Ah, the spa

Four Seasons Spa Body Massage. Courtesy Four Seasons Hotel New York.
Taking one for the team, Barbara Barton Sloane visits three top hotel spas in Manhattan.

Known as places of healing for thousands of years, Romans, royals, native peoples and paupers alike have all sought out spas to bathe in warm mineral springs, especially for their ability to alleviate pain and cure ailments. Today’s spas incorporate a wondrous wealth of treatments from facials to massages to mani-pedis. Ayurveda, India’s ancient healing system, even offers a process wherein warm sesame oil is steadily dripped over the forehead. Colorfully named the “Third Eye Drip,” it’s not as scary as it sounds. I’ve had it and it was strangely pleasurable. This, as all of the treatments, offers relaxation, rejuvenation and a sense of renewal. Indeed, some studies indicate that various spa therapies can benefit the human body on a physiological level far beyond the pampering, feel-good sensations.

The word “spa” derives from the name of the town of Spa in Belgium, famous for its many natural mineral springs and the old Roman idea of medicinal bathing comes from the town of Bath, England, where ancient healing springs were discovered. Now spas are the emerging trend and one of the fastest-growing industries today. The business of wellness is, well, a big business.

Typically spas offer treatments “a la carte,” focusing on relaxation, wellness and aromatherapy, a field moving in a brand new direction. The power of scent is increasingly used for its strong therapeutic qualities. Playing a great role as a remedy for pain, as a mood enhancer and as a sleep aid, aromatherapy consists of using only natural oils extracted from a wide array of plants. Clients can receive customized treatments based on one’s particular needs. To achieve the client’s needs, the therapist can carefully select essential oils and techniques to offer healthful solutions.

Some of the plushest, most sumptuous spas in the world are in New York City’s five-star hotels and I’d love to introduce you to a few:

The Spa at the Peninsula Hotel: This urban oasis is found high above the bustle of midtown with panoramic views from its ample terrace. In this Forbes Five-Star spa, you are cosseted in an intimate, indulgent environment featuring innovative treatments expertly performed. Upon arriving you’ll unwind in the Asian tea lounge and imbibe an aromatic organic tea, its sole purpose to soothe, calm and prepare you for the treatment. I found this pretreatment relaxation period, snuggled under a down comforter and Frette linens, so restful that I hardly wanted to stir when my therapist came calling.

The Sattva Signature Journey sounded like a trip I was eager to take. I was told it took two hours. Did I have the time? What do you think? My journey began with a mineral-rich aromatic foot ritual (read vigorous massage) followed by my body being fully (tip to toe) exfoliated with a pink Himalayan salt scrub. Next, I surrendered myself completely to the facial massage (told it was anti-aging) and finally, the pièce de résistance, the Vedic Aromatherapy full-body massage to release muscle tension and induce a better sleep. Feeling as limp as the proverbial dishrag and already sleepy, there was no way I was going to quickly jump on a Fifth Avenue bus to wend my way over to Grand Central Terminal and home. Nooo, I had to acclimatize myself once more to the real world. I found that a spa cuisine lunch enjoyed on the Sun Terrace did the trick.

Most recently I paid a visit to the spa I was told was the ne plus ultra at the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown. Expectations high, I gotta say, this spa exceeded them. In fact, this will be the spa I’ll return too whenever I need to recharge, destress, renew and rejoin the human race.

Located mere steps from the vibrant sidewalks of downtown, this spa successfully blends high-tech treatments with luxurious natural products to indulge body, soul and mind. Influenced by science and world-wide cultures, here is a haven both understated and sophisticated. The spa has partnered with Dr. Burgener Switzerland, the Swiss company with expertise in beauty and rejuvenation and Omorovicza from Budapest to create customized experiences exclusive to this spa.

The menu offered myriad inviting treatments so I turned to spa director Tara Cruz for suggestions. She said that one of her favorites is the Chakra Balancing Ritual with a chakra foot massage accompanied by a wonderful blend of aromatherapy oils. There’s a detoxifying combo of salt exfoliates and dry brushing and a brief guided meditation to set one’s intentions and bring balance to life. Warm rose quartz is applied to transport the client into deep relaxation and ignite a feeling of love and well-being. The conclusion is a facial with acupressure and a mineral scalp experience. I was transported by Tara’s eloquent explanation alone and, of course, I knew that this was the treatment for me. (Yes, it was all that — and more).

Leaving the spa and feeling like I was walking not on clouds but literally on air, I took a short five-minute walk from the hotel to the waterfront at Hudson River Park. This enlivening breath of fresh air was all I needed to get me on my way back home, the New Me feeling full of myself and renewed. My husband’s eyes-wide-open and amazed smile when I tripped, light-as-air, through the door was an added bonus.

For Barbara’s visit to the Mandarin Oriental Spa, visit wagmag. For more on each destination, visit fourseasons.com/newyorkdowntown, mandarinoriental.com/NewYork and newyork.peninsula.com.

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