Gettysburg Retreat

Who needs a pricey destination spa when you can pull together your own do-it-yourself spa weekend close to home?


Cover Story

January 11, 2004|By John Muncie and Jody Jaffe | John Muncie and Jody Jaffe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

After slogging through the rainiest year on record and facing another wet, dreary week, we had a bad case of the winter blahs.

We needed a weekend of pampering. We needed that combination of exercise and hedonism that only a spa can provide.

We needed a bigger bank account.

After some Internet searching, we discovered that even the inexpensive destination spa resorts routinely start at $550 a night per couple and keep climbing, depending on room type and number of spa services. Our blahs turned to blues.

But then a friend came to our rescue. "Make your own spa weekend," he said. He told us about a place he goes when he gets the blahs -- a place much closer, and cheaper, than most destination spas.

And that's how we ended up in Gettysburg, Pa., for a terrific do-it-yourself spa adventure.

Gettysburg doesn't have a one-stop destination spa like the New Age Health Spa in Neversink, N.Y., or Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass., where you park your car, walk inside and emerge days later pummeled, polished and pampered.

But Gettysburg does have an assortment of services and activities that you can piece together to make your own spa weekend. And, unlike destination spas, Gettysburg has more than 6,000 acres of history to explore along scenic byways.

At a destination spa, the morning may start with mediation. At our do-it-yourself spa, we began the same way. About 10 miles before Gettysburg, we turned off Route 15 to a tranquil oasis, the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes, a replica of the famous French grotto.

Tucked in the hills behind Mount St. Mary's College & Seminary, in Emmitsburg, the wooded grotto is where America's first native-born saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton, used to pray. But you don't have to be Catholic or even Christian to find solace and serenity there.

We walked up the rhododendron-lined path that locals say is spectacular in the spring, past a reflecting pond, to a tiny chapel nestled under the trees. Inside, sunlight flooded through the stained-glass doors. There were four wooden seats and two small prayer benches: a perfect place to meditate if it's chilly outside.

But we chose to contemplate outside. Bundled in our parkas, we sat on a stone ledge by the ivy-cloaked grotto, watching the yellow flames of the devotional candles flicker in their cobalt glass holders. Behind us, a burbling waterfall played soundtrack to our morning meditation.

When we walked back to our car, stopping along the way to admire beautifully crafted religious mosaics, we felt a little more serene and a little less harried.

Friendly pampering

Our next stop: pampering for Jody, exploring for John. We drove into Gettysburg, circled the town square and headed for 265 Buford Ave.

The sign outside the small, white clapboard house with a purple door said, "Classic Cuts." Inside, we were greeted with a cup of coffee, a plate of cookies and the strong smell of nail polish and beef stew.

"Your pedicure's first, then the facial," Shannon Hartle, 33, a cosmetologist told Jody as she led her to a small room with two tables for nail polishing and a chair for pedicures.

Classic Cuts, which we found through the local visitors bureau, is the kind of small-town beauty salon where everyone knows everyone and there's no shortage of talk about who's doing what with whom.

As Jody got her feet rubbed and scrubbed, and her toenails painted persimmon, she learned, among other things, that: Shannon is getting married Jan. 22 to a long-distance truck driver named Jimmy; the beef stew simmering in the nearby crock pot was from Shannon's bachelorette party; fellow cosmetologist Barbara Horvath is getting married the week after Shannon and she'd furnished her kitchen in Campbell's soup knickknacks because her fiance's last name is Campbell.

Classic Cuts is located in the heart of re-enactment country. As a result, Shannon frequently gets requests for hairdos of the Civil War era. Most of the women expect to walk out looking like Scarlett O'Hara. Unfortunately, Shannon explains, the real look back then was wide at the sides and flat on top.

"It's pretty ugly," she says.

On to the facial room. Shannon showed the way to an old-fashioned barber chair, where the other bride-to-be, Barbara Horvath, took over. She reclined the chair and began massaging and kneading out what little tension Jody had left.

The total for two hours of pampering? Just $54. That's a sticker shock we could get used to. Classic Cuts has a tiered fee scale based on employee experience, and because Barbara is a relative newbie (two years' experience), the facial was only $24.

While Jody was saving money at Classic Cuts, John was exploring the town, poking into antiques shops, reading the mini-history lessons on the plaques scattered about and taking a coffee break at the Ragged Edge Coffeehouse two blocks from the town square.

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