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February 2013

Uncovering the Best of Chicago's Luxury Spas
By Kristine Hansen

Photo: Valeo at JW Marriott Chicago

On a brisk, wintery day, my neck wrapped in a scarf and hands clad in mittens I arrive at JW Marriott Chicago’s basement-level, 22,000-square-foot spa, Valeo, a haven from the Windy City’s bone-chilling temps. I’ve taken the train down from Milwaukee, jostling on the narrow sidewalks among commuters rushing from Union Station to their offices in the Loop, and am more than ready to relax.

Once inside this Loop spa, which opened in November of 2010, I am able to relax at last by inhaling eucalyptus essential oil in the sauna, before preparing to indulge in the country’s only dual Clarity Chamber, essentially eight heated and raised slabs of stone (called goebektas) like what you’d find in spas in Turkey or Morocco. Options are either a Turkish bath or a Moroccan Detox Experience – or both within one treatment. In fact, memories of the spa treatment I received at Cemberlitas Hamami in Istanbul, Turkey, last winter flooded through me, from the mud-like exfoliant removing dead skin cells from my arms, legs and back to the buckets of hot water gracefully flung across my body. In addition to the spa’s quiet sanctuary is an express version just off the hotel’s lobby. Open since March, the deal is that guests receive three services (including facials and massages) simultaneously, perfect for on-the-go personalities who insist on squeezing in spa time. After? You’re handed a glass of wine, the perfect follow-up indulgence to the pampering.

It wasn’t until recent years that downtown Chicago’s spa scene – from the Loop to the Gold Coast – heated up with glam, luxury spas tucked into historic hotels, the perfect pampering getaway for those who crave urban jaunts before and after the treatment, such as museums and bustling restaurants – not a remote, wilderness setting.

Photo: Elysian Spa & Health Club at Waldorf Astoria Chicago

Waldorf Astoria Chicago, on East Walton Street on the city’s tony Gold Coast, neck and neck with luxury designer retailers like Chanel, Burberry and Prada, made my afternoon once with a seashell massage at its 14,000-square-foot Elysian Spa & Health Club. Heated seashells culled from a climate far than the wintry one upon me were smoothed down my back with the help of a massage therapist for the Lava Shell massage. The hotel’s winter-white décor – posh and refined, with accents of taupe and ebony – is an elegant entrée to the spa on the fourth floor.

Photo: The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago

For a carryover from the Christmas holiday, The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago – a half block off North Michigan Avenue in the Gold Coast – will offer its coal-infused, 80-minute Japanese White Charcoal Massage through February. Sort of Coal products exclusive to The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago are employed for this treatment, which debuted at the spa just before Christmas. No matter if you’ve been naughty or nice in 2012, you deserve this unique journey, which begins with a white-charcoal detoxifying drink before launching into a back exfoliation using white charcoal, sea salt and rice-bran oil; and full-body detox massage with acupressure and deep-tissue techniques.

Photo: Balance Spa & Fitness at The Palmer House Hilton Hotel

Very near to an ice-skating rink – in Millennium Park, where South Michigan Avenue meets Washington and Madison Streets – and a snow-dusted Lake Michigan shoreline, Balance Spa and Fitness opened inside The Palmer House Hilton Hotel during the spring of 2011. Fresh off a $170 million restoration, the 10,000-square-foot spa is but one new aspect to the historic building. As a departure from de rigeur spa décor – a color palette of calming blues and greens – guests are provided creamy-plaid blankets to keep warm and, for salon services, treated behind gauzy beige curtains as opposed to closed doors. A menu of 50 treatments includes winter favorites like a hot-stone massage and Resurfacing Body Polish (exfoliation under a warm Vichy shower) and a sea-mineral soak followed by a full-body Swedish massage. To combat dry skin that’s a result of the harsh, bitter-cold winter, consider the Seawater Pearl Facial (50 or 80 minutes), designed to rehydrate the face.

While the days of winter may be short, with a ribbon of darkness covering the sun before your nightly work commute even begins, it’s a relief to know that a handful of Chicago spas serve as warm, cozy respites to help take the chill out of the cold season.

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