When the second of her two brothers had departed for college, leaving her alone with only her parents for company, my daughter decided we should mourn together at a spa. She had four parameters to pass along to the travel agent: Europe, beach, shopping, no museums. (She knows me too well.) And that's how we wound up, improbably, at the Hotel De Paris in Monte Carlo, slathered in warm mud with the Mediterranean as the screen saver of our charmed lives.
But we agree that a recent spa trip much closer to home was nearly as enjoyable, even though there was no blue water involved and no Alain Ducasse outpost off the lobby. The Lodge at Woodloch is in the Poconos, about a two-hour drive from New York City. A winding road that passes close by Lake Wallenpaupack snakes through little Hawley, Pennsylvania, and up to the destination spa, a variation on a ski chalet surrounded on three sides by woods.
The spa was once a rarity, designed for the wealthy and located in what, in English mystery novels, are usually referred to as "fashionable watering places." Now they're everywhere: day spas in small towns, spa services at hotels. The spa at the new Four Seasons in St. Louis serves not only the hotel guests but local residents who want a great massage or facial.
I've been hearing raves about the Lodge at Woodloch from friends who have visited the best spas in Asia and Europe and who know good exfoliation when they feel it. And they were right. The rooms are comfortable, with the obligatory Frette linens and flatscreens and balconies that overlook the woods and a glimmer of lake beyond. The fitness protocols are fun, from dawn kayaking to kickboxing to simple stretching classes. There's a golf course across the road and a variety of serious mountain hikes.
But everyone knows a spa is about the meals and the treatments, and Woodloch is first-rate on both counts. Instead of the healthy-eating-but-who-wants-it cuisine of some places, the kitchen here concentrates on portion size. It may be disconcerting to have a waitress present a bison burger with caramelized onions little bigger than a hockey puck, but when you've finished it, and the vegetable chips alongside, it seems just enough. And you're always welcome to order another; everything but alcohol is included in the daily rate.
Above all, the treatments are terrific, with good products and a very attentive staff. One of the priciest items on an extensive menu of facials, massages, reiki and reflexology is something called the Lavender Garden Dream. It's worth every penny: first a body scrub with scented salt, then a full-body massage, then a wrap in heated sheets while the lavender oil soaks in and the masseuse massages a creamy conditioner into hair and scalp.
I wish the architect who planned the Lodge at Woodloch had created treatment rooms with a view into the pines the way Les Thermes Marin in Monte Carlo had views of the sea. It's some compensation that there's an infinity whirlpool that seems to hang over the forest; one friend says it's particularly great to soak in the hot jets during a light snowfall. That's probably a perfect time to visit the Lodge, during winter or in fall, when the leaves are turning. The place is full of fireplaces, and the enormous windows bring all the scenery inside both the dining and guest rooms. And I do love a place that suggests, even urges you to wear your terry robe to meals. We are definitely going back, for the Lavender Garden Dream and the goat cheesecake. It was tiny, but, boy, was it good!