Traditional spa experience with a modern twist.
By Hope S. Philbrick
A timed, hot, attended bath has been the centerpiece of the Hot Springs’ spa experience since the 1830s.
The city’s thermal waters and fresh mountain air were thought to cure a wide range of ailments, from syphilis to paralysis. (Thankfully, folks did know enough to scrub the bathtubs between uses.)
That tradition of bathing continues in Hot Springs today. Of course, now the aim is more holistic than medical.
At the spa at The Austin (a.k.a., “Spa In The Park”), I strip down in privacy and change into a robe, stash my belongings into a locker, then sit in a chair and wait until an attendant escorts me to a row of bathtubs. She draws the curtain around the tub reserved for me, stands behind the curtain while I disrobe and step in, then pushes a button to start the timed whirlpool jets.
“Is the temperature OK?” she asks while handing me a cup of cold water.
The water is comfortably hot at 104 degrees Fahrenheit—there’s a big thermometer registering the temperature. I sit back and relax as water swirls around me from jets built into the tub. As my temperature rises, I wish for more cold water to drink. Just when I think I’ll step out and find someone to ask for more water, the attendant returns to tell me my time is up.
20 minutes the traditional length of time for a Hot Springs soak.
I’m then escorted back to the waiting area, where I gulp down a glass of cucumber-flavored water. A massage therapist arrives and leads me to a private treatment room, similar to those common to modern spas. She steps out while I slide between the sheets and returns to massage my muscles into putty for 20 minutes.
It was a great massage, a testament to the therapist’s skill and also to the benefit of taking a hot bath to loosen muscles as a preamble to the rubdown.
The traditional Hot Springs’ spa experience is effective: You sit in hot water and then get rubbed the right way. You leave clean and relaxed.
Hot Springs Is Spa History…
Hot Springs, Arkansas, has been a spa mecca since its natural hot springs were discovered. Health seekers have long been drinking the water and taking baths in it.
Established in 1832, the Hot Springs Reservation (now Hot Springs National Park) preserves 47 natural hot springs and several grand bathhouse buildings dating from 1911 to 1939 along one side of Central Avenue. It’s easy to imagine how the area was enjoyed throughout history, from the Native Americans who might have lounged in open springs to the bawdy heyday of Bathhouse Row.
But you need not simply imagine how it was back in the day. You can experience traditional treatments first-hand.
According to the National Park Service, since the 1830s the city of Hot Springs has channeled much of its energy into becoming a national health resort. Some of the bathhouses have closed—Hot Springs saw demand for medicinal baths peak in 1946—but you can still discover the traditional spa experience at five operating bathhouses. We tried two. Click to read about our spa experience at The Arlington.
The Austin Convention Hotel & Spa
305 Malvern Ave.
Hot Springs AR 71901-5445
A range of treatments is available including facials and a full-body mud mask. A thermal bath is currently priced at $30; “the original” (bath + 20-minute massage) is $60. The “A Day In The Park” 2.5-hour package (aroma hydrotherapy, 60-minute Swiss facial + hot stone Swedish massage) is $200. Call for details about these and additional services.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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