In a gentler age, the very rich would retreat yearly to a special area for refreshment from their arduous lives. One city that they fled to was the town of Spa in Belgium, from which our modern word spa has been taken.
Historically, spas, or similar places, like public steam baths, hot springs, and even massages, are as old as the Roman times, and perhaps even older (Spa itself was famous for the healing qualities of its cold springs since at least the 14th century). The Romans were especially fond of these places and in the town of Tiberias in Israel there is a modern spa built on the hot springs that the Romans used to luxuriate in.
The Dead Sea is another area that has historically been used as a spa. For centuries people have visited to immerse themselves in the sea because it is full of healthful minerals. Its mud has been lathered on by people for centuries and it is now surrounded by huge, luxurious spas. You don’t even have to go to the Dead Sea itself to swim in it, as some of the hotels in the area have both fresh water and Dead Sea water pools.
While spas were once a getaway for the rich, now they’re more accessible to those with moderate incomes, so many people have discovered the joys of spa treatments and they are springing up everywhere. Not only are there destination spas, where you can go for overnight stays or longer, but there are numerous day spas as well.
If you’ve never been to a spa, you’ll find that once you’ve tried one, you’ll easily become addicted to them, as I have. I’ve enjoyed being lathered with mud at the Dead Sea and in the U.S. I’ve been covered with seaweed, pummeled, had hot stones warm my body, been wrapped in hot linen like a mummy, had my feet soothed in a chocolate pedicure, been sprayed with a strong stream of water, and even had hands skim the air over my body where I wasn’t touched at all (there was a steep charge for this one). And I felt like I was back in the womb again when I experienced a full body massage. Every one of these experiences was was fantastic. The worst part of any of these treatments, especially the full body massages, is that you have to get off the table and go back to reality.
Spas have wonderful atmospheres. The lighting is soft, furniture is deep and luxurious, soft music soothes everyone’s soul, and everything is hushed and comforting. In the treatment rooms themselves, there are almost always candles and the most wonderful and tantalizing smells. Warm lotions are gently rolled over your body. You are the center of the universe here and your good feelings are of paramount importance.
In the U.S. the first official spa was Two Bunch Palms in Desert Springs, California, founded in 1940 at the site of hot artesian waters rich in minerals which bubbled to the surface. It is still in existence as a spa and is celebrating its seventy-fifth year. In the 40s it was known as a discreet hideaway for Hollywood celebrities, notorious gangsters, and those seeking healing from its unique mineral lithium-rich hot springs. Over the years, and into the 21st century, it has won a number of awards as one of the top spas of the U.S. It’s certainly an interesting place to visit for its historic atmosphere.
True to the history of innovations in America, of the first seven spas founded in the states, the first five were in California and the other two were in Arizona. The famous Golden Door Spa was founded in 1958 in Escondido, California. Posh and top-rated, but pricey, it costs $5,000 for seven nights. La Costa, another stellar spa, opened its doors in 1965 in Carlsbad, California. The famous spa, Canyon Ranch, opened its doors in 1979 in Tucson, Arizona. It has now expanded to the east coast.
The Midwest also has a number of excellent spas now, so if you live in that neck of the woods, you don’t have to travel across the country to enjoy the same sort of pampering treatments. Some of them are as top-rated as any of those in the Southwest.
Wisconsin, for example, has at least three very good spas that have enjoyed national attention. One is Sundara in the Wisconsin Dells, an area known for its water parks and famous natural sandstone formations. Then there is the Waters Spa, with its cascading waterfall pool at the American Club, which was founded in the 1980s by the Kohler family across from the Kohler factory. And the Aspira Spa at the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake was written up by the New York Times as one of the best water spas in America. In one of its treatments, deerskin pouches are filled with the pure waters of Elkhart Lake (considered to be magical by native Wisconsin Indians) and glided over your skin in a very special full body massage.
The Raj in Fairfield, Iowa is considered one of the Midwest’s premium spas. With only eighteen small, but opulent suites it has hosted some famous Hollywood names. An M.D. on site offers advice in the Indian Health system of Ayurveda. Each guest gets a customized program for his or her health improvement. The Heartland, in Gilman, Illinois, ninety miles from Chicago, is also small and hosts only thirty-two guests “who want to make permanent changes in their lifestyles.” The spa stresses fitness along with pampering. Hiking trails are also part of its rural setting. Birdwing, in Litchfield , Minnesota, was once the site of a bird sanctuary and is now a facility on 300 acres. Guests have come here from not only all over the U.S., but from abroad as well.
In the South there are several resorts that, as someone said, “spoil you rotten.” At the Greenhouse in Arlington, Texas, the spa is women only. Picked up by a chauffeur, waited on by a maid and a butler, and dressing formally for dinner, the spa is in a genteel mansion. Here is a taste of the good life. Among the other “spoil you rotten” spas is the Greenbrier in Virginia (which also features luxurious hot springs), and the Doral in Miami, Florida.
From its beginnings in the U.S. at Two Bunch Palms in 1940, spas have proliferated all over the country, from Hawaii to the east coast, from north to south, and they are terrific. Whatever part of the country you live in now, you are sure to find a wonderful spa not too far away, and enjoying a spa will be one of the best experiences of your life.
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