I am not sure how or why ultra-urban and spoiled me thought going to the mud baths in Calistoga was good idea—mud has never even been my milieu. When I was a kid, I always went for the Queen Helene Mint Julep Mask over its decidedly plainer and dirtier-looking rival, Mudd. Both drugstore skincare preparations treated oily and acne-prone skin but walking around the house in a robe with green gook on my face and my hair up in a towel turban-style felt impossibly glamorous. A face smeared with brown gunk, instead of green? Not so much. And while I snuck into my mom’s bathroom and tried every single one of her products, I wouldn’t go near her big jar of Borghese Montecatini mud, which quite honestly, I still have reservations about, though she swears by it.
Yet, somehow one day my wonderful friend ESD, a laidback and lovely native Californian, and I found ourselves making the trip from Oakland to the Roman Hot Springs Resort in Calistoga for her birthday at my behest. New York snob me had visions of an elegant spa day dancing in my head. I was certain we’d be sitting outside in the sunshine in a lovely pool of cool, moisture--rich mud, sipping some kind of infused water with cucumber slices over our eyes. I think a string quartet was playing off in the distance and handsome men were fanning us. Dream big, I always say. But had I checked the resort’s website prior to our arrival, I would have known better.
First off, the Roman Hot Springs Resort is not posh. It is quaint and it is clean and it may even have what some would classify as a certain “rustic charm,” but the experience it offers is not elegant. It was, however, pleasant enough so I promptly downshifted, readjusted my expectations and was shown into a massage room, where I had a pretty good rub down. A word to the wise, however: a 50-minute massage is really just a tease. While the masseuse was skilled, somehow he neglected entire parts of my body (like my arms and the fronts of my legs). I assume it was because time was a factor.
Next it was onto the mud baths, which were housed in a dreary gray stone-walled and floored room that reeked of sulfur. The tubs themselves were churning and steaming with a gray-brown sludge of peat and volcanic ash mixed with “mineral water” to create the mud. “This is so not OK,” ESD said, when we realized our fate. And it wasn’t. The mud is extraordinarily hot, stinky and heavy; it pretty much pins you down. I think it could have been relaxing and dare I say, even comforting, had my blood pressure not plummeted from the extreme heat. The spa tries to prevent this phenomenon by having lovely therapists apply icy towels to your neck and forehead, while giving you cold water to sip. Still, I lasted for only about seven minutes before I had to slooowly and extremely carefully extricate myself from the scalding muck and mire. And I had to hang on for dear life in the shower for fear I would pass out. (ESD did too and she’s not even a New Yorker.) And let me tell you, you have to stay in that shower for a long time to thoroughly rinse off; that mud hangs on for dear life and lodges into your most top-secret places.
Somehow, I made it out of the shower unscathed and moved into the “geothermal mineral bath,” which had jets and bubbles and was perfectly affable. But my skin was already dried out from the mud, which seemed to have sucked out its nutrients rather than imparted any. The mud, it seems, is highly acidic, which is great news from a hygiene and skin-purification stand point but not fab from a moisturization one. So sitting in a tub of hot water was about the last thing I wanted to do.
Next we were shown into a a “cool-down” room where we lay pruny-skinned, exhausted and dehydrated on massage tables. That mud is just too fargin’ hot. Some dreams do come true, though; while we were lying there, our therapist placed cucumber slices over our eyes. But all in all, Notorious and ESD are not big fans of the mud. For a fraction of the price, we are going to pick up a jar of Queen Helene at the Walgreens.
Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.