Say spa. Ahhhhh!
The mere mention of this three-letter word can put you into a state of blissful relaxation. A spa serves as a healing haven from the worries of life’s daily demands. Fortunately, dozens and dozens of spas await you in the healing Palm Springs Desert Resorts. Your delightful dilemma: which spa and what treatment? The choice is purely individual. The desert’s spas customize treatments to suit your needs, schedule and budget.
Wherever you go, expect to be pampered. Let go of any notion that spa indulgence really means self-indulgence. Time spent at a spa is a way of honoring yourself, of healing yourself, of renewing your mind and body.
Anyone — and everyone — should experience a few hours, a day, or more inside a spa. You walk in feeling stressed and you stroll out feeling calm, relaxed, rejuvenated. I discovered this during a recent two-day tour of some of the area’s most innovative and pampering spas. My body was treated to healing hot stones, pulsating jets of water, the scent of lavender. It was even blessed with an ancient Cherokee prayer.
First Up: Tropical Hot Stone Sugar Scrub Treat
I start my adventure in Palm Desert at All About Massage, one of the day spas listed in the 100 Best Spas in the World (Globe Pequot Press).
After driving down Highway 111 and crossing the intersecting streets named for deal-making game show hosts (Monty Hall) and classic crooners (Frank Sinatra), I pull into the parking lot, a little deceived by the plain-Jane outside motif. The spacious lobby inside offers piles of pamper-pleasing products. While awaiting my appointment, I make a wish list of cinnamon-apple jam candles, pohakala mist and homeopathic moon drops designed to help one unwind.
“Hi, I’m Brandelyne, your massage therapist. Ready to try our tropical hot stone sugar scrub?”
Brandelyne Durrant is smiling. And so am I. Why not? I’m about to receive a treatment that includes tropical and sugar. A truly sweet, one-of-a-kind treat.
Spa owner Kelly Yamada and her staff invented this treatment, a spin-off of traditional sea salt scrubs. It’s one of seven stone massages offered at this spa.
“We went to the sugars because salts can be drying and irritating, especially if applied to shaved legs. We also found that some people were allergic to the sea products,” says Yamada, a licensed massage therapist for 13 years. “The sugar scrubs smell nice, dissolve quickly, but still provide exfoliating properties while being good to the skin. We combine it with virgin coconut oil to hydrate the skin to leave it smooth and silky.”
She’s right. Draped in white towels on an elevated table, I’m offered a choice of massage scents, ranging from the flowery frangipani to the pleasing pineapple to my pick: coconut.
During the next 45 minutes, sugar granules gently lift and remove dead skin cells while hot, smooth riverbed stones heated to 110 degrees move in circular motions and a series of six overhead vichy showerheads warmly rinse my skin clean. Pulsating water streams off my body and table, and flows into floor drains. The finishing touch: coconut oil is applied from head to toe.
I touch my arm and can’t believe how silky it feels.
“They call me the Tropical Queen around here because this is my personal favorite treatment to give and to receive,” Durrant says.
Next: A Healing Oasis in downtown Palm Springs
If you’re looking to escape congested highways and work deadlines, but don’t want to be isolated, consider larger properties like Spa Resort Casino. Located in downtown Palm Springs, this world-class spa is within walking distance of fine restaurants and art galleries.
There’s a casino on the premises, but during your spa treatments you are out of sight and sound of the bells and flashing lights of slot machines.
Remodeled in 1999, the spa’s earth-toned décor honors the ancestors of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians who settled in the Palm Springs area centuries ago and discovered the healing mineral spring water. A bronze statue of a Cahuilla maiden greets visitors at the entry at the corner of Tahquitz Canyon Way and Indian Canyon Drive.
For turn-of-the-century history buffs, take a peek at the black-and-white photo of a wooden shack surrounded by natural mineral springs. The photo is mounted outside the locker rooms. The shack is gone, replaced more than 65 years ago by this spa famous for its impurity-free, sun-dried Indian clay and its “taking of the waters” five-step treatment.
“For me, I consider the taking of the waters to be a 50-minute treat,” says spa director Matt Zukowski. “In less than an hour, you sweat out toxins, open your pores and let the natural mineral spring water work its healing magic.”
You start by spending up to 10 minutes inside a steam room heated to 140 degrees to begin relaxation and healthy perspiration. You then head into the sauna for 10 minutes to relieve tense muscles. Third step is the aromatherapy inhalation room where eucalyptus aromatherapy works for five to 10 minutes to clear up any respiratory congestion. Step four is my favorite: You step into your private sunken tiled tub filled with natural mineral spring water that whirls and swirls for five to 10 minutes. Final step: after toweling dry, you enter the tranquility room, heated to a comfy 72 degrees, to meditate and relax before a massage, facial or other body treatment.
