By Pati Navalta
Sheila is someone I had spoken to every day for nearly nine months of the pandemic. We laughed, cried, shared deep thoughts about our life journeys, and sometimes just exchanged trivial details of our daily lives—like her new eating habits and my affinity for (and growing dependence on) Reese’s peanut butter cups, brought on by COVID-19.
But here’s the thing: Sheila and I had never met in person.
We were connected professionally during the height of isolation and our interactions were limited to the Zoom squares and sometimes whimsical filters that framed our curated faces. I had no idea how tall she was, how she looked from the neck down, or what it felt like to have real girls’ time with her without worrying about the quality of my wi-fi that day.
So on June 15, when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted throughout the state, we decided to change that—and I knew just the place. We would meet at one of the last places I visited before the pandemic hit: Claremont Club & Spa, the iconic property located in the Oakland Hills. Part of the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Collection, this is a location that screams girls’ day—from its scenic outdoor dining overlooking the bay, to its soul-embracing spa. And if you’re looking for a perfect place to re-emerge into society after our collective hiatus, this, too, is the perfect place to make your debut.
We decided to start our day with the weekend brunch at The Limewood Bar & Restaurant, led by Chef Joseph Patie. I arrived a bit early and secured the perfect table facing the water and San Francisco’s skyline. I ordered an Aperol spritz while I waited for her and looked over the brunch menu: grapefruit brûlée; peach & kale salad; Berkeley smash burger; and other enticing choices. I was fixated on the omelet, with fromage blanc, shitaki mushrooms and herbs—so much so that I nearly missed Sheila’s entry as she walked out onto the terrace. There she was, her lovely Zoom head attached to an actual body. We shared a tight hug and wide smiles because it was more than about a girls’ day—it was about real human connection after a long year and a half of going without.
The next hour was filled with laughs and amazing food. We both indulged in the same order, omelet with a side of chicken sausage. Next time, I promise myself, I would try the buttermilk fried chicken & skillet pancake. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, featuring ingredients from Northern California’s pantry. Also on property is East Bay Provisions, also led by Chef Patie, which showcases daily bread specials. Signature pastries, gourmet sandwiches and hand-selected wines.
Of course, no girls’ day is complete without spa treatments, and The Fairmont Spa at the Claremont awaited. The staff, it seemed, was just as excited to see us as we were to see them, having endured their own shut down of the facilities. I had the great fortune of getting a massage from one of their most requested massage therapists—and I quickly learned why. My 50-minute therapeutic relaxation massage was unlike any massage I’ve ever had (and I’ve had quite a few). Perhaps it’s because I haven’t had a massage since the pandemic, I thought, but no, this woman had healing hands. “I call these COVID knots,” she said, as she kneaded my dormant muscles back to life.
While some amenities remain closed for now, the spa is fully open and functioning otherwise, including locker rooms, lounges, stream rooms and bathing showers. Massage treatments include: muscle recovery deep tissue; therapeutic; and expecting mother-to-be—all with 50- to 80-minute options. In addition, facial treatments will also be available starting July 9.
Sheila and I met back at the locker room in our fluffy white robes after our treatments and let out a sigh. “I think she changed my life,” I said, after she asked me how my treatment went. And I meant it.
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught me, it’s that human connection and human touch goes a long way, whether it’s laughing with a dear friend on a terrace overlooking this place we call home, or feeling the healing hands of a great therapist on your weary back.
No filters or virtual backgrounds can ever replace that.
41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley, 510.843.3000. fairmont.com
Photos courtesy of Claremont Club & Spa.