Spa Sensations

These days, Valley spas offer a lot more than massages and pedicures. Now you can have spice-filled bags flicked on your body, opt for permanent eyeliner, or meditate in an Indian sweat lodge- and that’s just for starters.

Spa Sensations


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Those in need of a little pampering have never had it so good. Valley spas now offer a host of treatments ¡ª from traditional massages to permanent eyelining and meditation in a sweat lodge ¡ª bound to improve body and soul


By Anitra Brown

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A  FEW YEARS AGO, fun for me used to mean a good dinner with a bottle of Meursault, a fine Pinot Noir, and Champagne to start. Now I¡¯m more likely to peruse lists of spa treatments. It seems I¡¯m not alone ¡ª spas are popping up all over the Hudson Valley. Like wine, the choices can be confusing. They can be an expensive habit. And they¡¯re easy to enjoy, even if you don¡¯t know that much. (What¡¯s the difference between a massage and a body treatment, anyway? Should you get a wrap or a scrub?)


No matter what kind of spa experience you¡¯re looking for, from pampering day havens that treat you like a princess to weekend retreats aimed at restoring your spirits, you can find it in the Valley.

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Oh yes! In case you didn¡¯t know, a massage works on muscle tissue, while a body treatment targets your skin. But if you¡¯d like to know what a Vichy shower is, or how a Biodraineur feels, or what people talk about in a New Age Indian sweat lodge, read on.


Marlene Weber Day Spa


There are two Marlene Weber Day Spas in the Hudson Valley, and the one you choose might depend on what mood you¡¯re in. The original is a charming yellow and white converted barn tucked away in the pines right next to Poughkeepsie¡¯s Adams Fairacre Farms. The other, about 15 minutes down the road in Millbrook, is a Moroccan fantasy of hanging lanterns and candlelit treatment rooms. ¡°I don¡¯t want cookie-cutter spas,¡± declares owner Marlene Weber, who opened the first location back in 1989. ¡°I¡¯m a Gemini.¡±


In Poughkeepsie, the spa is downstairs, with a furnished ¡°tranquility room¡± painted sage green where you can get a Thai massage ($95). It takes place fully clothed on a soft mat on the floor, and the idea is to open up ¡°energy pathways.¡± The therapist starts with your feet, pressing them into the mat, works
her way up your legs, and takes your body through a series of stretches and postures. It¡¯s definitely different from Swedish massage ¡ª the therapist uses her hands, feet, even the weight of her whole body ¡ª but it leaves you feeling energized and refreshed. And my legs felt better than they ever have after a Swedish massage.


    Next I was placed in the soft and silky hands of Tammy Pacenza, who waves away ma­chines as a noisy intrusion on the art of the aesthetician. ¡°You can do the same thing with your hands and it¡¯s a lot more relaxing,¡± she said as she placed a hot towel scented with lavender onto my face for a ¡°Tourmaline Radiant Facial¡± ($95) that left my skin fresh and glowing.


    Last stop, back into the tranquility room for a pampering private pedicure ($42). A clear basin of warm water filled with colored stones rests on the floor, and by the chair is a platter of grapes, orange slices, strawberries, cheese, and crackers. Into the basin the feet went; an hour later, they were soft and scrubbed, with painted apricot toenails as pretty and perfect as little pieces of candy.


Marlene Weber Day Spa, 751 Dutchess Turnpike, Poughkeepsie, 845-454-5852; and Marlene Weber Salonspa, 2647 Route 44 (in the Millbrook Training Center), 845-677-1772;


River Rock Health Spa


Located in a professional building on a country road between Woodstock and Bearsville, the River Rock Health Spa is plain on the outside, but lavish inside. Built two years ago by Kingston Hospital, the spa was sold last January as a luxury the hospital could not afford. The new owners, two women from Woodstock, maintain the serious wellness bent. They don¡¯t do man­icures and pedicures because of the toxins in the polishes and removers, for instance, and their product lines are all-natural.


Still, all-natural doesn¡¯t mean low-tech. Some pretty fancy equipment came with the deal, like the Phytobiodermie Biodraineur from Switzerland, which accelerates the body¡¯s own process of lymphatic drainage, carrying away toxins and waste products.


