Practically perfect pampering Getaway: Why go far away for spa comforts? Right out Interstate 70 is a resort spa that offers many enticements and luxuries that won't break the bank

Short hop.

December 20, 1998|By Sarah Pekkanen | Sarah Pekkanen,Staff Writer

My best friend and I hatched the plot during one of our late-night phone conversations. Our birthdays were approaching, and we wanted to continue our tradition of celebrating together. But instead of going out to dinner or a play, as we had in the past, we felt like treating ourselves to something really luxurious - or at least as luxurious as our savings accounts would allow.

"How about a weekend getaway?" I suggested. Ann's delighted squeal provided the answer.

Two weeks later, after Ann had scoured what seemed like every bookstore in Manhattan and I'd searched the Internet night after night, we were ready to call the whole thing off. Everything was too far away or far too expensive.

But serendipity intervened. Perusing the yellow pages, I stumbled across Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center in Ellicott City. Known mainly for its lush golf course, the resort had opened in March a new European-style spa. The facility - billed as Maryland's first resort spa - offered an enticing menu of services, including facials, massages, whirlpool treatments and manicures.

As it turned out, Turf Valley offers a variety of packages. One, called the "Pajama Party," seemed tailor-made for us - it included an overnight stay with dinner, breakfast in bed, lunch and a half-day of spa services. Best of all, it was cheaper than a quick day trip to most salons. Ann and I paid just $227.75 each.

We spent less than 24 hours at Turf Valley, but left feeling as relaxed as if we'd just returned from a week at the beach.

Our adventure began Friday, when we arrived at Turf Valley precisely at the 4 p.m. check-in time and were quickly directed to our room. It was fine, if lacking character. We opened the curtains, hoping to see the sprawling golf course we'd glimpsed on the drive up, and discovered our view was the parking lot. It was the first disappointment.

We changed into bathing suits and hit the indoor pool, which was completely empty. Better still, there was a big whirlpool bath attached to one end. After soaking away the day's stresses, we pulled lawn chairs up to a giant window and watched a pair of swans patrol a nearby pond.

After a while, I peeled myself off the chair and headed for the spa. Although our package included two spa services of our choosing the next morning, I'd decided to really indulge and shell out an extra $60 for a facial that night.

The spa was quietly elegant, decorated in muted colors with ivy-stenciled columns stretching from floor to ceiling. I was handed a cozy robe and slippers, then led into a little room where a woman mixed up various potions.

She examined my face under a strong light, then told me she had detected some dryness. Translation: At this stage of the game, my biggest foes are no longer blemishes, but fine lines. Happy Birthday, Sarah. But what she said next more than made up for it: Would you mind if I rubbed your feet while the mask does its work?

An hour later, exfoliated, steamed, moisturized and about as relaxed as an overcooked noodle, I returned to the room, where Ann was napping. An excellent idea, I thought.

Dinner that night was a delight. We feasted in Turf Valley's main restaurant, Alexandra's, amid simple but pleasant decor. After salad with a yummy fat-free yogurt dressing, we ordered seared tuna and salmon. At our request, the chef divided both entrees onto two plates, and even split all the vegetables in two perfectly equal portions.

Wine wasn't included with our package - so we splurged on a $30 bottle - but dessert was. Don't even get me started on the warm apple, caramel-drenched, vanilla ice cream-topped masterpiece that Ann ordered. I got a less exciting piece of chocolate cake, but persuaded her I needed to sample half her dessert in the interest of journalistic integrity.

Then, we staggered back to the room and slept like rocks.

The next morning, a tray of fruit Danish, juice and hot coffee was delivered to our room at 8:30. By 9 a.m., we were back in the Serenity Room, where iced bottles of spring water and bowls of dried fruit were within reach of soft, comfortable chairs. Ann and I had both chosen the same treatments: A massage, then a whirlpool and a "detoxifying wrap."

I didn't know it yet, but I was in for the biggest disappointment of the trip. Although the massage was supposed to take at least an hour, mine lasted not even 40 minutes. At first I thought I had misunderstood what was included in the package, but Ann's massage lasted another half-hour beyond mine. When we compared notes, she said she had been in for a surprise, too: She had been assigned a male massage therapist. Although Ann didn't have any problem with the situation - he was professional and extremely capable, she said - she would have appreciated being notified in advance.

The next stop was a hot whirlpool in a private room, followed by a wrap. I was impressed by the spa's attention to detail: After covering me in steaming towels, the technician rubbed my neck and shoulders and even combed my hair.

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