Six Great Spa Escapes
Get ready, get set, get pampered.
Relax, Rejuvenate, Renew
There’s nothing like a hot stone massage to take the chill out of winter or a sea-salt body polish to conjure up memories of the beach. Five sure-to- please spas an easy drive away.
By Malerie Yolen-Cohen
An extreme arctic chill took hold outside—and my thoughts turned to relief. A spa, I daydreamed, nearby, but considerate enough to supply a bed and sustenance—preferably of the gourmet variety—lest I fall into a massaged and aromatherapized stupor.
These days, it seems, a stay at a famous destination spa is, well, “work”—as in get up at 5 a.m. for a 3K-mountain run, followed by a 45-minute spin class, then some power yoga and maybe an all-the-bottled-water-you-can-drink vegan lunch. If you’re lucky, you may undergo a sea-salt scrub before running off to Pilates, ab conditioning and a pre-(low-cal) dinner step class. And this you do for a week—until your body and mind supposedly reawake to a new dawn.
I wasn’t looking for boot camp, and I couldn’t afford to get away for more than 36 hours at a time. All I yearned for was someone to renew my winter-weathered skin, massage my gnarled muscles, bring me a tasty lunch, show me to my room and then…leave me alone.
Fortunately, there are several spas near Westchester where such desires can be fulfilled: where you can be alone or bring along a cadre of friends and be pampered for a day or two days, sometimes up to seven hours straight. And at the end of the day, if you’d like, they’ll even give you a cozy room where you can recover from all your, ahem, labor.
A quartet of salt-and-pepper-haired women giggled just outside of the Relaxation Room at the Red Door Spa just south of Mystic, in Groton, CT. “My friends surprised me by taking me here for my 50th birthday,” one trilled. “Aren’t they wonderful?”
In fact, this particular Elizabeth Arden Red Door does a whopping group business—bridal parties, family reunions, clubs and birthday celebrations make up a large part of the bookings. Unlike an Elizabeth Arden Day Spa (there is one at The Westchester), this Red Door is one of only three in the U.S. located within an upscale Marriott Hotel (the others are in Atlantic City and Tucson, AZ), which offers luxe commodious rooms as opposed to the conventional roadside fare. As part of a 285-room full-service hotel located halfway between New York and Boston, this particular spa is an attractive meeting place for long-distance friends and family who want to be pampered together.
Though there’s a separate entrance to the Elizabeth Arden Spa—through a lacquer-red door—I first entered the modern hotel lobby, passing a family-friendly indoor pool and well equipped fitness room. I checked in at the Red Door reception desk and was immediately escorted into the Relaxation Room, which from first appearance looked like the waiting room in an abbey. Men in black robes and women in ivory, their eyes blissed-out and hair akimbo, had seemingly taken a vow of silence as they waited to be called for their treatment. I joined them after I changed in the small but well-appointed women’s room—with frosted glass showers, a steam room and keypad locks on each locker.
Young Jennifer, who exfoliated my body with an olive oil and salt potion (“the consistency of Margarita salt,” she said) was unfailingly cheerful. Effectively tranquilizing me with a “Phyto-Organic Hydrating Wrap” ($125), she chuckled when I likened my mylar blanket to a solar oven. “I feel like a roasting hot dog,” I managed. Then I was treated to the Red Door signature massage ($105) where ultra-moisturizing shea butter (not butter at all but a concoction made from the fruit of shea trees in West Africa) was massaged into my “trouble spots,” leaving me in a state of harmony.
Lunch is served just off the Relaxation Room. I chose a cold lobster salad and seared tuna over greens, tasty and fresh, and best of all within a few feet of the treatment rooms, which meant I didn’t have to change for lunch.
I spent the next few hours receiving a moisturizing facial ($105) and a “Honeysuckle Cream and Sugar Scrub” pedicure ($65). During the facial, moist hot towels infused with lavender oil were wrapped around my face, transporting me to a summer’s English garden. During the manicure, months’ worth of calluses were rubbed down from my neglected feet with a non-stinging sugar paste. When I exited the Red Door into sub-zero winds, I took a bit of summertime along.
RED DOOR SPA
Mystic Marriott, 625 North Road (Route 117), Groton, CT
Signature Treatments: Red Door offers dozens of treatments including its signature 40-minute “Cream-and-Sugar Manicure.” It also provides a full range of hair
salon services. Exclusive: Elizabeth Arden makeup specialists will design a custom foundation for your skin shade and type. Meals: Spa lunch ($20), prepared by Marriott’s Vine Restaurant, is served in the Relaxation Room. This Red Door Marriott also contains a Starbucks and the award-winning Octagon Restaurant, with its octagon-shaped open show kitchen and glassed-in “display wine room.” Cost and packages: Marriott room rates start at $179 per night. A full day “Red Door Signature Spa Experience” with “Body Sugar Scrub,” massage, facial, manicure, pedicure, haircut and blow-dry and lunch is $475. A 20 percent gratuity is added to all treatments.