So how does it work? For much of the 75-minute facial ($115), the aesthetician holds a little glass cup on your face while the Biodraineur pumps and wheezes, creating a suction that rhythmically pulls your skin into the cup as it is traced along the line of your lymphatic system. This takes a little getting used to. But if you have puffiness around the eyes, or want to be your absolute best for a big night out, this is the facial for you.


  Another great treatment is the Mesquite Body Scrub ($75; $90 with a Vichy shower), which takes place in the state of the art ¡°wet room.¡± You lay face down between towels on a space-age looking ¡°wet table,¡± which has a spongy blue surface and smooth, curved edges that channel water. The infrared lamp keeps everything very warm while a massage therapist rubs a tantalizingly fragrant blend of cornmeal, earthy ground mesquite, and body oil onto your skin, which removes all the dull, dead skin cells.


To wash the gritty scrub away, do you have to stand up? Of course not! A Vichy shower ¡ª seven shower heads on a pipe ¡ª is pulled into place and moved back and forth over your body. Heaven! Almost as good is the final rinse. You sit up and the therapist washes every last bit of cornmeal and mesquite off with a hand-held shower. ¡°Don¡¯t you feel like someone is giving you a bath?¡± she asks cheerfully.


This treatment ends with a little cedar-scented body oil, but the ideal would be to book a one-hour massage ($80). Now that you¡¯re rubbed and scrubbed with skin as soft as a baby, best to lie down, rest, and get all those kinks worked out of your muscles.

River Rock Health Spa, 62 Ricks Road, Woodstock.




If you want to try a popular new treatment that lets you float suspended in a warm cocoon while rich creams soak into your skin, you can stay at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires, sail on the new Queen Mary 2, or spend an afternoon at Kimberley¡¯s in Latham, Albany County.


When Kimberley Comiskey moved to her new 25,000-square-foot location last September, she bought lots of cutting-edge new equipment, including a ¡°passive immersion dry-float¡± system (the same one found at Canyon Ranch), a hy­drotherapy tub that uses color therapy, and a heated table from Austria for body treatments ¡ª the only one of its kind in the U.S. ¡°You can get a massage or facial anywhere,¡± says Comiskey. ¡°But I wanted to offer some truly unusual treatments.¡±


So I found myself with Darren, getting ready for the signature ¡°Pantai Luar¡±  ($150). Two ¡°dumplings¡± ¡ª cheesecloth bags about the size of a fist, filled with fragrant spices and tied off tightly with black ribbon ¡ª would be pulled out of 275-degree oil and flicked on my body. ¡°Has it ever been too hot for anyone?¡± I asked after hearing the oil crackle. ¡°Not yet,¡± he said.


It was an interesting sensation, almost too hot to bear, but not quite. As the dumpling cooled off, the therapist started a light continuous pressure called tracing. Finally, he applied heavier, circular pressure, called kneading, as he moved over my body. When the dumpling was cool, he pulled the hot one out of the oil and started flicking again with it, repeating the whole process twice on each side.


Other unusual treatments include the ¡°butter cr¨¨me melt float¡± ($100), which takes place in what looks like a twin-sized water bed. You can¡¯t see it, but inside is a hydraulic platform that keeps the bed firm in the early part of the treatment, when you¡¯re getting a gentle exfoliating scrub. After washing off in the shower, you lay back down and get rubbed all over with warm Swiss Goat Butter Cr¨¨me.


Then, when it¡¯s time to float, the platform drops away. This allows your body to be supported by a cocoon of warm water, though you don¡¯t get wet because you¡¯re lying on the fleece-lined surface of the waterbed. You relax for 20 minutes while the cream soaks into your skin. The only problem with this treatment is the ride back up. There¡¯s just no way to return from the experience of floating weightlessness without it being a bit abrupt.

Downstairs, there¡¯s a coffee bar, a living room waiting area, and the hair and nail salon. Upstairs is devoted entirely to the spa, with a wing for massage and body treatments, another for facials, and a relaxation room in between that looks like a library. It has a fireplace, a big leather sofa, and armchairs, so men will feel as comfortable there as women. There is also a cozy dining alcove where lunches, catered by the Century House Inn just across the street, are served.


