Taking the Waters in the Vail Valley
Vail CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” IN AMERICA, THE TERM SPA CONJURES UP VISIONS OF massage tables and aestheticians, soothing music and decadent robes. But head to the spa in Japan or Europe and you’ll find H2O. Lots of it. Spas there include large pools of warm water designed for long-term soaking. Some of them lay claim to water that bubbles up from natural springs.
Others have modified the mineral content of the water, to promote muscle relaxation and other health benefits.
“We try to combine the best of both worlds,” says Gaye Steinke, general manager of Allegria Spa at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek.
She’s not kidding. Allegria has long offered a global selection of services: Thai massage, Swedish massage, reflexology and more. And now their patrons are able to “take the waters.”
The spa recently reopened after a massive remodel that almost doubled the space, but only added two treatment rooms. Instead, there’s a lot more relaxation space, including a water sanctuary.
In this sanctuary, which lies behind two sets of double doors just off the spa’s lobby, is a series of pools and rooms designed for what’s called the “aqua sanitas” ritual.
“Aqua sanitas is a self-guided ritual,” Steinke explains. “It can be used in two ways: as a prelude to a spa treatment, or just by itself.”
It takes roughly an hour to make it through the whole experience. In Japan, it’s customary to cleanse before climbing into the bath, be it public or private. So, too, is it with Allegria’s aqua sanitas. After showering with an herbal body rinse, people enter the only co-ed pool of the whole experience:
Bathing, also called balneotherapy and hydrotherapy, is nothing new. The Romans were passionate about taking the waters in public bathhouses; Egyptian royalty bathed in a combination of essential oils and flowers. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” often prescribed bathing in spring water as a curative. At the very least it promotes circulation in the body.
The term spa has become generic, referencing any place that is used for aesthetic body treatments. But it used to be specific, referring to the town of Spa, Belgium. The spring water that bubbled beneath the town was used for medicinal purposes. People suffering from iron deficiency could drink the water and miraculously be cured. In the 1500s, full-fledged medicinal bathing was revived in earnest in Bath, England. It’s still going strong, especially in Austria.
“In Europe, it’s not uncommon for these spas to be used as a pure preventative health facility,” says Jim Lamont, a Vail resident. “Doctors actually send patients to spas.”
He’s smitten with the idea of creating a destination spa that serves both the locals and visitors. In Europe, they traditionally have a section used for families, and another that’s strictly for adults.
“Europeans love hot water and thermal pools,” agrees Mike Ortiz, Executive Director of the Vail Recreation District. “They have rec centers, but they’re really into water.” He visited several spa facilities on a recent trip to Europe, including the Aqua Dome in Austria, an enormous facility with indoor and outdoor sections.
Ortiz and Lamont are testing the waters, so to speak, on whether a destination community spa makes sense locally. If they decide to pursue the idea, it will be years in the making. For now, Allegria’s water sanctuary is the closest one can get.
Steinke encourages people to use the water sanctuary even if they’re not scheduled for a specific treatment. The spa offers a yoga-aqua sanitas package, that includes a one-hour yoga class, full access to the water sanctuary and lunch. And though Allegria is part of the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, it’s open to the public. In fact, only about 30 percent of the spa’s clientele comes from the hotel. The rest are locals, guests at other hotels, and even residents of nearby counties. Which just goes to show the secret is out. For more info visit allegriaspa.com or call 970.949.1234.