The Pennsylvania resort and spa offers a sweet escape any time of year.
By Kelly A. Magyarics
The Hotel Hershey’s “Chocolate-Covered February” promotion may be over, and Hershey Park isn’t open yet for the season. No matter. When is it ever not a great time to go to the oasis of all-things-cocoa? Plan a weekend this spring to indulge your body and soul at the mecca that candy built.
The Hotel Hershey offers 276 rooms in its main building, decorated in a classic style with original artwork and historic photos. Select one king, one queen or two queen beds, or choose one of 20 premier suites with a variety of floor plans. With your room key at check-in comes a choice of milk chocolate or dark chocolate in the form of (what else?) a Hershey Bar or Hershey Special Dark. It’s a nice touch and just one of many opportunities for chocoholics to indulge with overflowing bowls of candy set out all around the public areas and during turn-down service, which includes Hershey Kisses atop pillows.
A few minutes’ walk from the main building, 10 cottages with multiple rooms (48 total rooms) border dense woods with nearby walking and fitness trails. Cottage interiors feature marble bathrooms and native stone hearths. Guests have the option of renting individual bedrooms or the entire (four- or six-bedroom) cottage. Its great room is a perfect spot for parties and gatherings and features a fireplace, cathedral ceilings, antique wood floors, exterior porch, dining table and a kitchenette with a wet bar, refrigerator, Keurig coffee maker, sink and microwave.
I’ve stayed twice at the Hotel Hershey, in both the main building and in a cottage suite. Each offers a unique experience. Rooms in the main building are conveniently located near most of the restaurants, shops and the spa. But while they are decorated in an historic style that fits in with the rest of the property and the history behind Milton Hershey and his empire, some hotel rooms seem a bit cramped. The bathroom in my most recent stay was particularly tight. The cottages are definitely a more luxurious option, with upscale furnishings and touches, a tranquil patio and pretty forest views. However, aside from Harvest restaurant adjacent to the cottages and the seasonal pool complex, other amenities are a walk away. However, a shuttle to the main building is provided; simply dial from your room for door-to-door service.
The Chocolate Spa remains undoubtedly one of the hotel’s biggest draws. Its size feels like a chocolate factory at times. With 54 treatment rooms, it’s a popular spot for groups, couples and families. Though weekends are obviously the busiest time, it’s really hit or miss. During my first stay during the fall a few years ago, the spa and relaxation rooms were packed on a Saturday afternoon. A recent Saturday in late February had more of a relaxed vibe.
The spa’s design is inspired by High Point Mansion, the former home of Milton and Catherine Hershey. From his home, the entrepreneur was able to view his factory. The reception area’s backdrop is a replica of one of the mansion’s stained glass windows. The spa landings are marble and all the treatment rooms have hardwood floors with light yellow walls — one of Catherine’s favorite colors.
Several rooms allow spa guests to relax pre- or post-treatment. The Quiet Room is the largest, yet the coziest, with pecan wainscoting and a fireplace with suspended beams. Here you can sip a cup of tea, coffee, citrus-infused water or hot chocolate. The Aromatherapy Inhalation Room is a great spot to breathe deeply, yet its small size means that it tends to get overrun with chatty groups. For complete quiet bliss, head to the Silent Relaxation Room where there are plenty of lounge chairs and lots of space to zone out (or nap, as several spa-goers were doing during my recent stay.)
Though several treatments feature chocolate, including the Cocoa Massage, Chocolate Sugar Scrub and Whipped Cocoa bath, only one treatment includes an edible product. On my most recent visit, I opted for Hershey’s new Cocoa Facial Experience ($170 Monday to Thursday, $180 Friday to Sunday / 75 minutes), which in addition to the steam, exfoliation and moisturizers of a regular facial, includes an edible chocolate mask from Bernard Cassière’s line of skincare products from Paris. My aesthetician told me that I would know when she was applying it, as she would put some on my lips with a wooden stick (at which time I would be invited to lick it off.) After my facial, she set the jar with the remains of the chocolate mask on the counter along with the wooden stick. Glowing skin and a mid-afternoon caffeine and sugar pick-me-up? What could be better?
The hotel’s signature restaurant, The Circular, underwent a complete renovation in 2013. It did retain its shape, which Mr. Hershey requested when it was originally built, both to eliminate obstructed views as well as to avoid putting solo diners in corners. The renovation installed a handsome, striking circular bar, which is the hotel’s top spot for well-crafted cocktails (as well as liquid desserts). The Prohibition-inspired Apothecary ($13) stirs Death’s Door Gin with orange liqueur, Vieux Carré Absinthe, Lillet and lemon. The Traveler ($12) mingles a double chocolate Bourbon base with Aperol, Sweet Vermouth, B&B, orange juice and Aztec chocolate bitters. As an added bonus, the circular bar also houses the prep area for desserts, so you can sip a Manhattan while watching the pastry chefs put the finishing touches on their molten chocolate cake.
The Iberian Lounge is a dark, cozy, sumptuous spot for a beer, chocolate cocktail, barrel-aged Manhattan or glass of wine. It also has a decent Scotch selection to sip by the fire and live music on Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. (Check the schedule. Depending on the musician playing, the space can be a bit loud for conversation.)
