Travel

Fight back against the Arctic Blast with hot water, mud, stones and salt

When Mother Nature starts huffing like an insulted aunt, why argue? While she blusters, head to the nearest spa. Or at least the one that fits your personality.

Spas in the South Sound are not cookie-cutter. While you’ll see some common treatments among them, spas have their own styles, themes and specialties.

When the recent arctic blast blew into the area, we checked into two local spas with very different styles.

OLYMPUS SPA: BATHING WITH GODDESSES

Aaahh — that eye-closingly awesome feeling of sinking into the 102-degree goodness of an Olympus Spa pool after a day of yard work. But as the bubbly water massages my shoulders and jets soothingly into my lower back, I’m not just getting a dose of mineral-hot-water relaxation. I’m also getting a quiet burst of physical self-esteem as I join the throng of women of all shapes, sizes, ages and skin colors — all unselfconscious, and all completely naked.

Yep, naked. Olympus isn’t just the South Sound’s only Korean-style, women-only baths. It’s also the naked spa, which is a wonderful thing. Why? Because apart from offering you the chance to have every single inch of skin immersed, scrubbed and bathed in heat, it gives you entry into a sisterhood of confident women, bathing communally as women have done in some cultures for thousands of years.

Of course, not everyone at Olympus Spa looks like a goddess, but that’s kind of the point. If you’ve never gone to a naked spa, you can rest assured that at Olympus there will always be someone bigger, smaller, saggier, wrinklier or more svelte than you — and no one looks attractive in their stripy pink shower caps anyway. That frees you up to kick back like Aphrodite and enjoy the bliss.

If you’re new, it helps to know the Olympus routine. After you check in and get your locker key, robe and towels, leave your shoes in the entry cubbies and find your locker in the changing room. Undress completely (yes, even underwear) and put on the robe and shower cap — you’ll be wearing this cap the whole time to keep hair out of the pools. You’ll want to soak first (allow plenty of time for this if you book a treatment), so go to the pool area and find the shelf with your locker number on it. Leave both towels and robe (keep that cap on!). There are four Western showers and a row of sit-on-a-stool Korean ones — take your pick, but get clean.

Now, you have a hard choice: Which pool? The 90- and 93-degree mineral baths are tepid, the 97-degree one warm, the 102-degree deliciously hot if you can stand it. There’s also a scoop-over mugwort herbal bath for circulation, and a dunk-if-you-dare cold pool with a stinging waterfall: It’s 60 degrees, which feels like 40 after the hot pool.

If you like saunas, the mugwort steam sauna is hot enough to burn the inside of your nose, with white clouds filling the tiled room. The Finnish-style wooden dry sauna is a little easier to breathe in. Take a small towel to lie on, and shower afterward.

Olympus has plenty of spa treatments (massages, wraps, facials), but the queen of them all is the Korean body scrub, where you lie on a slab table while the Olympus attendants rub your entire body with what feels like sandpaper. (It’s actually a rough mitt.) As you watch your skin get hosed off in unattractive little lumps, you realize the true meaning of “exfoliate” — or you can buy a mitt for $6 and do it yourself in the shower, which is definitely less painful, but also less effective.

When you’re soaked through, you can explore the rest of Olympus: the casual café with female chefs and a tasty Korean menu from bulgogi BBQ to boiled squid to veggie pancakes; the candlelit tea room with elegant floor cushions; the first heated room where women lounge on the tiled floor, chatting and reading magazines; or the other three heated rooms lined with minerals that are supposed to help everything from blood pressure to lymphatic blockages. The sand-and-charcoal room (fabric-covered sand on the floor, charcoal on the walls) is a cozy 140 degrees and feels like lying on an Australian beach without the burning sun; the salt-floor room is slightly hotter (a beach in Dubai, maybe), while the mud and jade room, 160 degrees and humming from the far-infrared light overhead, feels a bit like lying down on the side of a volcano.

Above all, Olympus is communal. Everywhere (except the darkened hot rooms) there are women chatting: about work, about friends, about life. For some, it’s a weekly get-together; for others, it’s a once-a-year treat. For everyone, though, it’s a unique place to recharge your body, immerse yourself culturally — and bond with the goddess sisterhood.

SPA AT CEDARBROOK: PACIFIC NORTHWEST PAMPERING

My massage therapist was pure Sunshine. That is to say her name was Sunshine. But she really was like a ray of golden sun on this rainy day. Even while she softened me up with rocks.

I was at the Spa at Cedarbrook, the recently opened retreat that is part of the Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac.

It would be hard to find a place that better evokes the Pacific Northwest than the wood- and stone-finished Cedarbrook. Given that it’s within walking distance of SeaTac Airport makes it feel like a temperate oasis.

Once a Washington Mutual conference center, the lodge sits on 18 acres of mostly wild land. Views look out onto forest, not concrete. For six years, the Coastal Hotel Group has been slowly turning it into a luxury destination.

The new spa maintains a refined Northwest feel with wood panels, stone sinks and leaf-embossed tiles.

After changing into a robe, I was told to relax in the appropriately named relaxation room. Sofas and chaise lounge chairs faced a gas fireplace. Windows fronted outdoor patios. A pitcher held citrus-and-cucumber-infused water.

After Sunshine ushered me to a private treatment room, I stretched out on a massage table. I had opted to start with a brookstone massage — smooth heated stones used to massage and warm.

Sunshine used them on me in varying patterns. Never resting, she kept the stones in constant motion. The sensation is more relaxing than a deep-tissue massage.

Sunshine finished the session by spritzing my face with water scented with eucalyptus, bergamot, spearmint and lavender. How did she know they were my favorite scents?

Next up was a detoxifying mud wrap. The odorless mud is collected from the delta of the Copper River in Alaska. Elizabeth, my new therapist, said it contained 60 minerals and other ingredients including kelp and blueberries.

I can’t verify the detoxifying claims, but considering all the rum cake and nog I’d consumed over Christmas, I figured it couldn’t hurt.

After slathering me with the smooth brown goo, Elizabeth wrapped me in a metallic mylar sheet. A passerby might have mistaken me for a human-sized baked potato covered in gravy. All I needed was chives.

Not that I’m complaining. It was a comforting and pleasurable experience. While I steeped, Elizabeth gave me a pressure-point massage on my face.

After I was unwrapped, Elizabeth swiveled a horizontal shower over me. I'd never taken a shower lying down before. I achieved a new level of decadence. Or laziness.

The stone massage and mud wrap are not the only treatments that evoke the outdoors at Cedarbrook. They also offer a whispering pine body polish and a forest foot refresher.

Treatment prices range from $25 to about $100. A two-combo package (100 minutes) can be had for $179.

After my late afternoon sessions, I could have joined the evening commute back to Tacoma, but I opted for a seat in Cedarbrook’s restaurant, Copperleaf. It’s so close to the spa you could crawl there.

The setting of the restaurant is grand but very public. Tables and chairs are arranged on the lower level of the lobby giving it an improvised feel.

Entrée prices are in the $30 range. My meal, a trio of pork dishes, was varied and flavorful. The piggies were raised on hazelnuts, I was told. Whatever they ate, it put the “tender” in tenderloin.

The meal came with extras: an amuse bouche and bowl of wild mushroom crème soup. When I turned down dessert (mud pie wasn’t on the menu), the waiter nevertheless brought me a small desert trio. Who can say no to free dessert?

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