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SpaWatch: Colonial Williamsburg – Let’s Spa Like it’s 1776!

By Mary Alice Kellogg

For those who think that the American Revolution and contemporary exfoliation are clashing concepts, SpaWatcher is here to say they are not. A visit to the Spa of Colonial Williamsburg proves the point.

Colonial Williamsburg — 301 landmarked acres encompassing 88 original and 500 reconstructed historic buildings — takes history seriously. So, when the decision was made to open a 3-story, 20,000-square-foot Spa two years ago, attention was paid to spirit of place, from decor to treatments. All signature treatments, in fact, are based on five centuries of meticulously researched Colonial, African and American Indian relaxation and healing practices.

Housed in an historic building — a brick Georgian Revival beauty, the former site of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum — the Spa at Colonial Williamsburg has a time-warp Southern charm and calm, with original exposed brick walls, natural light from oversize windows, handcrafted metal fixtures and sconces throughout, and, in a nice touch, separate relaxation lounges for men and women.

I chose the two-hour 18th-Century Colonial Herbal Spa Experience because, as it happens, the 18th century was a good one for wellness in America, being the era when doctors officially realized that cleanliness could be a good thing. Glancing at a replica of a 1772 home-recipe book in the lounge, I learned that, even then, folks were whipping up home-spa scented waters, oils, and bath salts like mad. (Reading a two-page recipe for herbal lip salve, I gave thanks to today's Gods of Product that enable me to point, click and purchase.)

My late 1770s healing journey began with a warm lavender, chamomile and rosemary foot bath, historically correct herbs from the period. This was followed by a full-body exfoliating scrub using essential oils, raw sugar, ginger and orange, a concoction to detoxify the skin and increase circulation. A face and scalp massage came next and, after a warm shower and 50-minute full-body massage, I was pleasantly comatose.

If this sounds like a modern spa treatment, that's the point: many of the products and procedures we take for granted today are based on the experiments of two centuries ago.

I was happy enough to embrace spirit of place, so much so that, before the end of the treatment, my therapist managed to get my spirit  –  which had evidently been floating on the ceiling in a fetching 18th century taffeta ball gown — back into my body.  Trust me — it happens.
Williamsburg, Virginia, USA


MARY ALICE KELLOGG, a New York-based writer and editor, is a
recipient of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award for Consumer
Reporting. A contributor to many national publications, including
Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit and GQ, she has
reported from 120 countries and five of the seven seas to date… and
counting.Visit MaryAlicekellogg.com

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