Corrections or additions?
This article by Sally Friedman was prepared for the
September 22, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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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