Soaking in Salt: A new kind of spa

This past weekend we got the most amount of snow I’ve seen in Charlottesville all winter and not many were out on Saturday, but Michal’s four-wheel drive did well on the roads so we thought we’d try out a Living Social deal we found for a flotation center near the Downtown Mall.

Aqua Float is a totally different kind of spa or wellness center than Michal and I have ever visited – more focused on individual meditation and healing rather than a social experience we could share with each other and friends.  We spent 90 minutes in individual rooms within enclosed tanks, each boasting more than 800 pounds of saltwater with a little ambient lighting.

We took a tour of the facility before getting enclosed in our individual tanks.

When I first saw our individual tanks, they reminded me of that moment when Matt Damon woke up in the film Interstellar.

First impressions:

  • It looks like a space ship or a device from some sci-fi, futuristic film.
  • I need to be extra careful not to accidentally rub my eyes with salt as it will burn.
  • I will probably get bored, but this is supposed to be healing so I’m going with the flow.

Afterward:

  • I fell asleep half-way through and woke up with a start as it took me a minute to re-orient myself. I also started to feel a bit claustrophobic so I opened the lid of tank a bit.
  • I was incredibly thirsty – downing two water bottles immediately.
  • After showering off all the salt, my skin felt amazingly smooth and I was glowing.
  • When Michal and I met up in the lounge, we helped ourselves to complimentary fruit, lemon-infused water and tea while reading a few materials on the benefits of floating, as well as journaling/doodling. This time helped with extending the relaxation experience and alleviated my dehydration.
  • I felt a boost in my mood and energy level that lasted me through the day.

Would I do it again?

Probably not unless there is another LivingSocial deal – We paid $29 each for what normally costs $60 each. Also – the length of the session seemed a bit too long to me as I did get a bit stir-crazy in that tank.

However, I like finding unique, local spots like this and will now consider doing my Epsom salt baths at home as I love the way my skin feels afterward. This was also a very calming, restorative experience that I would recommend if you’re having a stressful or anxious week, as it truly helped me to quiet my mind.

Quotes from the website and brochures that stood out:

“Being a float tank is like relaxing in outer space.”

“Trust the water.” – relating to letting your head fall back and your neck relax, as that isn’t our natural inclination when in deep water (FYI – I prefer using the neck pillow for extra support.)

“No pathogenic organisms can survive salt concentrations above 10 percent.” – helped in making me feel reassured that the water is clean, plus there is an intense filtration system and everything in the facility is spotless, well –maintained and soothing

Have you ever tried a floatation center or are you interested? The employees at the one we visited in Charlottesville told us the majority in the U.S. are out on the West Coast.

Winter Weekend Getaway: ‘Taking to the Waters’

In my quest to complete my Cville Bucket List in our second and final year at Darden, my husband Michal and I have discovered a few spots in Central Virginia that are a fun alternative to the typical Jacuzzi, whirpool or hot tub in a ski lodge: the Omni Homestead and Jefferson Pools.

Less than two hours away from Charlottesville, these two facilities have the same owner (Omni) but drastically different feels – swanky vs. rustic. The following is recap of a Saturday-Sunday trip that Michal and I took last month when we decided to “take to the waters,” in Thomas Jefferson’s words.

Back to the Basics

After a long day of hiking in the Hidden Valley and Cobbler Mountain trails, we were beat. (And yes, hiking in the winter is somewhat common in the area, especially during this year’s overall mild winter.)

This hike is known for the views on its long walking bridges. The weather and scenery that day make this photo seem like it was during the fall season!

This hike is known for the views on its long walking bridges. The weather and scenery that day make this photo seem like it was during the fall season!

Our legs were ready for some relaxation, so we checked into the Warm Springs Inn. The inn was cozy and had a lot of character with the main building’s beautiful architectural details, as it used to be a courthouse and jail in 1802. Bonus: The inn was lot more affordable of $96/night instead of $180/night or more at the Omni Homestead down the road.

The most advantageous part about staying at the inn was the location – It’s right across from the historic Jefferson Pools. According to the website, “the pools are named for Thomas Jefferson, who sojourned here in 1818 to spend three weeks relaxing within our Virginia mountain spa.”

