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Visit Northern California for that spa moment
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Visit Northern California for that spa moment

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San Francisco • Can’t shake the post-winter blahs? Reluctant to start your spring cleaning? Summer plans up in the air? What a perfect excuse for pursuing personal pampering — and Northern California offers outstanding pampering opportunities. Spas that offer the famous mud baths are clustered in Napa County. A Sonoma County spa boasts the only dry cedar enzyme treatments in the country. And in the heart of San Francisco, a posh European-style spa specializes in the hard-to-find Vichy shower massage.

Weather in Northern California this time of year is deliciously mild, so before or after your spa treatments, you can take in all the attractions of wine country and in the City by the Bay.

Here are some suggestions:

MUD BATHS AND MINERAL SPRINGS

“Calistoga, in Napa County, is where you will find the authentic mud baths and hot springs mineral water treatments,” says Carolyn Hernandez at the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce. “That’s what makes us special.”

What’s so appealing about stepping into a tub of mud mixed with volcanic ash?

It’s earthy. (Sorry!) It’s warm. And it’s incredibly relaxing. Brian Rios, general manager at Indian Springs Resort and Spa, notes that the benefits of mud baths include detoxification and exfoliation, as well as relaxation. Michael Lennon, general manager of the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs Resort, adds, “The mud envelops you — it’s cozy.”

People who come to Calistoga for a mud bath also sign up for massage therapy treatments and make time for a dip or two in pools fed by natural mineral springs. The warm, healing waters are said to serve as a source of rejuvenation and also aid in the restoration of mind, body and spirit.

“Nobody’s in a hurry here,” says Lennon. “Calistoga is a relaxed environment. People come in, have a mud bath, a shower and a massage, and they stay overnight to take advantage of the mineral pools. Then they sit in a chair and read, or take a nap.”

A lovely little town in a beautiful setting, Calistoga is about 90 minutes north of San Francisco. Here are some spas that offer mud baths, mineral pools and other therapeutic massage and body treatments. For more information and to check on special spa packages, contact the individual spas or call the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce at 1-707-942-6333.

Calistoga Spa Hot Springs Resort: Operating as a spa since the early 1920s, this spa offers four mineral pools and mud baths featuring volcanic ash harvested locally. Mud baths cost $65. Call 1-707-942-6269 or see calistogaspa.com.

Doc Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort: Now in its 60th year, the spa is known for its homespun, 1950s-style ambience. Mud baths cost $89. Call 1-707-942-4102 or see drwilkinson.com.

Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa and Resort: Here, couples may enjoy the mud baths in private treatment rooms. Mud baths cost $85. Call 1-707-942-8000 or see goldenhaven.com.

Indian Springs Resort and Spa: Operating as a resort since 1862, Indian Springs has four thermal geysers and a natural deposit of pure volcanic ash on the property. Mud baths cost $85. Call 1-707-942-4913 or see indianspringscalistoga.com.

Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort: This resort advertises “flowering Mediterranean gardens, private patios and splashing fountains.” Mud baths cost $79. Call 1-707-942-4441 or see romanspahotsprings.com.

Lincoln Ave Day Spa: For visitors who want to experience the mud and heat without stepping into a bath, this day spa offers a body-detox mud treatment using a specially designed Ayurvedic steam table. The treatment costs $79. Call 1-707-942-2950 or see lincolnavespa.com.

DRY CEDAR

ENZYME BATH

Imagine stepping into a spacious wooden tub filled with finely ground cedar, rice bran and plant enzymes imported from Japan. Imagine taking a deep breath — and being momentarily transported, surprisingly, back to the Anheuser-Busch brewery on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Michael Stusser, founder of Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in western Sonoma County, laughs when told of this odd sensory impression. “That’s the smell of fermentation,” he says. “Fermentation makes beer, wine, cheese, bread — and fermentation provides the biologically generated warmth in our enzyme baths.”

Stusser first experienced the dry cedar bath in Japan, and was determined to bring it to the U.S. He opened Osmosis in 1985, said to be the only place in the country that offers the treatment, which costs $85. The spa sits on six acres in the tiny town of Freestone just west of Sebastopol, about an hour’s drive from San Francisco.

“The typical experience of the dry cedar enzyme bath is one of quietude, a deepening and expanding of sensory awareness in a serene environment,” Stusser says. He notes that benefits include “relief from joint and muscle aches and pains, reduced tension and fatigue, cleansing and beautification of the skin, stress reduction and calming of the nerves, improved digestion, detoxification, improved circulation and mobility and a sense of elation.”

A creek runs along the property, and therapeutic massage sessions are available in small huts by the water. “Connecting with nature is a fundamental part of the healing process here,” Stusser says. “With the baths, the massages, the aromatherapy facials and our meditation garden, we are really pushing the envelope of what you can do in a day in terms of transformational experiences — and that is our objective.”

For more information, call 1-707-823-8231 or see osmosis.com.

VICHY SHOWER MASSAGE

Seven showerheads spewing cascades of warm soothing water, numerous additional buckets of warm water and an attentive attendant performing a gentle method of exfoliation all are required for a top-notch Vichy shower massage, a profoundly calming spa treatment that’s good for the body and the mind.

At Burke Williams Spa in downtown San Francisco, the calming treatment is called “Hunter’s Retreat,” named for one of owner Bill Armour’s children. “Hunter’s Retreat is popular. We’ve offered it since we opened in 2006,” says Nik Corcucia-Carter, assistant facility manager for the San Francisco location.

“Everyone who tries it enjoys the cascading water, which is similar to massage strokes. The exfoliation — we offer sugar or salt scrubs — leaves your skin smooth as butter. This is an excellent treatment for the winter months.” The treatment costs $125.

Armour, who is said to have coined the phrase “day spa,” opened the first Burke Williams spa in 1984 in Brentwood, Calif. Today each of the nine locations reflects a different European décor. The spa in San Francisco has a French theme.

Legend has it that Armour and his wife, Theresa, were “an overworked businessman and overwrought stay-at-home mom” looking for an escape that would “restore their minds and bodies so they could keep up with their fast-paced lives.” In the early 1980s, luxury spa services were available only at the top hotels. The Armours decided to open a spa where ordinary folk could come for a couple of hours to rejuvenate.

In addition to the Hunter’s Retreat, Burke Williams offers massage therapy, body wraps, facials, manicures and pedicures, baths and other spa services. Separate spa amenities for women and men include whirlpools, steam rooms, dry saunas, cool misting rooms and private showers. Before a treatment, customers also may relax in a large co-ed lounge and enjoy tea, water and fresh fruit. The dressing areas are stocked with hair products, shaving goods, blow dryers and curling irons.

For more information, call 1-415-694-7980 or see burkewilliamsspa.com.

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