Girlfriend Getaways

Spa packages pamper best friends with weekend-long relaxation

March 07, 2004|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,Special to the Sun

Lisa Gladden juggles dual roles as a Baltimore City public defender and state senator. When life gets too stressful, she plans a spa weekend. But Gladden doesn't go solo. The Ashburton resident is often joined by a girlfriend -- usually, best pal and cousin Shareyfah Gray.

For nearly a decade, the 39-year-old lifelong friends have taken yearly spa excursions together. They enjoy massage, facials, aromatherapy, assorted body wraps and treatments.

"We've gotten turned on to the concept of indulgence," says Gladden, who has visited luxury spas on the east and west coasts.

"We go either to energize or relax," she says, noting that each saves up in order to splurge. "It's a weekend we've earned financially and spiritually."

These getaways nurture mind, body and spirit, and are what Gray terms a "good girlfriend experience."

"You have somebody to chat with and laugh," says Gray, a speech-language pathologist for the Baltimore County public schools who lives in Forest Park.

"It's a great way to relax, rejuvenate and enjoy the company of someone you're fond of. I highly recommend it."

Across the country, more and more spas are offering specialty packages for women and their friends.

Loosely dubbed "girlfriend getaways" (or some variation thereof), they typically include overnight accommodations, meals and a variety of customized spa treatments.

"It's a real trend that's been developing over the last five years," says Susie Ellis, president of Spa Finder magazine and the Web site spafinder.com. "Signs of this move have been evident at day spas and 'stay' spas where you see them building more facilities for women, such as rooms for bridal parties."

"Baby boomers realize how important relationships are, and spas are a perfect setting with the ambience to relax and shut out the world," Ellis says. "Younger women spend more time on friendship because families are spread all over the country and [friends are] often their primary support. What better place to relax and enjoy relationships than a spa?"

This getaway concept has proven successful at Five Gables Inn & Spa in St. Michaels on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

"Every week, we get women coming in -- from high-school friends to those celebrating their 40th or 50th birthday," says innkeeper Marianne Lesher.

"Packages are a fabulous way to attract people to your location."

The historic, 1860s inn began offering seasonal "Just the Girls" packages just a few months ago.

A typical experience might encompass a two-night stay, 30-minute facial and 45-minute massage, continental breakfast and a snack basket.

Guests have access to the inn's video library and board games, heated indoor pool, sauna, steam room and other amenities.

The packages start at $395 (midweek) and $525 (weekends) for two guests.

"People come from all over," says Lesher, who oversees daily operations for proprietors John and Bonnie Booth. "Most want to get away from the 'big' city."

Five Gables' presents an ideal atmosphere for rest and renewal.

Fourteen guest rooms feature whirlpool tubs, gas-log fireplaces and graceful touches: toile linens, Frette towels, and down comforters.

The recently renovated Aveda concept spa boasts various natural treatments -- from herbal hydrotherapy baths to rosemary mint body wraps -- using products formulated with pure plant and flower essences.

During a recent visit I made, candles flickered, New Age music played softly, and orchids set the tone as massage therapists rubbed achy muscles.

Lavender, tangerine, vanilla, ylang-ylang and patchouli oils were artfully displayed.

Next door, a tub filled with hot scented water bubbled and pulsed.

Outside, picturesque St. Michaels boasts fine dining, chic boutiques and antique shops, as well as the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and other attractions.

Most are within walking distance.

"When women come here, it takes them about an hour to unwind," says Lesher with a smile. "I love to see the transformation."

Denise Diegel, a 49-year-old high-school French teacher from Westminster, recently visited Five Gables with her two sisters and sister-in-law. The four women drove from various parts of the East Coast, including New York and Virginia, meeting in Annapolis. From there, they made their way to St. Michaels, where they stayed two nights (Friday and Saturday), enjoying the "Just the Girls" package.

"My sisters and I take trips every February together," says Diegel. "We all have busy lives, so we like to get together and pamper ourselves. We were looking for someplace different."

"The place was lovely, very nice. The rooms were sweet and I had one of the best massages I've ever had."

"All the 'girl talk' was fun," she says. "Women are so good at nurturing each other."

Andree Gitchell-Raines, a hospital program director from Bridgewater, Va., treated best friend Ellen Shinaberry, a pharmacist, to Five Gables in mid-January to celebrate Ellen's 40th birthday.

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