in Texas (a whooping 22,000 square feet), situated at the halfway point between downtown Houston and Galveston in Friendswood. Its story is as compelling as the indulgent and innovative services it offers.
Bergamos was launched in 2001 by Marylyn Reed, heir and great-granddaughter of Mary Kay, who founded the wildly successful cosmetics brand in Dallas in 1963. The business of beauty and wellness obviously runs through this family tree. Reed once maintained two Bergamos spas: the original Friendswood location and a second at the corner of Kirby and Westheimer in Houston, which opened in 2003 but closed five years later.
The Friendswood spa was a fraction of its current size. Two years ago, Reed began construction on an adjoining building to increase its footprint — but Hurricane Harvey hit hard in August, and the spa was decimated, drenched with 22 inches of floodwater. So she did what her great-grandmother might have done.
“We set up temporary shop nearby and, within a week every employee was back to work,” Reed says. All the while, she made furious plans to rebuild bigger and better than before.
Reed was inspired by her great-grandmother’s entrepreneurial start three generations earlier, when Mary Kay was married to an executive of Stanley Home Products and worked in the company to train the largely male work force.
“Time and time again, she witnessed those very men being promoted to managerial roles, even executive positions, while she was passed over,” Reed says. “Retiring in her early forties, she thought she’d write a book on the experience, but what she ended up actually writing was a business plan for Mary Kay Cosmetics.”
Reed poured $6.5 million into the renovation and expansion of Bergamos. Over the years, she traveled to top spas throughout the United States and Europe, determined to elevate the spa experience back home.
“I went to those spas and left thinking, ‘I could do that. I could do it well and even better,’ ” she says. Early on, she even secured a massage license, to better understand the finer points of body therapies and wellness and make her better attuned to the needs of her therapists and clients. As a result, Reed doesn’t allow her massage therapists to work more than six hours a day or 30 hours a week.
“It’s a physically taxing job, and I don’t want them to be exhausted on the seventh hour and for the customer to have less of an experience,” she says.
She commissioned Houston-based Bennett Design Group to fashion the interiors of the new Friendswood location in a neutral palette with marble and mosaic tiles and a subtle glint of silver and gold. The water-centric theme was inspired by the Italian city of Bergamo and the Roman-style baths that were prominent throughout the centuries, where whole-body wellness is a natural part of the European existence.
The Bergamos Spa Experience
I check into Bergamos on a Friday morning, planning to spend the day wrapped in a plush robe. First on my agenda is an 80-minute oxygen skincare treatment with LED light ($325) performed by spa director Donna Savelle, a 15-year Bergamos veteran. She personally trains all the aestheticians who perform facials at the spa, ranging from advanced skincare treatments such as resurfacing with growth factor ($400) to the much-touted Green Peel by Dr. Schrammek ($250 to $400).
Savelle doesn’t whiz through the essential first step: cleansing. Instead, she massages the surface of your skin, feeling for any milia or signs of trouble lurking beneath. A gentle exfoliating mask follows the cleaning, then she applies heat to open the pores and extracts anything clogging. Next comes the oxygen, which feels like a breeze cooling your face under an LED light. Savelle concentrates the wand strategically, targeting cleared pores to speed their repair, then moves on to diminish any tiny broken capillaries.
While my skin glows and feels plump minutes afterwards, I’m told the effects of oxygen therapy are cumulative and reputed to last up to a month.
Next, I settle down for a 50-minute massage ($130). Unlike any deep-muscle rubdown I’ve had before, this one is performed on an inverted, zero-gravity table filled with fine, heated amethyst quartz crystals. As I relax between soft sheets, the therapist moves around my body, massaging my tight tendons and muscles to ease away points of tension.
As she finishes an area, she mounds those warm, fine crystals beneath it, creating a cocoon that envelops each limb, similar to an ancient Egyptian sand technique reported to ease fibromyalgia and arthritis. She couples this with a poultice stamp (a tight cloth bag filled with more of the warm crystals) which she presses firmly against the knots in my shoulders and neck, slowly untying them.
Next is a whole body scrub. The 45-minute Limoncello scrub ($120) is performed atop the Libra, an innovative suspended water table developed by the German firm Gharieni — the only one of its kind in the U.S., save for the company’s own showroom. As I lie on an air-filled mattress, six rainfall showerheads are poised strategically above. Reina, my therapist, programs the computerized nozzles to create a sequential stream of pulsating water, targeting different areas of my body.
Suspending the massaging water spigots on one area, she spreads a lemon-scented scrub, sloughing off dead skin cells, stimulating the circulatory system, and leaving behind polished, moisturized limbs. The rhythmic dance of the water droplets lulls me into a deeper sense of relaxation, too.
After a light lunch of poblano soup and grilled chicken salad ($14) at the chef-driven restaurant downstairs (which incidentally serves wine and beer and caters parties in- house), I venture into the salt cave. Here, glowing pinkish Himalayan salt bricks line the walls, lit from behind. Four inviting chairs allow you to sit for up to 45 minutes to relax, read, meditate and take in the negatively charged ions that fill the calm environment.
A Halo generator grinds pharmaceutical-grade salt into micro-particles and disperses them through the air. They’re so tiny, you can’t even perceive them. Breathe deeply, and their antibacterial and antimicrobial properties are purported to ease chronic sinus infections, asthma and exposure to high levels of pollution. The dry salt air disinfects the respiratory system and reduces inflammation throughout the body.
Whether you book a mani-pedi, makeup lesson, a blowout, or one of the 100-plus spa offerings in the 18 treatment rooms and couple suites, every guest (male or female) is invited to soak in a single-sex bubbling saltwater pool or enjoy a sauna or steam room.
Just think: Your one-day spa getaway is just a moderate Uber ride away.
Bergamos Retreat, 313 E Edgewood Dr., Friendswood