Everyone has a cherished place where they can get away from the world. When I was eight, it was the upstairs bathroom with no windows and the door locked, where I could read in peace and dream of the day when I would no longer have to share a bedroom with my sister. Fifty years later, with an entire house to myself, my special getaway place is a mere thirty-five minutes from home: The Spa At Norwich Inn.
My first visit to the spa was in the summer of 2001. A friend was planning to visit for a long weekend. I’d heard about the spa, so we planned to go. At the last moment, she canceled. Undeterred, I called the spa to make a reservation. The next day, a sunny Thursday in early August, after 200 yards of 8-foot privacy hedge, I made a left turn into the driveway.
In those days, the Inn needed a bit of work. As I walked down the curving staircase to the spa, I noticed areas that needed painting. I soon forgot such minor points, though. The soft-spoken woman at the desk checked me in and gave me a copy of my schedule. She showed me the lounge and juice bar, the indoor pool, the relaxation room, the workout room, the workout class room, and the locker room where I was given a white terrycloth robe and black rubber sandals. On the way to my wood-paneled locker, she showed me the world inside the locker room: whirlpool, steam room, sauna, as well as the standard locker room accoutrements. The lounge area inside the locker room (as opposed to the one I’d passed through on my way to the locker room) included armchairs, a sofa, and a table bearing a basket of apples, another of oranges, and a display of nine types of herbal tea next to the hot/cold water dispenser.
The rules were straightforward:
- Spa guests may go anywhere in their robes and sandals. During a later visit, when I was enjoying lunch in Kensington’s, the spa’s gourmet restaurant, in robe and sandals, a pair of women in street clothes entered, and I heard one say, “I think we’re overdressed.”
- Spa guests have the entire facility at their disposal. On my first visit, I wandered the grounds, and when I came upon one of the swimming pools by the villas, I enjoyed the luxury of being the only person in the water. On other visits, I’ve read in the garden, relaxed by the reflecting pool, nibbled scones and sipped tea in the area outside the restaurant, and written next to the fireplace in the lounge.
- You’d better wear a watch, because nobody’s going to come and fetch you for your treatment. When you check in, they’ll tell you where you need to wait for a particular type of treatment (massage clients by the indoor pool, and mani/pedi clients in the hall outside the boutique). This is especially true if you go into the relaxation room where, true to its name, people relax (and often fall asleep—I know, having done it).
- No cash changes hands during the day. The only exception is for merchandise purchases in the boutique. For anything else—services, the restaurant, the pub, the juice bar—all you do is sign, and a gratuity is automatically added to the bill. Then, at the end of the day, you check out in the boutique, and that’s when you settle up. If you want to give a particular masseuse or aesthetician an extra tip, you can ask for an envelope when you check out at the end of the day.
With these rules in mind, I went off for my very first spa day. The most memorable experience was a pedicure they called Cozy Rosy Toes. Until that point, my few pedicures had been pedestrian: moisturize, shape, adjust cuticles, apply polish. But the Cozy Rosy Toes . . . that was something else.
First, there was no polish. At least three people told me this before the service began. Each time, I assured them that it was fine. The aesthetician sawed at my callouses with a file until I wondered if she would draw blood. She massaged my feet and slathered them in rose-scented lotion. Then, she took a rosebud—a red rosebud—and broke it apart. I watched, fascinated, as she applied rose petals to my lotion-covered feet. As if she was doing nothing remarkable, she tore off rose petals and tucked them between each of my toes. To this day, it remains the most decadent use of a rose I have ever seen.
She wrapped my rose-encrusted feet in towels and tucked them into heated booties. When I left, my feet—even my heels—were as soft as the proverbial baby’s bottom.
Sadly, as the menu of services changed over the years, Cozy Rosy Toes was discontinued in favor of other treatments. When I was scheduling today’s visit, though, I was thrilled to discover that it was back, albeit under a different name (Ultimate Foot Therapy) and without the rosebud. As the fortunate recipient of three generous gift cards (one from a friend after the fire, one from the spa itself, and one from my mother for my birthday), I booked it, together with the water aerobics class, a hot stone massage, an anti-aging facial, and lunch in Kensington’s.
Since it was a weekday, the spa was on the quieter side. Victor, my masseuse, told me that I’d timed my visit well: the renovations had just finished. Last week, he said, I’d have had to dodge tarps to get to the ladies’ locker room. Darlene, the water aerobics instructor, said, “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”, which speaks well for her memory since I only visit the spa about once a year. Daniella, who did my facial, talked with me about everything from adjustable bed bases to losing loved ones. Melissa did the pedicure, in which the rose petals have been replaced by a paraffin dip.
Interestingly, nearly all the guests I saw were over 40. Agnes, who participated in the water aerobics class, was celebrating her ninetieth birthday, and she looked better in a bathing suit than I do. After her pedicure, she sported bright red polish on her toenails. Joanne was celebrating her sixtieth birthday, telling how her son had paid for her spa day and her daughter had attempted to, only to find the son had gotten there first. She and I chatted about massages, wine tastings, careers, and health care over tea and scones in mid-afternoon. After lunch, I sat in the newly-redecorated lounge with a book, a cup of tea, and frozen yogurt, and a group of three white-haired men and one nearly-white-haired woman gathered nearby. The youngest people I saw were a couple who appeared to be in their thirties, enjoying wine in the lounge after my pedicure. Maybe younger people work harder, or maybe it’s just that older people have learned the importance of a getaway.
Everybody needs a getaway spot, whether it’s a locked bathroom, a local coffee shop, a house on Cape Cod, or a spot under (or in) a favorite tree. One of my favorite getaways is the spa, because all I have to do is to show up. The rest is somebody else’s job. I put my phone on “do not disturb” (there are “no cellphones” signs throughout the spa), lock it in my locker, and forget about the outside world. I bring a book, a pen, and a notebook so I can read or write, as the mood dictates. I wear my own flipflops, which are more comfortable. And for just a few hours, my biggest concern is being on time for my treatments.
In a world of chaos and insanity, too little time and too much to do, getaways are crucial, even if they only last for a day. Once I’m home, the world creeps back in. Emails await. Voicemail contains messages. Other people call with their own needs. Even the cats demand attention and food. The world of the spa recedes. All I have to remind me of my little escape are a complementary bottle of hand lotion, the “Wellness Warrior” T-shirt I found on clearance in the boutique because the air conditioning was overly zealous and I needed something to wear under my robe, and delicious memories of a tranquil time.
Oh, and feet as soft as a baby’s bottom.
Note: I do not receive any remuneration of any kind from The Spa at Norwich Inn or any of its parent companies or affiliates for this post. The reality is that they’ll probably never even know it exists. The gift card to which I refer above is one that they send out to regular spa guests for their birthdays. I don’t know how many times you have to go to the spa before you get on the list–you’d have to call and ask them.