- DON'T DROP THE SOAK Calistoga Motor Lodge is one spot where you can get it on the latest North Bay craze.
Wine country tourism has "relaxing" in its mission statement, and the latest addition to the leave-your-troubles-behind premise is apparently a bathtub. But unlike the spontaneous soak you might enjoy in the home, recreational bathing is a carefully planned affair, and part of a nationwide soaking craze.
Urban bathhouses have been popping up this year in cities like Chicago, New York and Seattle. The format is a twist on the traditional Scandinavian, Turkish and Russian baths, with upgraded amenities and a better design.
In Sonoma, Indian Springs Resort has been offerings soaking experiences since its inception in 1910, and this year, two new options have joined the bathing movement.
They couldn't be more different.
The Calistoga Motor Lodge is a decidedly retro establishment, with rooms lining the parking lot. The property's MoonAcre Spa is reminiscent of films like The Road to Wellville, with a tile-covered room full of tubs and outdoor showers for mud treatments.
On the spa menu, you'll find mud baths and salt-infused soaking tub treatments for $70. "Baths and soaks are a throwback to an earlier era of spa treatments, and nostalgia seems to be in vogue," says Chris Hilburn, MoonAcre's spa director, though bathhouses of the past "tended to be quite public, meaning you enjoyed your bath in full view of others."
Hilburn describes the spa experience as "unfussy, friendly and whimsical," perfect for younger audiences, though the spa enjoys a mix of age groups. Speaking of Millenials is unavoidable. "Millennials tend to prefer experiences," Hilburn says. "They desire not just any experience, but something distinctive and separate from the mainstream."
In Glen Ellen, the historic Gaige House + Ryokan underwent a refurbishment process in 2006, adding nine Zen Suites to the property. In those, granite Japanese soaking tubs were recently installed, outfitted with hinoki stools and ladles for cleansing before getting in. "Completely immersing yourself in these super-deep tubs is a tremendously relaxing experience," says Sharon Rooney, director of PR for Four Sisters Inn, a group of historic inns, including the Gaige House, located in Northern and Southern California.
In addition to actual bathing, included in the price of the Zen Suite (starting at $438), Gaige offers forest bathing, a guided experience focused on immersing oneself in nature, at nearby Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. While soaking is on its way to becoming a nationwide trend, Rooney sees Sonoma County as its natural home.
"We find that many visitors choose Sonoma Valley precisely for the low-key vibe," she says, "and it's also presented in a relaxed way—no stuffy attitude, no need to pack stiletto heels."
Soaking in a tub is a great stress reliever, but it's worth noting another factor that may have contributed to the rise of modern bathing culture: while wet and soaking, it's really hard to get a hold of your smartphone. What could be more relaxing than that?