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Great Day Spas 2013: Our 12 Favorite Massages
We tested more than 100 massage therapists and aestheticians across the Washington area to find our favorite treatments. Here are the experts who rubbed us the right way.
Comments () | Published January 18, 2013

Art of Massage

2775-B Hartland Rd., Falls Church; 703-216-9071.

You probably can't ask for a warmer, more relaxed massage environment than the Art of Massage's. Kim Theodore—the owner and currently sole therapist—works out of a hard-to-find townhouse that's more friend's house than luxe spa. Clients are asked to take off their shoes in the waiting room.

Adding to the homey vibe: Theodore's 13-year-old black Lab, Patch, curls up in a corner during massages—you can request that she stay outside the room if you prefer. We heard Patch occasionally panting, licking, and roaming around, but it wasn't distracting because Theodore's massage was so good.

We had asked for a 60-minute Swedish massage ($90), and Theodore's strokes were sure and strong; even though she often kneaded deep into muscles, it was still soothing. We left feeling wonderfully cared for and, despite chronic bad posture, walking straighter and taller.

Of note: Theodore, who is a registered nurse, offers a full menu of treatments, including myofascial release, guided meditation, hot-stone massage, and home massage for the terminally ill.

Online booking? Yes, after a first visit or an initial phone call.

Aura Spa at Vida Fitness

1517 15th St., NW, 202-588-5557; 999 Ninth St., NW, Third Floor, 202-742-1940.

Aura Spa is a quiet respite from the pulsing music at its neighbors, Vida Fitness gym and Bang Salon. The 30-to-90-minute massages include Swedish, sports, warm-stone, and prenatal ($65 to $160).

A 60-minute sports massage by Jean Leconte was one of the best massages our tester had ever had—he gently rubbed out the kinks of her shoulders and lower back. Afterward, Leconte offered exercises and tips for reducing tension in problem areas.

Of note: Spa-goers have access to the gym's shower and sauna facilities.

Online booking? Yes.

Bliss Spa

515 15th St. NW; 202-661-2416.

In the basement of the W Hotel sits Bliss Spa, which is both underwhelming and, as its name suggests, blissful.

Hear us out. If you've been to Bliss spas in other cities, you'll likely be disappointed here: Despite the treats in the waiting room, it has tiny lockers and one shower. Though small, it has big prices.

That said, the treatments make up for these drawbacks. Our tester received one of the signature treatments: the euphoric Blissage75 massage ($155), complete with a paraffin foot treatment that left her piggies soft. Therapist Kyrah Bacote was knowledgeable and had just the right touch. Bliss is also known for painless and enduring bikini waxes ($35 to $75); Beata Nielsen is the woman to see.

Of note: A retail space is stocked with hundreds of Bliss products, most of which have a cult following.

Online booking? Yes.

The Body Politic

4905 Hampden La., Suite 17, Bethesda; 301-346-5716.

After an hour with Andrea Caplan, our reviewer felt as if she'd been walked all over. And she had. Caplan is one of the area's only practitioners of Ashiatsu massage, in which therapists work on you with their feet, hanging above the table. For those who like deep massages, it's well worth $95 for an hour. Caplan also offers traditional Swedish, deep-tissue, and Thai massage.

When our reviewer mentioned some ongoing discomfort in her wrist from an injury, Caplan found scar tissue in her hand and worked her magic. Two weeks later, the client was in significantly less pain.

Of note: This isn't a spa; it's a windowless basement room that resembles a closet, and Caplan is a sole practitioner. She plans to move in mid-2013.

Online booking? No.

Bodywork by John

203 Loudoun St., SW, Suite A, Leesburg; 703-625-5327.

Touted by clients as "the knot whisperer," massage therapist John Janda is especially popular among chronic backache sufferers and athletes whose muscles have taken a beating. He combines a variety of techniques including Swedish and sports massage, deep-tissue, trigger-point therapy, and myofascial release, which helps increase range of motion. An hourlong Signature Massage runs $85, though some clients insist that Janda's 90-minute Deep De-stress ($125)—especially helpful for those with chronically tense areas—is a must for first-timers.

Of note: For those short on time, Janda offers 10-, 20-, and 30-minute chair massages ($15, $30, $45).

Online booking? No.

