WASHINGTON, Conn. -- Bliss.
That was the state I was approaching while basking in the afterglow of a sensational massage and awaiting my first-ever facial recently at the Mayflower Inn and Spa.
Wrapped in a cozy robe and stretched out on a large chaise lounge under a super-soft Kashwere throw, I gazed through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the spa's Garden Room across a swath of still-green lawn, past a small pond, and up a forested hillside. A tall, single birch spread its stark, white branches across a brilliant blue sky.
My mind wandered and all concerns -- about work and world affairs, how our children were faring on this weekend away, even how much this serenity was costing -- melted away.
I happened to look to my left. A few chairs down, Paul Levy, vice president of a private equity fund from Westport, whom I had met that morning on a cardio hike in the Litchfield Hills, caught my glance and gave me a silent thumbs - up sign.
Levy and I shared a smile in recognition of our good fortune to be a couple of guys enjoying the benefits of one of the country's top destination spas. Open since June, the multimillion - dollar, 20,000-square - foot Spa House at the Mayflower Inn has largely catered to women willing to pay up to $6,700 for an all-inclusive five-day stay. Men were allowed only on weekends and during certain themed weeks.
But all that is changing with the new year and with the recognition that men are increasingly desirous of the same kind of pampering .
"We're finding more couples and men interested in coming by themselves to our spa, so we've increased the number of co-ed weeks to nearly 50-50 in 2007," said Helen Brown, director of the Mayflower Spa.
That trend is reflected nationwide, according to findings released in November by the International Spa Association. They show that men account for 31 percent of spa visits , and that segment is continuing to grow.
I had joined the ranks the night before when my wife and I checked into the ultra-luxe Mayflower Inn. Robert and Adriana Mnuchin have owned the 58-acre estate since 1992, and have been joined by their daughter, Lisa Hedley, in operating the spa.
We were immediately impressed by the quality of service and the attention to detail -- from the delightful portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds hanging in the inn lobby, to the delicious Ascot Reserve chardonnay from Connecticut's Vineyard at Strawberry Ridge , available by the glass on the dining room's wine list.
Our room, No. 34, was on the top floor of the main inn (there are three other smaller buildings with accommodations on the property). It offered antique furnishings, a flat-screen TV, an enormous bathroom, and a king four-poster canopied bed that was a true comfort after our long drive on a traffic-filled Friday evening from Boston to west central Connecticut and rural Washington.
The next morning, after a health-conscious but sustaining breakfast of granola with fruit and yogurt and an egg-white and vegetable omelet, my wife and I went our separate ways. She headed off to the Spa House for a ball aerobics class and an exercise session in the exquisite indoor pool.
I went to the inn lobby, where I met Brandon, who conducts outdoor activities for the inn, and Levy and his wife, Melissa, both 35. A short drive in an inn van brought us to the Steep Rock Reservation, where Brandon put us to work, leading us at a steady pace over roughly four miles of moderately steep terrain in 90 minutes. The day was cold, but the exercise was warming, and the view of the Shepaug River valley at Steep Rock summit was worth the effort.
Along the way, Paul Levy, a native of Wellesley, and I bonded over topics typically male: jobs, Red Sox, family. But we also shared our anticipation of our afternoon of body-soothing treatments. The Levys had been to the inn before, but prior to the opening of the spa. "This should be something," he said.
After a light lunch, and about a half-hour before our first treatment time, my wife and I made the short uphill walk from the inn to the gray-shingled Spa House . As we took off our shoes in the entryway to don the provided sandals, we noted that the floor tiles were heated. That was the case everywhere bare feet could come in contact with the floor throughout the building.
Tall ceilings and clean, contemporary lines -- along with a calming quiet -- surrounded us as we were taken to the separate changing areas. Both are luxuriously appointed and equipped with Grohe showers and a steam room, to which I quickly repaired. A few minutes later, already pleasantly moist and wrapped in a Telegraph Hill robe, I headed for the Garden Room, which Brown described as "the heart of the Spa House."
The room is high, wide, and very white, with pastel touches. The massive Willem de Kooning oil painting hanging on one wall sets the tone, which is carried through the furnishings, the flowers, and even the dust jackets on books that line the shelves. My wife and I spoke sparingly and in low tones as we waited briefly for our treatments in big -- white -- comfortable chairs.
My therapist, Sarah, arrived and conducted me downstairs to the dimly lighted Lilac Room, where I disrobed, mounted the treatment table, and lay on my back under warm covers, where I would remain for the entire hour. I had opted for the Mayflower Sweet Surrender massage, which promises to "soothe the nervous system" and induce "deep relaxation." However, I mentioned to Sarah that my shoulders were sore from recent sessions with a personal trainer and she modified the massage to meet my needs.
"The therapists are empowered to know what to do and adapt to the client's needs," Brown said. I was very glad of that. The combination of Sarah's powerful, probing hands, aromatherapy, and soothing sleep music produced a state of dream like peace and lasting physical benefits.
Back in the Garden Room, I caught sight of my wife before she left for her facial and shared a conspiratorial smile with Levy, who also had one scheduled, before I headed off for mine. It would prove to be a learning experience.
As I settled into the treatment chair, I told my aesthetician, Sonia, that I was a first-timer. She smiled knowingly and asked what I used to wash my face. When I replied, "Why, soap, of course," Sonia grimaced and asked if I knew the stuff generally has an alkaline pH level similar to that of Comet cleanser. I flinched and sputtered that I had recently started using a moisturizer to combat my dry skin. "Good for you," she said. "That puts you ahead of most men in this country."
That made me feel a bit better as Sonia cleansed my face of "debris" and massaged my hands, neck, and shoulders. She also put a mask on my face and wrapped it with hot towels. I was putty in her hands and my mind was open to her teachings, which included the use of Jurlique Herbal Gel for both shaving and washing my face.
"Men are still behind women in being educated about what they can do to preserve their appearance," Brown said later.
But we are catching up.
Paul Levy was learning during his facial, too. "Did you know you're supposed to take your body weight in pounds, divide by 2, and drink at least that many ounces of water a day? I didn't," he told me later.
That puts me at about a gallon of water a day. I vowed to find time for that -- and the resulting bathroom visits -- in between applications of Jurlique ($38 for 4.2 ounces in the Spa House gift shop) to my well-moisturized face. Keeping up appearances is tough!
After my facial, I rinsed off in the changing room shower, enjoyed a swim in the pool and a spin in the striking mosaic -domed whirlpool. I tried the Thermal Sanctuary, which offers "enveloping warmth, color therapy, soothing sound, and signature red flower seasonal scent," but it seemed like a steam room without the steam. Maybe just too subtle for me.
No matter. After a full day of self-indulgence, I showered and shaved -- with Jurlique -- back in our room and enjoyed a satisfying dinner, with wine, in the inn's dining room. That evening, while playing Scrabble on an elegant wooden board by a warming gas fire in the comfortable living room off the inn lobby, my wife looked at me and smiled. "Your face never looked better," she said.
I may be on to something.
Contact Doug Warren at firstname.lastname@example.org.