Corrections or additions?

This article by Sally Friedman was prepared for the

September 22, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights

reserved.

European Spa in . . . Harrisburg?

‘You’re going . . . WHERE for . . . WHAT?"

That was the oft-heard refrain as we mentioned our plans

to spend a weekend at a resort/spa in Harrisburg – yes,

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Nobody seemed too impressed with

our judgment. But in our ongoing search for places that

offer R&R, but aren’t more than a couple of hours from

home, the name "Felicita" (translation: "great joy") had

leaped out at us from a random brochure that

serendipitously arrived in our mailbox at the precise time

we were desperate for some down-time. And while I’m not

such a babe in the travel woods, and I know that brochures

can lie, lie, lie, the photographs of magnificent gardens

on this one drew me instantly.

"Are those gardens at your property?" I demanded of the

pleasant desk clerk who fielded my first call. They looked

far too splendid to be in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Obviously, that clerk had heard the same question often.

"Yes," I was told. And I was gently advised to come see

for myself.

Which is how it came to pass that two sensible,

semi-seasoned travelers were making their way across the

Pennsylvania Turnpike on an early summer weekend, headed

for a place called Felicita and its gardens. My husband

had already laid it on the line: if this was a disaster,

he was prepared to jump ship, and head right back home. I

promised I’d be right with him.

If you like your endings close to the beginning, then be

advised that Felicita turned out to be one of the most

splendid destinations we have encountered in our years of

traveling the turnpike of life together. This is a place

that actually looks more gorgeous in person than in

pictures. And you know how rare that can be.

Admittedly, our initial impression was not promising. Once

off the turnpike, we traveled rural roads past modest

homes, figuring surely we’d been had. This certainly

didn’t look like the region where a lush resort/spa would

be. But at the small Felicia sign, we turned up a narrow

road, wound around several bends, and discovered a rustic

lodge at the crest of a hill.

Nice – but still no cigar.

Not until we got out of the car to register did we glimpse

the vista below us, and all around us. Voluptuous green

slopes – magnificent views everywhere we turned – assured

us that at least scenic beauty would be our weekend

companion.

We were later to discover a whole lot more.

Felicita feels like the summer camp you never went to. The

"bunks" in this case are far too nice to have been your

summer home at Camp Whatever – yet they have the rugged

look and feel that makes you want to put your feet on the

furniture, at least symbolically.

Our "lodge," as Felicita’s units are called, was perfectly

lovely: upscale furnishings of the Shaker look and feel,

pleasant carpeting underfoot, a walk-in shower, chic

bedspread, smooth-as-silk sheets, and a dressing area. But

this was clearly not the Four Seasons or the Ritz, and was

never intended to be. At Felicita, you can carry your own

luggage – but you’re also greeted as if you’re at least a

diplomat or captain of industry. You’re pretty much left

on your own – but there’s still some lovely pampering in

the lodge room, the spa facility, and the restaurants.

"Join us on our tour of the gardens tomorrow morning," a

desk clerk suggested. And we’ll be forever grateful that

we took that suggestion. In our experience, the gardens at

Felicita rival any we haveseen anywhere – including

Europe.

The Italian Garden, as it is known, is a stone’s throw

from the rustic lodgings of Felicita – and light years

removed. Visitors literally gasp when they first encounter

this extraordinary monument to beauty. Dramatically

terraced, the garden is a testament to one man’s

magnificent obsession. That man is Richard Angino, the

lawyer-owner of Felicita, whose story is already a folk

legend in central Pennsylvania. The youngest of seven

children, left fatherless as a child, Angino ultimately

found his way to Franklin & Marshall College and Villanova

Law School on scholarships, and became a well-known

Harrisburg litigator.

Back in the 1970s, he purchased 50 acres of farmland, then

barren, and began working on beautifying it. Angino will

tell you himself – and he loves to mingle with his guests

– that his beautification project took over his life, and

still does. Twenty sprawling, themed gardens now exist

where once there were none, and the Italian is Angino’s

piece de resistance.

Six years in the making, Renaissance II, as the Italian

Garden at Felicita is known, encompasses eight acres and

chronicles 2,000 years of Italian gardening design, from

the classical era through to the modern era. Symmetry is

one of its hallmarks, along with the abundant use of

water, geometrical plantings and paths, and decorative

fountains and statuary. Walls eight feet high and 120 feet

long surround this epic sight, which draws visitors from

the international landscape world and complete gardening

novices alike.

From the Renaissance II garden’s breathtaking entry with

its elongated pastel stone steps, its gently rising slopes

with olive and fruit trees to simulate the Italian

countryside and its oval pond at the fourth terrace level,

this is like nothing most of us have ever encountered. No

wonder it’s the site of weddings, corporate parties, and

VIGs – Very Important Gatherings.

The morning after we had viewed the Italian Gardens at

Felicita, we were first in line for more garden touring.

Our guide understood our astonishment at the sprawling

Alpine garden created by Angino and his wife, Alice,

around seven small hills featuring everything from pines

to bursts of rhododendrons and daffodils. An intimate

Monet garden replicates the famous painter’s water garden

at Giverny, with lilies, willows, and cypress in

abundance. A Japanese garden, spare and serene, even has

its own teahouse.

The soul-soothing natural beauty of Felicita seeps in. My

husband and I felt so relaxed that we almost passed on the

spa services that were part of our escape weekend – and

that would have been a mistake. Our midafternoon massages

were divine in an inviting space once occupied by a nudist

camp, and my choice of a subsequent mineral salt scrub

that left my skin feeling closer to its former state than

I can ever remember was more balm for the soul.

We celebrated Felicita’s bounty and beauty at the resort’s

elegant golf course restaurant across the road on the

grounds of the resort’s sprawling golf course. That

course, incidentally, has inspired Angino further. He has

enveloped it in his garden theme, complete with a Zen rock

garden at the opening hole. The food for the body rivals

the food for the soul, even though the latter lingers

longer. It was gorgeously presented in an atmosphere that

whispers of elegance.

Yes, all this in Harrisburg. We, of course, had the last

laugh when we returned home to report to all the naysayers

that Felicita had been not just as advertised; it had been

far, far better.

Which is why we plan to go back to its embrace sooner

rather than later. Because for world-weary travelers,

Felicita did, indeed, translate into great joy.

– Sally Friedman

Felicita, 2201 Fishing Creek Valley Road, Harrisburg. PA.

888-321-3713. Www.felicitaresort.com

Rates vary by season. A special Sunday/Monday night

package (2 nights) is $494 for double occupancy, and

includes 2 spa services and all taxes and gratuities.


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