Kimberley¡¯s A Day Spa, 982 New Lou­don Road, Latham. 518-785-5868;


New Age Health Spa


So maybe an afternoon at the spa isn¡¯t enough. At the New Age Health Spa in Neversink (Sullivan County), you can take the whole weekend to do yoga, get everything from Ayurvedic detox treatments to colon cleansing therapy, and go on a ¡°trust journey¡± with a few dozen people you¡¯ve never met. And for dinner? How about grilled Cornish hen, big chunks of marinated Portobello mushrooms, mesclun salad, and a sliver of almond pound cake with fresh fruit for dessert? (Unless you want to head off to the Indian sweat lodge, in which case there¡¯s a little soup or potassium broth.)


Considered a great value, New Age Health Spa is one of the country¡¯s small group of destination spas ¡ª overnight spas that provide a holistic approach to health and wellness (as opposed to resorts where you can be as bad as you want to be between treatments.) Canyon Ranch can easily cost two people close to $5,000 for the minimum three nights, plus extra treatments. A two-night weekend for two at New Age Health Spa runs closer to $1,200-$1,300, with a few treatments each. And locals can get up bright and early and enjoy a full day and three meals at the New Age for just $113.10. (Treatments are additional.)


The atmosphere is rustic, a collection of white clapboard buildings with country-style rooms nestled on 280 acres of gorgeous mountain terrain in the southern Catskills. ¡°It¡¯s not for people who require five-star accommodations, but I think it¡¯s charming,¡± said one happy customer, a 45-year-old woman from New Jersey who had come for a ¡°girls¡¯ weekend¡± with her college roommate.


They bring in special teachers like Bridget Sheilds, who spritzed the soaring space of the meditation hall with essential oils from Himalayan cedars during an ¡°aroma yoga¡± class. Melissa Zollo taught ¡°the art of intentional creation¡± in the afternoon, and that night, 20 of us, wrapped in pink towels, gathered around a blazing fire before heading into the sweat lodge to purify ourselves, ask for blessings, give thanks, and say goodbye: to inner children, lost lovers and husbands, Ray Charles. With each round, more eerily glowing stones were placed in the center pit, more sweetgrass and sage was crumbled onto the stones to rise up in thick aromatic smoke, and sandalwood sparked up like stars. And it got hotter and hotter ¡ª so hot, in fact, that even our sweat lodge leader was prostrate by the round of the buffalo. But afterwards, lying underneath the black sky and brilliant stars, it was possible to believe that what he said was true, that the ancestors had heard everything that was spoken that night.


New Age Health Spa, Route 55. 800-682-4348 or 845-985-7600;


Pretty Face


Pretty Face Medi-Spa in Montrose, just south of Peekskill, is not the sort of place you¡¯re going to lounge around in a robe and rubber sandals all day. You can get a Swedish massage, hot stone massage, reflexology, and wonderful facials featuring Kara¡¯s Herbal Comforts ¡ª natural products made right here in the Hudson Valley. And because it¡¯s affiliated with Dr. Andrew Salzberg, a board-certified plastic surgeon, it can offer medical microdermabrasion, high-strength glycolic peels, and Botox and Restylan injections. But the heart of its business is electrolysis and permanent makeup.


Now, my idea of permanent makeup involves scary memories, like the woman who had umpteen plastic surgeries and a faceful of ¡°undoable retouching¡± in her quest to become the human Barbie doll. But it turns out that there are more subtle ways to go with what is essentially a tattoo. ¡°I can place eyeliner as thin as a hair, right in your lash line,¡± coaxed Linda Nicolo, who owns Pretty Face. And the big, vibrating electric needle that makes permanent makeup so¡­uncomfortable? Linda uses a different technique called SofTap. ¡°You won¡¯t feel a thing,¡± she says.