It felt like we time traveled to Thomas Jefferson's era - except for the neon-colored noodle floaties.

It felt like we time traveled to Thomas Jefferson’s era – except for the floating neon-colored noodles we used.

Although the Jefferson Pools were charming with its history, it seems they haven’t renovated since that time period.

The surrounding walkways and parking lot were muddy after melted snow and rain and no pavement, and the building itself was a rickety wood dome with a “skylight” that looked like a clear plastic tarp that had a rip in it. Not to mention, there were no working public bathrooms or insulation for the dressing rooms. Expert advice: Based on suggestions from the innkeeper across the street, I planned ahead and wore bathing suit underneath my clothes to minimize the amount of time it took to get into the water.

The water was just above body temperature, so they’re not as hot as the springs at the Homestead but the co-ed pool was much bigger so I didn’t feel claustrophobic. Plus, they provided noodles to help with floating and it was deep and wide enough that I could swim or tread water a bit when it wasn’t busy.

For $17 to soak as long as you want, it wasn’t too expensive, but it really should have had a discount as the more upscale Homestead was similarly priced at the time we went.

After freshening up at the inn across the street (again – I must emphasize the convenient location because you’ll then limit the amount of time you’re out of the pools in an unheated environment!) we were starving and ready for dinner at The Waterwheel. We loved this place for the combination of big city-standard gourmet food with the hospitality and modesty of the countryside. My fav dishes were the savory Oyster-Stuffed Mushrooms, fresh Highland County Mountain Trout (sourced only a few minutes away) and the fluffy Sour Cream Maple Syrup Cake.

Best part of dinner: Checking out the wine cellar in lieu of ordering off of a wine menu, where you can take your time to select your own bottle! We scored one for $27 – an incredible steal for a good quality red.

Enjoying our dinner and the bottle of wine we found in the cellar!

We both got fish for dinner – salmon and trout. Both were yummy but I’ll never forget that bottle of wine!

Serenity in the Springs

After church the following day, Michal and I enjoyed the Homestead Spa for its luxurious and plentiful amenities with the indoor Aqua Thermal Suite and the outdoor Spa Garden.

Panoramic view of the Spa Garden that includes the natural warm and hot springs.

Pano view of the Spa Garden that includes the natural warm and hot springs – early on a Sunday before the crowds.

The Aqua Thermal Suite was separated between the males and females so we each took some time on our own to explore these saunas and showers. And the bright tile colors, rushing water sounds and floating scents of lavender or eucalyptus appealed to all my senses.

After some quality alone time, we met in the co-ed, very family friendly indoor pool for a few laps (needed to get our workout in for the day). And then we rested in the co-ed lounge while filling up on some complimentary tea and fruit, along with some yummy turkey croissant sandwiches we purchased at the cafe. After this sustenance and some magazine reading while snuggled up in blankets, we ventured outdoors.

There were two springs – hot and warm. The warm one was a little murky for my liking, but it at least felt very natural/authentic. The hot one was the perfect temp for me, but was a bit small so it got crowded at points. Out here, the majority of people were our age or slightly older and mostly seemed to be couples. Expert advice: There was a co-ed sauna nearby that employees recommended we leave our towels and robes so that they stayed warm.

Overall

This trip was the perfect weekend getaway, as the drive wasn’t too far from Charlottesville but far enough that we got to experience something adventurous. Going to the springs is the best recovery activity after hitting the ski slopes or trekking through mountainous terrain. Not to mention, the overall price tag (especially during the winter season) makes the trip affordable for grad students on a budget looking for a little adventure.

Cashing in

Go during the winter season to maximize discounts.

The Homestead’s pricing in January (not sure how long specials last so call first):

  • Sunday – Thursday: One-day pass: $40 -> $20
  • Friday and Saturday: One-day pass: $55 -> $30

Similar saunas and springs

Michal and I have actually checked out a range of spas and saunas from Korean King Spa & Sauna when we lived in Chicago suburbs to the historic baths of Budapest and thermal springs of Costa Rica during our summer vacations.

Are there any natural spas in the world that you recommend we visit?