A Bodyworks Marathon in Berkeley Springs

by Jeanne Mozier

It would require a month of devoted indulgence to sample all the ways to bathe and have your body treated in Berkeley Springs, spa capital of West Virginia. A magnet for healthseekers since the 18th century, historic visitors like George Washington would be amazed at the choices available today in the tiny mountain town. For George, it was bathing in a hollow made of stone and lined with sand around one of the five major warm mineral springs. His only choice was whether to add more branches to the screening woven around the tub. Contemporary visitors are welcomed with an array of rubs, massages, wraps and skin care treatments selected individually or in packages from five full-service spas and several other venues open daily, year Ďround.

Starting with a mineral bath is always wise; it loosens and relaxes. Most unique are the historic Roman baths in Berkeley Springs State Park located in the oldest public building in town, the 1815 Roman Bath House. The baths are 750 gallons of direct-from-the-spring mineral water heated to 102 degrees and filling walk-in tubs in nine private bathing chambers. There is space enough for two or more bathers should you choose. The main bathhouse at the park offers both Roman baths and more traditional tubs in separate sections for men and women. The Country Innís elegant pink whirlpool tubs have the most dramatic view overlooking the adjacent park and springs. Atasia Spa has private whirlpool tub rooms and the Bath House Health Center has both indoor and outdoor SofTub baths. Located in town, these four spas all use the mineral springs as their water source.

Coolfont Resort, located in woods at the base of Cacapon Mountain just outside town, offers a communal Jacuzzi adjacent to the indoor heated pool as well as more than a score of chalets or vacation houses with their own private tubs. All water at Coolfont comes from the resortís own historic cool springs.

The burning question about bathing in Berkeley Springs is what to wear. Historic records give no clue as to whether our first president soaked in the springs dressed au natural, but today all the options except for Coolofontís poolside Jacuzzi and the hot tubs at the Bath House Health Center - are private chambers and require no bathing suits. As any devotee will attest, you do not want anything to come between you and the healing water.

Now that you are well soaked, browse through the various massage techniques offered in this resort town where massage is a way of life and the population lists three times as many massage therapists as lawyers.

La Stone thermal massage, using both hot and cold stones as well as Japanese hot stones, are a popular choice. Reiki, craniosacral, Shiatsu, deep tissue and polarity massage can be found at one or more of the spas. Frankie Tan, master massage therapist and owner of Atasia, was trained in the temples of Bangkok and is the sole practitioner of Thai massage. You can have sports massage or prenatal massage as well as massage devoted to one or more body parts like your scalp. Mainstay at the Berkeley Springs State Park bathhouse is basic Sweedish massage, a good choice for beginners.

There are other bodywork treatments in the massage family including acupressure, polarity therapy, energy balancing, neuromuscular therapy and reflexology. Often aromatherapy includes a massage component although you may choose to simply sit in a steam tube with specially selected essential oils working their magic through scent. The state park bath house has steam cabinets and Atasia offers a steam room.

Queen of treatments is acupuncture and the queen of those thread-thin needles in Berkeley Springs is Dr. Lin Wang, Chinese Physician, western M.D. and acupuncturist in residence at Coolfont Resort. Lin also uses Chinese massage with her treatments. She is in great demand, so plan ahead.

Last, but certainly not least, are the treatments based primarily on skin. Many also have a therapeutic component and often involve massage. There are sugar scrubs where you emerge smelling like a fresh-baked cookie, but also soft to the touch. Wraps use substances ranging from black mud to various herbal combinations including peppermint. Salt glows and body polishing do what they claim - make you glow and shine. European facials, manicures and pedicures are elaborate treatments that go far beyond painting your nails.

We added up the menus of all the spas and the sum is clear. Whether you choose one spa or sample several, with 42 different treatments in every imaginable combination, you cannot escape Berkeley Springs without feeling softened, toned and smoothed inside and out.

Check the Spa page at www.berkeleysprings.com for entry to the individual spasí pages complete with prices, services and detailed descriptions. For more information on visiting Berkeley Springs, close enough to the Washington/Baltimore metro area to make it a day-spa town, call 1-800-447-8797.