All of the bars at the Hotel Hershey celebrate “Hoppy” Hour every day. From 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., enjoy local favorites from the Lancaster Brewing Company and nearby Tröegs Brewing Company for $3 (see below for tour info.)
Trevi 5 is one of five restaurants and features a contemporary twist on traditional Italian cuisine in a casual setting that’s a fun spot for lunch. Don’t miss the charcuterie ($14 small, $24 large), with bresaola, sopressata and culatello, and a variety of cheeses including sharp piave from the Veneto — the small platter can be easily enjoyed with two or three people. Black mussels with house-made hot Italian sausage ($12) is another standout. Served with a roasted red pepper sauce and grilled bread for sopping up the sauce, the plump and juicy bivalves make a sharable meal (or not) with a frisée, arugula and radicchio salad with herbed olives, smoked prosciutto and a citrus vinaigrette ($10). Wash it down with a glass of Gavi or Sangiovese, or a cold draft of Italian beer Peroni.
Get dressed up for dinner at The Circular, whose menu features some subtle touches of the sweet stuff. Start with the signature cocoa dusted scallops ($12) served with butternut squash, black garlic purée and maitake mushrooms. The braised short ribs ($30) is a seasonal favorite. Plated with stone-ground grits, cipollini onions, roasted tomato and mustard demi, it is fall-off-the-bone succulence.
Our favorite dish during our recent stay (and the overwhelming favorite suggestion of our veteran server) was the perfectly seared and marbled 18-ounce prime cowboy ribeye ($49). Enjoy it solo, or dip it into The Circular’s steak sauce, horseradish béarnaise or shallot red wine sauce. Don’t forget a side of local Chester County mushrooms ($6), a mélange of royal trumpet, oyster, shiitake and cremini varieties sautéed with herbs and olive oil. The wine list has a lot of crowd-pleasing favorites, as well as off-the-beaten-path options. Some are available by the half-bottle. At the end of the meal, admittedly a bit tired of the chocolate, we eschewed the usual suspects for the eclectic, Asian-inspired sun-dried warm plum cake ($9), served with brown butter ice cream, ginger Anglaise, sugar plums and sake foam. It all worked together seamlessly.
Though The Circular is also a popular spot for Sunday brunch, we skipped the buffet and headed for coffee, blueberry muffins and the Sunday paper at The Cocoa Beanery, and lunch at the seasonal, farm-to-table Harvest. Adjacent to the woodside cottages, Harvest is rustic, classic and modern all at the same time, with exposed stone fireplaces, lots of windows and natural light, a large bar and a game room with pool tables and shuffleboard. Our server steered us toward the she crab soup ($8). However, we would have enjoyed its flavorful, umami-rich broth even more had there been more than just a hint of crab. There was no shortage of shellfish in the lobster Cobb salad ($17). I never imagined you could improve on a Cobb salad until I saw succulent lobster mounded on top. If your sweet tooth is craving just a little something at the end of the meal, order a trio of dessert shooters ($8). We were partial to the peanut butter that came with chocolate cake, peanut butter filling, chocolate sauce and peanut crunch, and the seasonal spiced pear, with spice cake, poached pear, cream cheese mousse and ginger caramel sauce. Both ended the weekend on a decidedly sweet note.
For more information about The Hotel Hershey, visit their website. Note that the indoor pool is closed for renovations until May 23; guests are invited to use the pool at the Hershey Lodge, which is about a 10-minute drive away.
Beyond the hotel grounds, there is a lot to see and do in the town of Hershey. Here are a few highlights:
The free, continuously running 15-minute tram is a simulated ride through the Hershey chocolate factory that ends with a candy sample. Add to your experience with paid attractions including the “Create-Your-Own-Candy-Bar,” a “Really Big 3D” show and a “Chocolate Tasting Adventure,” a multimedia discussion of chocolate lore. End your visit with a trip to the massive store, where you can find classic favorites as well as products you might never have seen. (Be sure to return with a bar or two of Scharffen Berger, Hershey’s foray into high-end chocolate.)
The Hershey Story
This interactive museum attractively and effectively tells the rags-to-riches story of Milton Hershey, who stepped away from a successful caramel business to focus on chocolate. Guests of The Hotel Hershey receive free admission to the museum; otherwise, adult admission is $10. Combine admission with a 45-minute, interactive chocolate lab class experience for an additional $7.
Tröegs Brewing Company
The craft brewery relocated from Harrisburg to new, larger digs in the middle of Hershey. Though you can do a self-guided tour, try to reserve a spot online ($5 per person, including beer tastings and a souvenir glass) for the guided tour, during which one of the brewery’s knowledgeable staffmembers schools you in the process of making beer, ending with a tasting of Tröeg’s most popular options (we love the Nugget Nectar and the JavaHead Stout). Afterward, head to the industrial-looking bar and restaurant for a flight and light fare (poutine at a brewpub? Yes, please). The onsite shop is a must for six packs to go, T-shirts and other paraphernalia.
Kelly Magyarics is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.