A Calmness Within

1320 Fenwick La., Suite 410, Silver Spring; 301-650-9190.

On the fourth floor of an office building, this no-frills spot isn't a destination for a day of pampering. But the therapists are serious about holistic massage, offering everything from a simple chair massage to neuromuscular therapy to target deep-seated tension.

We went for a 60-minute massage ($90) and the therapist, Nicole Zeigler, focused solely on tightness around the neck, arms, and shoulders, incorporating head massage, tissue manipulation, and deep breathing. The session was extremely effective and left us feeling more flexible and relaxed.

Of note: The therapists are extremely adept at asking how comfortable you are with pressure, so this is a good option for anyone averse to deep-tissue massages.

Online booking? No.

Don't Be Knotty!

464 Herndon Pkwy., Suite 116, Herndon; 571-332-4485.

Never had a professional massage? Jessica Drummond's one-person practice is an excellent option for neophytes. Each new client is asked to fill out a two-page health survey. Drummond goes over the form carefully with you to determine your goals and problem areas, and she's happy to explain how any of her light, relaxing touches affect any area of the body. An hourlong massage is $100.

The small space—a single blue-walled room in the Springwood Professional Center—comes with big perks: There's no ambient noise seeping through the walls and little rush to the next client.

Of note: Drummond donates 10 percent of profits to the Pay It Forward Project and reserves a selected number of appointments for low-income people.

Online booking? Yes.

Eco-Massage by Fanny

Center for the Healing Arts, 6935 Laurel Ave., Suite 208, Takoma Park; 301-256-5047.

Fanny Mandelberger has more than 30 years of experience in massage, and it shows. She elevates the practice to an art form, combining breath work and mindfulness meditation with specialties ranging from reflexology to oncology massage. Particularly for repeat visitors, she seems to sense a client's energy and mood and to adjust accordingly.

Sessions ($50 to $125, cash and check only) are simultaneously relaxing and invigorating and take place in a skylit room. Along with soothing music, you might hear Tibetan bells, a nod to Mandelberger's travels around the world.

Of note: Mandelberger uses eco-friendly materials, from linens to massage oils.

Online booking? No; e-mail ecomassagebyfanny@gmail.com. 

Erinlynne Desel

1365 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Suite 300; 202-271-4655; make an appointment at erinlynne@dcmindbody.com.

It's not easy finding a massage that's both therapeutic and relaxing, but that's what Erinlynne Desel delivers ($100 for an hour). Those who don't like overly deep rubdowns may be Desel's best clients—she works out knots in an effective but gentle way.

Desel, who's been in practice more than 12 years, uses a style she calls "myofascial release from a relaxed-focused perspective." Says Desel: "I believe that in order for deep-tissue and myofascial release to be truly effective, we have to stay inside the threshold of comfort. To get a good release, the system needs to be calm."

Of note: Desel works Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday plus occasional weekends.

Online booking? No.

Fountains Day Spa

422 S. Washington St., Alexandria; 703-549-1990.

With its cheery flower beds and sunshine-yellow exterior, this quaint Old Town spot feels more like a friend's house than a day spa. And although we sometimes felt squeezed—the snug reception area was so crowded we had to fill out our forms standing up—it all melted away once we'd met Tiffany Davidson, our bubbly massage therapist. Fountains offers both New Age treatments such as Reiki and aromatherapy and more traditional facials and body treatments. We went for something in the middle, a wonderful 50-minute massage using warmed rods of bamboo ($120), which we found more relaxing and therapeutic than any hot-stone massage we've had. One caveat: We were jolted back to reality when our service was over—there's no relaxation area (or even dressing room), so once we were handed a plastic cup of plain water, the only place to go was to the reception desk to pay the bill.

Of note: Fountains offers lots of monthly specials—check fountainsdayspa.com or sign up for its e-newsletter to receive them.

Online booking? No.

Touch of Asia

20 Pidgeon Hill Dr., Suite 103, Sterling; 703-430-8660.

Don't expect to lie back and relax during a traditional Thai massage at this inconspicuous spa, hidden in an office building near Dulles Town Center. The techniques incorporate stretching, palming, and pressure-point work to keep you and your practitioner active for the full session. Given the amount of movement, nudity is a no-no, so wear loose, comfy clothes (or stick to those they provide).

Clients who have traveled to Thailand to experience the famous massage swear that Touch of Asia is as good—if not better—especially if your therapist is Be Khambay, who twists you around like a pretzel until every last knot and ache is gone. Sixty minutes costs $97.

