Cities, suburbs, middle of nowhere- spas are ubiquitous in the Valley today. Before you head off for a little pampering, here are some things you need to know.
Spas are springing up all over the Valley.
But before you head off for a day of pampering, there are a few things you should know
by Anitra Brown
Four very masculine guys strode into the fitness room at the Spa at Mohonk Mountain House, the swanky new $13 million facility that opened last August. “Hey Joe, we’re going to the sitz bath,” called out one. “Wanna come?” But their friend was busy working out. So the group, dressed in ankle-length white robes, turned as one on their slippered heels and left.
It’s just one more sign of spas going mainstream. In 1987, there were only 40 spas in the entire country, according to the International Spa Association of America. Now there are more than that in the Hudson Valley alone. The nation as a whole has an astounding 12,150.
But there’s a good deal of confusion about what a spa really is, in part because in the U.S. they started as “fat farms” — somewhere you went for a week to lose weight — and have evolved into something more sprawling and complex. Further, salon owners like the sound of the word spa, and sometimes call their business a “day spa” when all they have
is a couple of rooms off a busy hair salon.
“Many of them are not truly spas,” says Marlene Weber, a pioneer of the day-spa movement in New York and owner of two spas in Dutchess County. “You need candles and slippers and food and robes and tea, which you don’t need with haircuts. It needs to be quiet. The demeanor is completely different.”
So how do you make sure you’ll get the kind of spa experience you’re looking for? It helps if you understand the major types of spas.
As its name suggests, a day spa is where you go for the day (or part of it) to get massage, facials, and body treatments like sea salt scrubs and mud wraps. They’re called day spas because, unlike the original spas, you don’t spend the night. Day spas, which account for most of the growth in spas, come in a huge range of styles and personalities. For instance, Diane Ryan’s Asian-style One Body Spa is in an addition off her home in the woods near Accord, in Ulster County. Mohonk’s only massage therapist back in 1990, Ryan sticks to spa treatments — no haircuts or nail services— and does most of the treatments herself, including hard-to-find Dr. Hauschka facials.
On the other hand, Kimberley’s, A Day Spa, is an 18,000-square-foot stone-clad extravaganza in Latham, Albany County, with lots of unusual services and cutting-edge equipment, including hydrotherapy tubs that use colored lights to balance your body’s chakras, or energy centers. Like many day spas, Kimberley’s has a hair salon and nail studio, which is fine as long as the facilities are sufficiently separate to maintain the proper spa atmosphere.
A resort spa is located in a resort (like the Spa at Mohonk Mountain House). Some of the country’s most lavish spas are housed in hotels or resorts, because they’re a major draw for guests. The catch is that they are there primarily for guests, who take precedence. (Mohonk, however, lets locals book treatments Monday to Thursday, within three days of the appointment, and also offers an “After Work Special” that gets you 10 percent off between 5:30 and 8 p.m. There’s also a weekday “Meal and Massage” package.) Resort spas usually include exercise classes and healthy food choices, but taking advantage of them is entirely at your discretion. You can be as bad as you want to be — get a massage, then pig out on porterhouse and Pinot Noir.
A destination spa attracts people who are truly dedicated to their health — or at least think they should be. It serves nothing but spa cuisine, offers a complete schedule of exercise classes, and helps you learn more about healthy living with lectures and meditation instruction. Some don’t serve any alcohol, or even coffee. This is a select group — just 18 American spas belong to the Destination Spa Group, including the ultra-famous, ultra-expensive Canyon Ranch Lenox (in the Berkshires) and Golden Door in California. But two of them are in the Valley, both nestled in the Catskills. The rustic New Age Health Spa in Neversink, Sullivan County, consistently wins awards for “best value,” while the small Copperhood Inn & Spa in Shandaken, Ulster County, is located on a pretty stretch of the Esopus River. Meanwhile, Vatra Mountain Valley Health Resort in Hunter, Greene County, is a simple throwback to the old “fat farm” days, a weight-loss spa with controlled portions. All of these spas allow locals to book treatments, like a day spa.
Still rare, but growing fast, is the medical spa, which offers high-tech treatments like laser resurfacing and photo facials as well as traditional spa services like massage, facials, and body treatments. Dr. Manoj Abraham, a board-certified plastic surgeon, comes to Haven Spa in Rhinebeck, Dutchess County, a few days a week for procedures like Botox injections (which immobilize muscles that contribute to deep wrinkles), Restylane (which fill them in if you didn’t get the Botox in time), and laser resurfacing (to minimize scars and fine lines). He also oversees medical aestheticians who perform photo facials (to reduce brown spots and broken capillaries) and medical microdermabrasion and chemical peels (to exfoliate the skin and stimulate collagen production). “All of the options before getting to plastic surgery have been exploding as people try to hold on to their youth,” says Lisa Bare, owner of Haven Spa.
People visit spas for different reasons. For some, it’s a luxurious, once-a-year experience, while others consider massage and facials part of their health and beauty routine. To find a spa near you, check out the accompanying chart. Our listings are fairly inclusive in the mid- to upper-Valley, although we tried to stay with spas that really deliver a relaxing experience. Because Westchester has so many spas, we were more selective, favoring those in the northern part of the county.
What else is in the chart? A basic Swedish massage is by far the most popular spa service, so we tell you the price of a one-hour massage (which lasts between 50 and 60 minutes, depending on the spa). We mention specialty treatments, like hot stone massage or herbal body wraps, so you can get an idea of the range of treatments available. And we tell you a little bit about the atmosphere, and whether they do hair and nails.
If you want to go to a spa but are a slightly nervous first-timer, you can always drop in, pick up a menu of services, and ask for a tour (though they may not always be able to accommodate you). But you will get a feel for the place and how employees interact with customers. And you can ask about various treatments and figure out which might be right for you.
Finally, sumptuous or flashy facilities can be fun, but the most important component of the treatment is the therapist. Some people are just more gifted and committed than others. Find somebody you like, and go back. The better the masseur knows you and what you like, the better your massage will be. Even being massaged can take a little practice. So get to work!