So what is a day at the spa anyway?

I often hear people refer to needing a “day at the spa.” Unfortunately, I think it’s rare that we get to participate in one. I’ll do my best to explain the wonderfulness that surrounds the spa at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., but believe me when I say you really have to experience it for yourself to understand it. I’ve talked about the rooms at the Grove Park Inn and the food, but it really is about the spa.

Photo from groveparkinn.comWe started the morning by wandering down to the spa to purchase day passes. The way it works is this:

= Just to get into the spa it’s $55/person. That’s for a weekday pass if you are a resort guest ($80/person on the weekend.)
= If you get a “spa treatment” (such as a massage, pedicure, etc.), you get into the spa that day for “free.” The spa treatments are a lot pricier than they are anywhere else, but if you factor out the $55 just to get in, it’s not terrible.

So what is the spa like?

I don’t have any pictures from the spa as you’re not allowed to have cameras or cell phones down there, so I’ll borrow a couple from the Grove Park Inn’s website for this blog.

The women’s area

Basically, after purchasing the day passes from the concierge desk at the spa, we sat in a waiting area for someone to take us back, separately, into the women’s and men’s areas. In the women’s area, I was immediately given a locker with a fluffy bathrobe and spa slippers. After that there is a shower/bathroom/sink area that’s not unlike a locker room at a gym, except they have really nice soaps and lotions and hairspray and pretty much anything else you could wish for.

Then there’s the women’s lounge area, which is set up like a cozy reading room, with a fireplace and snacks and hot teas and flavored waters (lemon and thyme the day I was there). There’s an outdoor area too – I could see the outdoor fireplace from my hotel room, but I didn’t go out there this time.

Then there’s stairs leading down to another area of restrooms and showers. To the side is an area containing a sauna, steam room, and contrast pools (one pool is 104 degrees, one is 65 degrees. Sit in the hot one for 15 minutes, the cold one for 15 seconds; you’ll feel like you might die but it’s good for you. So they say …)

Slightly comical: You can be naked in the women’s area if you’d like, and many people are. However, there are staffers coming in and out all the time of both sexes. They tell you not to worry about it if you see someone of the opposite sex; they’ll just ignore you. I am sure they are all very professional and used to it, but it still makes me want to giggle whenever I see a guy walking through a sea of women, some of them unclothed.

The men’s area

Haha, just kidding! Didn’t go there!

The “shared” area

Photo from groveparkinn.comAfter leaving the women’s area, the spa opens up (see above photo) into a beautiful mix of waterfalls and mineral pools (good for your skin) and a lap pool with “stars” on the ceiling and hot tubs with waterfalls cascading down. There’s an outdoor area with a pool that they turn into a hot tub in the winter, and being out there was my favorite part this time – nothing like sitting in the hot water with snow all around, the outdoor fireplace cracking in the background.

The best and most indescribable parts of the entire experience are  the parts a camera can’t capture, the sensory parts. The steam room pumps out eucalyptus, and the smell mixes with the lavender soaps and shampoos for a wonderful, relaxing scent. There are cold washcloths outside the sauna that smell of cucumber and mint. The pools have speakers underwater that play calming music.

The treatment

I have been to the spa 3 times, and never received a treatment. I didn’t plan to this time either. But Jeff brought a book and I forgot mine and the gift shops didn’t have any and I got bored …

I wanted a pedicure but those were all booked. So I “settled” for a deep tissue massage (OK, that’s what I really wanted from the start but I didn’t want to pay the crazy price.)

I was concerned I would have my massage and leave feeling like “I could have gotten that anywhere.”

No way, I did not need to worry about that. …

I get fairly regular massages, some of them from very, very talented therapists including one of my clients. Technique-wise, I would say this massage was on par with the best massages I’ve had – not better or worse. It was all the other extras that made it worth the extra money (It cost about $100 more than it would have in Charlotte for this, but remember, that includes a day at the spa). The massage table was able to raise and lower my head and feet at different points in the massage. I was underneath a warm blanket and had a heated pad on the table (in fact, about halfway through I was almost too warm and she took the blanket off.)  

My favorite body part to be massaged is my neck and shoulders – I always seem to have knots there. So while I like the rest of my body to be massaged, I’m always a little disappointed when she’s done with that part. Not this time, though – after she finished she put what felt like a hot stone underneath my neck and a warm cover over my face. Even as she worked on other parts of me, my neck still felt wonderful. I feel similar about my feet – and after she was done with those she wrapped them in warm wet washcloths.

80 minutes later, I was the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time. And typically after a massage I get to stumble out to my car and drive home. But not this day. Nope, I got to chill out in the spa lounge (yet another space set up with a fireplace and comfy chairs and teas and water (cucumber water in addition to the lemon and thyme, in this area) with a warm neck wrap. You’re invited to stay as long as you’d like, and then my therapist recommended that I head straight to the sauna. She explained that she’d rubbed essential oils all over my body, so I could go lie in the sauna, open my pores, and let it soak in. Which I did, and: Wow. I have never been able to relax in a sauna before then. I always go in there, thinking I can barely breathe, wonder how long I have to stay before I can go do something else. But not this day – I was so relaxed after my massage that I could have stayed in that sauna all day. And as I sweated essential oils in the sauna I felt so pampered and relaxed … it made the rest of the day even more magical. We stayed at the spa until about 7 p.m., then showered at the spa and met back at the room for dinner. In all, we were there about 10 hours, and I hated to leave.

Tips and things I learned:

= If you want to get a treatment, all you have to do is annoy your spouse and he’ll send you away so he can get some reading done.
= Hit the contrast pools before your treatment. It’s the only part of the day that is shocking and not pleasant, so why not get it over with?
= The massage therapist told me to go in the contrast pools as much as I could possibly stand, as it would help work out the kinks in my neck and shoulders. Unfortunately, I could only stand to get in the cold water up to my waist this time, so that didn’t work for me. But you try it!
= After a massage, get in the sauna or steam room or both. Ahhhh …
= Shower in the spa (unless you’re staying on the club floor.) They have nice soaps in the room too but you can take those home with you and use the spa soaps while you’re there. They have hair dryers and deodorant and hairspray and pretty much everything you need except for clothes and makeup.
= Get a treatment. It’s a lot of money but it’s so worth it. It’s a good way to break up potentially 12 hours of going from pool to hot tub to sauna, etc.
= Bring a book! You’ll need a break from the pools at some point.