Of note: Open daily 10 to 8.

Online booking? Yes.

TuSuva Body & Skincare

2701 Ontario Rd., NW, Second Floor; 202-299-9005

It's the small things that make TuSuva special: strawberry slices in the water, heated stones halfway through a deep-tissue massage, a hot towel rub at the end.

The spa is small—four treatment rooms and a lobby that doubles as a lounge in the upstairs portion of a rowhouse—but a calm, quiet respite in busy Adams Morgan. Nine types of massage are offered; we're partial to the deep tissue with Nina Agafonova ($100 for 60 minutes).

Of note: Buy a package and get a 6-to-15-percent discount.

Online booking? No.

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  • Manuk

    I had a terrible experience with Aura massage on 1517 15th Street NW
    Washington, DC 20005. The therapist claimed to have 14 years of experience and sprained my ankle. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with tendon tear and inflammation. This is the most terrible SPA center. When I get well, I will sue them or report to police. They do not follow the basic safety standards.

  • Guest

    Did you get a massage from me Jean? I am very sorry to hear about your experience.

  • Sunny

    I have to first thank the editor for writing this article and using a wide span of spas across the VA, MD, and DC area. As far as Steve's comment I would like to say that I appreciate a "real person's" perspective. I understand what he means when he talks about having a "tester" who understands how massage techniques work and what is a good and what is a bad massage treatment. However most of us who go to spas are not such educated "testers" were real people, and this editor wrote in a way that spoke to us, real spa goers. Just my 2 cents.

  • MM

    I agree with Steve -- this seems spotty in that it's not at all clear why these were rated best, especially when negatives are mentioned so prominently.

  • Steve

    Of Note:
    As a massage therapist myself and someone who take an interest in supporting successful practices, meaning I will go and become loyal, to a therapist that is good and is passionate at what they do. Let me just say this of this article…

    Is this about Spas or massage therapist as some are spas and
    some are not, maybe next time you can be consistent. Even in the title of the
    article you say, Great Day Spas 2013 in the subtitle you say, we tested more
    then 100 massage therapist, then you say here are the experts that rubbed us
    the right way, meaning an individual, just a hint a spa is not and individual.

    If you are going to send someone out to assess, critique and judge more then a 100 massage therapist, why not tell us, the reader by what qualifications does the “tester” have to make subjective assessments. (and BTW what the hell type of term is that)

    Then with transparency and in full disclosure tell us by what criteria you are doing the assessing, so that you can compare all of them by the same standard. If you read the article you get the sense that the Tester did not write the article and the Tester made it clear to the writer, her feelings and opinion other then the facts of the assessment. Let me give you some examples:

    *This should have been about individual massage therapists not Spas, as therapists
    at Spas turn over faster then cooks at McDonalds. (come on) but that is beside the point, I just needed to make that clear again.

    *as for Kim Theodore, Who cares where the dog curls up, and is the town house hard
    to find or was it just hard for the Tester to find?

    *as for Bliss Spa, do not start out by stating the negative, you have already said
    they are of the top 12 in the DC, and my god, what does painless bikini
    waxing have to do with massage? And their product, “most of which have a
    cult following, what hell does that have to do with the top 12 massages.
    That right you added in aestheticians in the subtitle to make things even
    more diluted…

    *The Body Politic, “Of note: This is not a Spa, so what Neither is Kim T. or
    Jessica D. or Fanny M. my point is do not point it out, if you are not
    going to point it out to the rest. And the point about the widowless
    basement room that resembles a closet, why not say there was no ambient
    noise like you did in “Don’t be Knotty assessment” who cares where the
    location is if the person and the service is the best in the business.

    I could go on about this article but let me just close with this, it is safe to say that the Washingtonian is held in high regard, and it should be an honor to all of these people and businesses that got the top choice award.

    The Problem is, that when someone who does not know or
    understand the content they are “testing”, then conveys there opinion in the
    absence of set and specific criteria to a writer, and then that writer produces
    and article from a second hand source THINGS just don’t turn out for the best…
    and that is what you have here what a shame…

    Of Note:
    In full disclosure, I’m a client of Andrea Caplan of The Body Politic, and I do think she is among the best if the business, and no I do not care that she works out of a windowless basement closet.

    Shame on you TESTER, Shame on you Writer, Shame on you Editor…

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