And don’t forget the very pure clay. Esthetician Irene Ross favors this mud because it is free of any potentially harmful chemicals and is ideal to exfoliate all skin types, especially people with skin conditions such as rosacea or who have had surgery to remove skin cancer.
“This Indian clay removes dead skin cells without damaging healthy skin,” Ross says. “The key is to apply five layers with a light touch and to exfoliate gently. You will be amazed at how healthy your skin looks afterward.”
Bound for: The Ultimate Escape Place
The next morning takes me to Desert Hot Springs in search of Two Bunch Palms. Driving past a Blockbuster and McDonald’s on busy Palm Drive in downtown Desert Hot Springs, I was less than a mile from this exclusive and nearly elusive spa.
In fact, I initially drove right past the small sign pointing to the entrance, a dirt road leading to a small, far-from-glamorous wooden guardhouse and gate.
“Name?” asked the guard, holding a clipboard containing the names of approved guests.
At Two Bunch Palms, you can’t just drop in. You must make a reservation at this once-reputed brothel that catered to the likes of gangster Al Capone during the 1930s. Those escapades have given way to a world-class spa touted for its abilities to help guests escape from hectic, deadline-filled schedules.
You walk past outdoor spas and walk down a flight of red-carpeted stairs to the spa counter. My mission: to experience a unique massage known as Watsu in Water.
Switching into a bathing suit to await Doug Chancellor, my massage therapist, I share a wooden bench with a television and Broadway star busily knitting and hoping not to be asked, “Hey, aren’t you…?”
Two Bunch Palms attracts Oscar winners and Hollywood’s finest because celebrities can blend in and achieve anonymity on the premises. So, this is one time where I won’t name names, but I was impressed with the television star’s ability to knit what looks to be a beautiful white sweater.
Chancellor greets me and escorts me out of the building, across a dirt path to a blue-tiled, oval, private pool hidden by a lattice gate and oleander shrub. The pool’s water is an ideal 95 degrees.
I step into the four-foot deep waters and begin this hour-long floating experience. Chancellor uses air floatations tucked at times under my head and knees to keep me afloat. He glides my body back and forth in ballet-like moves as he massages my muscles from head to feet.
The sensation feels strange but freeing. I focus on the here and now, the water, the occasional airplane high in the cloud-dotted sky, and the easing of tension in my muscles. When I emerge from the pool, I find myself calm and contented.
“The Watsu in Water is about trust and letting go in order to receive the ultimate benefits,” explains Chancellor. “I love the caring and nurturing that this massage offers.”
I then head to meet Nita Little Bear Fish, a Cherokee massage therapist who offers a Native American purification ritual treatment to cleanse the mind and the body. The ritual includes lighting sage, calling upon the four energies of the world, including Mother Earth, a massage of your choice and Indian ceremonies.
I leave feeling soulfully revived.
Finishing Touch: A Fabulous Facial
Back in Palm Springs, I drive to the base of the San Jacinto Mountains where the road ends in a circular drive leading to Palm Springs Tennis Club. Tucked inside the premises is Body Sense, a day spa operated by Michael and Susan Ellis, massage therapists whose healing touch attracts clients from all across the country and Europe.
A tour of the desert’s spas would not be complete without a facial. My selection: a one-hour derma-smooth facial highlighted by an age-defying eye treatment to make dark circles and puffiness disappear.
My face is in the good hands of esthetician Libby Gullion. She takes the time to explain each step, starting with the lavender cleanser followed by micro magnesium oxide crystals that slough off dry skin cells. She applies a soothing gel mask made of aloe vera and cypress oil.
“I’ll be back in 12 minutes to give you the eye treatment, so lay back, relax, and enjoy this time alone,” says Gullion.
She returns, using her fingertips to massage my face, scalp and neck. By the end of the hour, my face has been treated to a host of healthy vitamins, herbs, and essential oils. She brightens the room and hands me a mirror. My face is smooth, radiant, but not red or sore. And the wrinkles around my eyes have faded.
“You need to replenish the moisture in your skin, so be sure to use a moisturizer and a sun block lotion every day for the next 14 days,” she says.
Ahhhh…spa. Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or just a couple hours of pampering, the good news is that there is no end in sight to the number and type of spa treatments available in the desert.