Out of all the spas on my search list, I expected the least from this quaint little place. What could a four-bedroom bed and breakfast, located not “By the Sea” but on a busy road, possibly offer a jaded suburbanite like me?
Plenty, it turns out.
By the Sea sits by Route 146 in Branford, CT (a mere 60 miles from White Plains)—and as I pulled into the driveway, I wondered why there were so many other cars in the parking lot. One peek at the captivatingly whimsical retail shop, separated from the inn’s lobby by a see-through glass wall, and I understood. By the Sea Inn and Spa may sound provincial, but its two intrepid owners—Marilyn Acquarulo and Mary Ellen Julian, with decades of professional skin care experience between them—incorporate both pizzazz and a hospitable attention to detail that keeps clients coming back for more. Treatments like the exfoliating “Carrot Scrub” and hydrating “Chocolate Fondue Body Treatment” (my choice) are sensually au currant. And the seven-hour “Swept Away” package, which includes a scrub, wrap, massage, facial, manicure, pedicure, hand treatment and makeup application, is a totally indulgent bargain at $415 including gratuity (which comes to about a 10 percent discount).
Formerly a convalescent home, the circa 1825 building was remodeled—retaining its beautiful parquet floors—and opened in 1999 with three charming, plump-pillow guestrooms. Wicker furniture and cutout cupboards lend a “country chic” air to the common rooms. Spa clients (many local and repeat customers) wait in the lobby to be called, though I was inclined to wander into the boutique where colorful lotions, oils, candles and sparkling jewelry entice passersby and inn guests alike. “Right before Christmas, the line to buy spa gift certificates was out the door and down the sidewalk,” reports the cashier.
Sara, one of 40 on staff here, escorted me into a “wet room” for my chocolate wrap. Eleven treatment rooms on two floors shun the austere minimalist look in favor of fluttery lace curtains, whitewashed furniture, pastel walls and the ubiquitous flickering candle. I undressed (no cushy women’s locker room with disposable razors here), eased onto a few layers of blankets topped by plastic wrap, and was transported to cocoa heaven. Sara scrubbed me down with a chocolate mineral salt concoction (“the guiltless way to have your sweets,” she said), applying warm cocoa scented mud, which cooled just in time for her to swaddle me in layer upon layer of plastic and country quilts. She then let me stew in hot-cocoa bliss for 20 minutes while she massaged my scalp. After a wash-off with Raspberry-Chocolate-Milkshake and final application of Chocolate Whip Cream Body Hydrator, I felt good enough to eat.
BY THE SEA INN AND SPA
107 Montowese Street, Branford, CT
(203) 483-3333; www.bytheseainnspa.com
Signature Treatments: Popular treatments include “Pumpkin Facial” ($90), which utilizes an antioxidant pumpkin enzyme peel, and “Chocolate Fondue Body Treatment” ($125). Meals: Local store-bought Continental breakfast, included in the cost of an overnight room, is served on multi-colored stoneware in a blazingly bright breakfast room. Spa lunch (usually a salad with roasted chicken) is provided in the small Relaxation Room for package clients. Overnighters can amble downtown a block away and choose between an international selection of restaurants (French, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Indian, American). Lodging: The three pristine rooms each have unique appeal. Pastel colored walls, quilt-covered four-poster beds and clawfoot tubs set the tone for a true escape. The lavender Queen Anne Room, with Jacuzzi, is a popular choice ($130). By the Sea is a favorite of Yale University parents. The campus is just 15 minutes away. Graduation weekend is booked a year in advance. Cost and Packages: from $20 for a manicure and $45 for a pedicure in a sun-flooded room to $60 for a “Carrot Scrub” exfoliation to $100 for a 90-minute massage. “Swept Away” package—seven hours of treatments including scrub, wrap, massage, facial, manicure, pedicure and makeup application—is $415 (cost of room not included). Six other packages are available. If you stay overnight on a weekend, you must book treatments at least two months in advance.
A Sound Choice
The SPA AT saybrook point inn, perched on a Long Island Sound peninsula, has the most inviting spa setting yet. With its own marina (crusted over with salty ice this time of year) and dazzling panoramas, I was inclined to do nothing but meditate. If I could just sit by a window, sip some tea and stare out at the winter’s waterscape, I’d be happy.
But there was so much more to do here. The inn, gray and nautically designed on the outside, is decorated with ornate florals and Old English furnishings within. The lobby, cozy and thick with dark antiques, brightens from a shock of sunlight through glass doors that open to an outdoor deck. In season, I’m told, this deck vibrates with wedding parties, corporate groups and water-view connoisseurs who enjoy a delectable gourmet meal overlooking a collection of sleek yachts.
