The Big Chill-Out

From city spas to rural retreats, we found the best places in Texas to relieve the stress of everyday life.

HERE AT THE END OF THE TWENTIETH century, stress is reaching epidemic levels. In a time when paychecks are stretched thinner than Kate Moss’s waistline, when the message is be-wired-or-be-fired, stress is as annoyingly ubiquitous as the cast of Friends, as relentless as Martha Stewart’s perfection. We might think we’re coping with our daily tempests. We run a mile here, down a vodka and tonic there; we yoga, we Valium, we breathe very deeply. We scramble through the outlet malls in pursuit of material deliverance. We send our therapists’ kids to college. But we rarely stop. Really stop.

Where can you go to escape the constant noise that jars the soul? Is any peace left out there? To find out, I traveled around checking out the most tranquil spots in the state—from remote ranches and spiritual retreats to heavenly spas. I’ve been kneaded more than pizza dough. I’ve been wrapped in seaweed and doused in warm oil. I’ve lolled in hammocks, porch swings, and poolside lounge chairs, all the time wondering what I did in a past life to deserve this assignment. For the tired and frazzled, here are the best havens from harriedom that I could find. Of course, there are plenty of places for a quick break—a fifteen-minute massage at Whole Foods, a short nap on the couch—but the following are establishments for serious defusing, where nothing is demanded of you, where you can utterly indulge yourself, where you can watch your toenails grow or, if you must, have them painted.

Spa vs. Spa

SPAS ARE BECOMING A GROWTH industry as more and more Texans discover the benefits of a few days of intensive relaxation. Of them all, the Greenhouse is it—the temple for serious (and seriously solvent) Sybarites. For thirty years the Greenhouse has been massaging the elbows and egos of celebrities (including Princess Grace, Elizabeth Taylor, and Cindy Crawford) inside a sprawling beige building in Arlington. It doesn’t matter that over the years the surrounding area has grown into an industrial park; once guests step into the thickly carpeted, heavily draped, ornately chandeliered spa, they’re entering a protected bubble. The mood of the women-only retreat is that of a fluffy sorority house; this is the place good Tri-Delts go when they grow up.

Guests stay for a week (though shorter stays can sometimes be arranged) and pay handsomely for the privilege—around $4,000. For that amount, the staff does everything short of carting you to your next body wrap on a gilded throne. Thinking is optional here. Every morning, guests wake up in a sunny room—with a maid call button by their pillows—to breakfast in bed and a pink schedule card that maps out the day. The closet of each room is stocked with black leotards and tights (the Greenhouse uniform), so no one has to fret over her daily wardrobe. Three to four hours of each day is spent in surprisingly strenuous exercise classes, many of which are conducted around an indoor pool in the atrium. The rest of the day is spent recovering from the exertion. Every guest receives a facial and massage every day. Other services can be arranged for an extra charge. (The pampering level goes so far that after my massage the masseuse held my Greenhouse tights open for me to step into; I had to fight to dress myself.)

The spa ladies may be equalized by the tights and leotards during the day (though one woman in my conditioning class did bring her own weights: a business card—size emerald ring on the right hand and a marblelike diamond on the left). For dinner, however, many guests break out the major jewels and designer finery. If going Manolo a Manolo with River Oaks types seems like another form of stress, you can have dinner brought to your room. The day ends in the most magnificent fashion: a twenty-minute tuck-in massage right in your own bed, so that you can go to sleep and dream that this will go on forever. The Greenhouse, 817-640-4000.

The Greenhouse is to the Lake Austin Spa Resort what caviar is to tofu. It shouldn’t be surprising that Austin has the most laid-back, unpretentious house of indulgence. There are many reasons to spend time at the Lake Austin Spa Resort, which hugs the shoreline of the Colorado River twenty miles west of Austin, such as the view of the curling, impossibly green water and the formidable limestone cliff on the other side, and the miles of hike and bike trails in adjacent parkland. But what will bring me back to this spa is the inventive services (for instance, underwater massage, a honey-mango scrub, and what’s known as the Texas Two Step, which is a face massage and a reflexology foot rub) and a hot oil therapy called OJA, simply pronounced “oj.” If you’re reminded of the mantra “om,” you’re on the right track.

Imagine this: You’re lying on a bed with heat lamps warm-ing your almost-naked body. Someone stands over you and pours warm oil onto your forehead; it feels like gravy finding its way through a mound of mashed potatoes, which is just the vegetable your mind feels like at this point. Then the oil is rubbed into your scalp. After that, your body is scrubbed down with a sponge, covered with herbs, and smothered in hot steaming towels. This mind-boggling treatment has been used in India for thousands of years. The woman who worked on me said that the oil hits “the third eye” on the forehead and that this was extremely good for the immune system. I laughed at this New Age justification for deep hedonism; I couldn’t care less if it made my immune system as strong as Phil Gramm’s po-litical machine. It


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