Napa Valley, California
Napa Valley Spas
The first thing people think of when they hear "Napa Valley" is wine. But the second thing many people think of is mud.
Why mud? Because the town of Calistoga at the north end of the valley is famous for its spas and mud baths.
Calistoga is on top of an active geothermal zone, meaning the area is filled with hot springs and hot pools of water that can be tapped.
Ever since Sam Brannan founded the town in the 1860s, Calistoga has been renowed for mud baths and mineral baths. You'll like it.
What happens in a spa? Why would someone pay to get slimed? Ah, but it's far more than that.
What follows is typical, but each spa has its own physical layout, amenities and treatment order.
If you planned ahead, you already made an appointment before you left home for the Napa Valley. If not, try to do it as soon as you arrive in the valley. If that's not possible, just show up and hope they have an opening.
When you arrive at the front desk, you'll choose your various treatments from an extensive menu of options: baths, wraps, facials, scrubs, massages. Wraps, facials and scrubs can involve many different herbs and scents, all designed to make your skin cleaner and healthier; remove toxins and dead cells from your body; and invigorate your skin, your body and your psyche. Each spa has its own particular formulas.
Mud baths are always optional, and not every spa has them, but if they're available we recommend that you try one.
Once you've picked your choices, you'll be assigned to a room, usually a private one. A few spas are set up so that you and your partner can take mud baths and mineral baths together.
You will disrobe, wrap yourself in a towel, and then be led into another room. There you'll shower and walk over to a mud bath. There are separate rooms for men and women.
Mud for two. (Photo courtesy of Golden Haven Spa.)
The bath is (usually) a rectangular cement tub filled with dark mud. It's not your average mud, but a mixture of clay or local volcanic ash, imported peat moss and local hot springs water. The purpose of the mud is to remove toxins from your body, relax your muscles and joints, and cleanse and invigorate your skin.
You sit on the edge of the tub, swing your legs into the tub, and then kind of scoot the rest of you over until you're all in. Lie down on your back in the mud, wiggle down as much as possible, then use your hands and arms to pile mud on top of yourself, until as much of you as possible is covered. If you can't get it all, don't worry. The bath attendant will cover the rest of you until only your head is uncovered.
You'll then lie there for 10-12 minutes and soak. Nothing else is expected of you. From time to time an attendant will come by, wipe the sweat off your forehead with a cool washcloth, and give you a glass of cold water to drink (through a straw.)
When the time is up, your attendant will tell you to get out. Do it slowly. Actually, you have no choice. You can't do it quickly anyhow. Hold onto the sides of the tub with your hands, then use the strength of your hands and arms to lift your rear up and swing it over to the side of the tub. Then shove, scrape and wipe as much of the mud off your body as you can back into the tub.
When you're done (don't worry, everyone still has lots of mud on them) go back into the shower and wash off the rest of the stuff. Yes, it does stick into all those cracks and crevices, so do a pretty thorough job. Once you've showered, it's time for the mineral bath.
After the mud comes the bubbly water. (Photo courtesy of Golden Haven Spa.)
This bath often takes place in the same room as the mud bath. If not, you'll be led to the right location. There you'll remove your towel, get into the tub and relax for 10-15 minutes while whirlpool jets blow streams of air and bubbles in the warm water, and you soak peacefully. One spa we like even has a rubber ducky for you to play with. If you have the energy for it, you can always take a sip from the ever-present glass of cold water.
Your attendant will reappear and tell you that it is time for the blanket wrap. You'll get out of the mineral bath, dry off a little, then head to the wrap room. Here you'll lie down on a comfortable bed on your back, be wrapped in blankets, and again have your forehead wiped and another glass of cold water.
Once again, your only job is to lie there, rest, and slowly cool off from the heat acquired in the mud and mineral baths. It's a good place for a short nap.
After another 10 to 15 minutes, you're once again beckoned from your reverie and led off, most likely to yet another room.
At most spas, you can choose between a half-hour or full-hour massage, or sometimes even one lasting an hour and a half. A shorter massage will cover your back, neck and shoulders. A long massage will very thoroughly cover everything from nose to toes.
Styles of massage vary, and you can request the kind you like. They range from gentle Esalen-type massage—which is pure, gentle pleasure—up to the much more vigorous Swedish massage, which frequently feels a lot better after you've gotten it than it does during.
During your massage only the area of your body that is being worked on will be exposed. The rest will be discreetly covered with a sheet. If you want to specify a male or female massage therapist, make sure you do it when you book the appointment.
At the end of your massage, you'll be allowed to lie there (many people fall asleep after or even during the massage) until you're ready to get up. You'll probably have carried your belongings along with you, so eventually you can get dressed and go back out into the world, a very different person than when you entered the spa.