Reigning Ms. Connecticut and spa director Tracy Ricafranca is the beguiling face of Saybrook Point’s personal care services. She apologized for the dated carpeting throughout the treatment area, promising that by the time you read this there will be a more Zen-like bamboo floor. The spa itself has a grande dame feel—as if Georgette Klinger will walk through the door any moment. The Relaxation Room is a quiet off-white oasis, with straight-backed leather chairs, silk lilies, water and a selection of teas. I had booked the “Instant Care Facial” ($60), a 30-minute quickie “very popular” with bridal parties. Treatment rooms tend toward “Old World”—with beige wallpaper, faux candle sconces and heavy muslin drapes. But there was nothing old fashioned about my 30-minute aromatic facial—which incorporated a yummy peach parafin hydration mask and hand and foot warmers. A 50-minute Swedish massage ($90) released every knot in my back, easing me into a drooling daze.
For my fantasy day and a half at Saybrook Point Inn, I’d bring a book and a change of clothes. I’d book the Ultimate Spa Day and break it up with a sublime warm lobster roll at the four-star Terra Mar Grille. I’d spend a few hours in front of the fireplace in my Long Island Sound-view room, take a swim in the sunny waterside indoor pool, and have a go at the billiards table in the clubby upstairs lounge. I’d give the ample fitness room a wide berth, though. There’s just so much exertion a girl can handle.
THE SPA AT SAYBROOK POINT INN
2 Bridge Street, Old Saybrook, CT
(800) 243-0212; www.saybrook.com
Signature Treatments: ”Saybrook Point Inn Signature Body Treatment” ($145) includes sea-salt body polish and a choice of “Moor Mud (herbal black mud infused with vitamins and minerals) or seaweed wraps.” Meals: Spa-day meals are cooked in-house at the Terra Mar Grille overlooking the marina. I loved the crusty warm bread, cold Thai chicken salad, sautéed lobster rolls and seafood crêpes. Lodging: Eighty antique-filled rooms—most with fireplaces—are spacious and comfortable ($160-$430). You can also rent a private apartment in the lighthouse at the end of the dock ($429). Costs and Packages: From $24 for a manicure with parafin to $165 for an 80-minute in-room massage. Winter Spa Package—through April—includes overnight accommodations, a choice of massage or facial and full breakfast for two ($309-$389 per couple).
Rock Your World
Traipsing across a small foot-bridge outside Wilton, CT’s Spa at Split Rock with, I might add, a migraine, I reach a signpost: Medical Office, it says. Surgery. Spa. Medical Office? Surgery? Have I taken a wrong turn?
In fact, Judith Stanton, owner of Split Rock spa, housed in a sprawling antique farmhouse and adjoining barn, has hit on quite a “cutting”-edge idea. She and a couple of plastic surgeons have teamed up to offer clients options they might not otherwise be able to get under separate roofs. Spa clients may come for a microdermabrasion and decide to head through the door into the surgical area for a more comprehensive nip and tuck. Surgery patients may choose to stay overnight upstairs in a luxurious room—healing hands within reach. It is, Stanton notes, perfect synergy. In fact, the spa offers pre- and postoperative face and body treatments (how ’bout a facelift with that facial?). But as far as Stanton is concerned, that is but a fraction of her business.
The Spa at Split Rock, with its sienna colored walls and terracotta floors, offers a plethora of therapies in its six cocoon-like treatment rooms. I opted for the “Hot Stone Massage” ($170) to untie the knots in my shoulders and soothe the migraine from my head. Never had a hot stone massage? You’re in for a treat. Smooth black basalt stones, warmed in heated water, are applied to your body—and in between toes—while a therapist kneads every muscle in your body. When my masseuse got to my trouble-spots, she lingered for awhile. “I tend to lose track of time when I find something that needs extra attention,” she admitted. Mercifully, there was no push for products (though they do offer the Swiss Hormeta line). After 75 minutes of this heated rubdown, my headache had vanished—and, for a brief time, so had the outside world.
THE SPA AT SPLIT ROCK
539 Danbury Road, Wilton, CT
(203) 762-5577; www.retreatatsplitrock.com
Signature Treatment: the “Mermaid Wassage” ($140)—a 75-minute massage atop a heated water-filled mattress, which combines hydrotherapy and reflexology with traditional massage, says owner Judith Stanton. “Perfect for recent surgery patients—or anyone,”
she declares. Exclusive Treatment: “Placenta Collagen Mask” ($250)—yes, actual placenta purported to rebuild damaged skin tissue is used (it comes from Russia). Meals: Luscious lunches and dinners (for two, if you are enjoying a romantic spa getaway) are catered by gourmet Wilton Food Company and delivered right to the facility. Lodging: Two antique-filled luxury suites, with marble heated floors in bathrooms, Frette linens and separate sitting rooms, are available for overnight guests. Cost: from $25 for a manicure to $250 for that placenta collagen mask. Also available: an assortment of packages including the suite treat for two, which offers roughly five hours worth of treatments, lunch and overnight accommodations for two ($1,175 per couple).
Malerie Yolen Cohen is all pampered out, thanks to this assignment. She last wrote about cerebral day trips for families.