Eyeliner, which costs $300 for the upper lids, $450 for upper and lower, is by far the most popular treatment for people who want to jump in and out of a swimming pool and still have their liner in place. My cousin, a horsewoman and natural beauty who goes on long group trail rides in southeastern Oklahoma, got permanent liner and brows after noticing one woman always looked great, even first thing in the morning. ¡°I love it,¡± she told me. ¡°I just splash a little water on my face and I¡¯m ready to go.¡±


So there I was, lying on the treatment table with some anesthetic goo on my lids for about 15 minutes, plenty of time for Linda¡¯s words of warning to echo in my ear. ¡°It¡¯s not the time to experiment, because it¡¯s not coming off.¡±


Linda dipped a tiny, disposable four-pronged instrument into the dye, a blend of Irish moss and mahogany, and gently pressed it into my lid, working her way from the inner lash to the outer. It wasn¡¯t painful, but a little uncomfortable at times. She went over each lid about three or four times, which took about 15 or 20 minutes. When she was done I looked in the mirror and screamed ¡ª then said I was just kidding. Linda told me it wasn¡¯t funny.


¡°Right now it¡¯s darker than it will be in a week,¡± she reassured me. She told me to swab it with a special ointment three times a day while it healed, and wear no mascara.

The next morning my eyelids were swollen, like I¡¯d had a big cry. But that was gone by the end of the day, and the next morning, when I looked in the mirror, I didn¡¯t look so sleepy when I hopped out of bed. Gradually, over the next five days, little pieces of dye flecked off, until I was left with a thin line, deep in my lashes, that was finer than anything I could ever draw.


Pretty Face, Cortlandts Common, 2081 Albany Post Road.
914-788-9790. ¡ö




Spa Selection


Are the spas we profiled a little far from you? No problem. There are choices throughout the Valley. Here are a few more.


Dutchess County


Located in one of Rhinebeck¡¯s grandest old homes, Haven has the most charming setting of any day spa in the Hudson Valley. It is beautifully transformed inside, and great food and shopping are just a stroll down the block. 6464 Montgomery Street. 845-876-7369;


Orange County


At Botanical ¡ª A Day Spa in Middletown, you can experience bliss by yourself in one of the three private treatment rooms or with a friend in the ¡°duet¡± room. When it¡¯s really time to indulge, invest in ¡°A Day Dream,¡± eight hours of pampering from the steam shower to makeup application. Fredericks Plaza, 253 Tower Drive. 845-692-4090;


    Professionals at Pineapple Day Spa in Pine Bush provide a holistic, laid-back approach to the spa experience. They stay current in their trade by taking six to 12 credits of continuing education classes a year devoted solely to their specialty. 35 Boniface Drive. 845-744-3039;


Albany County


Jean Paul Spa de Beaut¨¦ is a sleek, modern spa and salon that offers some of the best values in the Valley. The most
popular package, ¡°Jean Paul¡¯s Experience,¡± gives you a full-
body massage, European facial, and manicure for $140. Stuveysant Plaza, 1475 Western Avenue, Albany. 518-482-2121;


Ulster County


Radiance Day Spa in New Paltz offers everything from massages and hair-straightening to Mistic Tan sunless tanning and ear piercing. And it¡¯s the only spa on the west side of the Hudson that carries the full Bumble and Bumble product line. (It also features stylists who trained at Bb.U ¡ª NYC¡¯s ¡°graduate school¡± of hairdressing.) 238 Main Street. 845-256-0269.


    Body of Truth is a wellness spa in Kingston with M.D.s, chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, aestheticians, and energy healers, some of whom are specialists in holistic medicine, herbs, homeopathy, and essential oils. Another branch, the Spa at Stone Ridge, recently opened in a 350-year-old house. 737 E. Chester St. Bypass, Kingston; 85 Kyserike Road, Stone Ridge. 845-331-1178;


    The posh Emerson Inn & Spa in Mt. Tremper welcomes
day spa guests when it can ¡ª usually on weekdays. Arrive
early to use the endless pool, and stay to have Victorian tea in the afternoon. 146 Mt. Pleasant Road. 845-688-7900;


Westchester County


Riverspa in Irvington-on-Hudson is an upscale, Soho-style spa and salon with a surprising range of services, including chiropractic, Botox, and a Pilates and gyrontonics movement studio headed up by owner Heidi Sonn. 50 South Buckhout Street. 914-591-5757.


    Epidavros in Mt. Kisco is a luxurious setting filled with art and antiques and all the latest in skin-care equipment. Men like the private manicure/pedicure room. 272 North Bedford Road. 914-244-4422;

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