Two Bunch Palms, Desert Hot Spring
There are plenty of opulent resorts scattered between the adjacent California desert communities of Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, and Palm Desert. Luxury, service, and first class amenities are their trademarks. But there is one unique resort down a dusty side road in Desert Hot Springs with none of those "trademarks" - and yet it is the destination of choice of many desert spa enthusiasts.
Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa (800-472-4334) is perhaps a destination that is unknown to many. They don't advertise. Most guests are repeat visitors or discover the place by word-of-mouth. At first comparison to the full service, upscale resorts of Palm Springs, Two Bunch seems overpriced. Room rates run from $275 to $665. But there are plenty of room and spa treatment packages and discounts for repeat guests, that make the cost of a stay here more attractive.
Two Bunch is hidden away and, appropriate to its name, is set amid two groves of giant palms fed by underground hot springs. It's a relaxation spa, not "a get in shape" spa. There are no work-out classes here. No exercise machines. It is obviously not a place for everybody. If you can't relax unless you're dripping in luxury, if you expect room service, or a waiter to bring you a pina colada at poolside, this is not your kind of destination.
Legend has it that the original house on the property was built in the late '20's by Al Capone. The house remains part of the resort today and is, appropriate to the tale, called the Capone suite. In the '50's another building was built - an illegal casino with a downstairs brothel. But as decades passed, the owners realized that this secluded desert destination with its natural mineral hot springs could be a viable legal enterprise and Two Bunch gradually legitimized into the resort it is today. It's an oasis set on 56 acres, surrounded by 200 acres of desert. The casino is now a lounge and restaurant. There's a man-made lake, a swimming pool, two tennis courts, the "grotto" hot mineral water pool, and forty-five guest rooms. Twelve have private patios with their own outdoor spas.
Two Bunch is an adults only resort. And though not technically a clothing optional resort, there are plenty of little pockets on the property, where - with discretion - you can sunbath nude. There are also some worn, yet unique remnants of 1960's spa life scattered about the property. They're called "sun bins" - enclosed raised bins where you can sunbath naked. I had to be educated on the protocol of using sun bins and this is it. If you don't want anyone to stumble across you as you sunbath naked "in private," you throw your towel over the door. However, if you are open to someone discovering you naked sunbathing outdoors, then of course, you don't throw your towel over the door. The sun bins don't get used much anymore. They're not well maintained. And the 60's are long gone.
What Two Bunch sells is relaxation, solitude, and privacy. A guard gate reassures guests here that no "lookie loos" will be visiting. Although they offer the usual types of massage and pampering available in major resorts, they also offer unique spa treatments.
"Watsu" treatments have you floating in a four-foot deep mineral pool, supported by floaties, with your therapist standing alongside you performing a choice of techniques - massage, reflexology, stretching, accupressure.
With the "crystal sonic treatment," you sit on a massage table surrounded by eight crystal balls all vibrating at the same time with your therapist chanting and playing the didgeridoo. It's a sound wave body tune. Nobody actually touches you.
The "mud bath" is perhaps the best way to start out at Two Bunch. You go from initial disgust at being totally covered in what looks like "you know what" to quickly moving into a whimsical, peaceful, childlike state.
There are several dozen other therapies in Two Bunch's exotic spa menu - paraffin treatments, Egyptian clay wraps, salt rubs, ayurvedic oil treatments, aromatherapies, and more.
Their Casino restaurant is an unspa restaurant. While there are a few health conscious items on the menu, this is a place where you can order "John Wayne" food - filet mignon, a martini, and chocolate cake. But I must admit I didn't eat there. I spent the evening window shopping along the Rodeo Drive of Palm Desert called El Paseo and had dinner at a quaint restaurant hidden in a corner of the Palm Desert Town Center. The Magnolia Restaurant (760-340-3331) has simple décor, intimate outdoor seating, and wonderful continental cuisine that you can watch its creative, young chef, Aaron Christopher, prepare on closed circuit t.v.
Two Bunch is a place where you come to relax. There are no formalities there. Guests walk casually about all day in bathrobes or shorts. You would be accurate in describing its setting as bohemian or shabby chic. But if you want an "experience" with spa treatments that range from traditional to extraordinary, this is a good choice. If you've only got two or three days to unwind before another long business trip, this is the place. If you want to rejuvenate a romance or start one, consider a visit. And while every other desert resort has golf courses and country club ambiance, Two Bunch still looks like a destination well suited to Chicago gangsters and Hollywood celebrities in search of steaming mineral pools and privacy.