News & Politics

Great Day Spas in Virginia

Fairfax Red Door: Left Us Cold

When the Fairfax branch of the Red Door spa opened this past October, it became the sixth outlet of the spa chain to open in the Washington area. I’ve been a fan of the Chevy Chase Red Door for years, and I was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon at its sibling. It’s on the second floor of an office building in the bustling Fairfax Corner Town Center.

“Have you been here before?” the receptionist asked. I shook my head no. She led me to the small locker room, with lockers covered in the kind of faux wood that often covers office desks, and handed me a fluffy robe and slippers. I changed and made my way to the “relaxation area,” a modern room done up in chilly shades of gray and slate blue. I knew there were drinks offered—a coffee table was littered with empty glasses—but nobody told me where I could find them. Mohair blankets sat in messy piles along the long, angular couches. The magazines were tattered and outdated. A man in a bathrobe paced the room, muttering that the temperature was too cold. I was relieved when my aesthetician fetched me for my Red Door Signature facial.

I told her my skin didn’t have too many problems—just some midwinter dryness. She settled me onto a comfortable and warm padded massage bed, placed some cool pads over my eyelids, and examined my pores under an intense light.

The facial comes with a choice of eight masks, from a sage balancing mask to a mint purifying mask. She recommended substituting a chamomile lavender seaweed mask, which cost $25 extra. I needed all the moisture I could get, so I decided to spring for it.

The aesthetician used pleasantly fragrant chamomile-based products to cleanse, tone, and moisturize my skin. She slipped warm mittens on my hands, gave me a nicely transportive face massage, and slathered on the thick seaweed mask, which stayed on for ten minutes. At the end of the service, I had to remind her that I wanted extractions done.

My skin looked unusually shiny in the locker-room mirror. I paid the bill—$100 for the 50-minute facial and $25 for the mask, plus a $20 tip. The next day, my skin felt just as dry as before—there wasn’t much discernable change. In the end, I felt like I’d paid top dollar for an average facial in a spa that’s low on charm.

Bottom line: This new spa still has lots of kinks to work out.

Red Door Salon & Spa, Fairfax Corner, 4210 Fairfax Corner West Ave., Fairfax; 703-968-2922;


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Windsor of Old Town: Not for Women Only

Windsor of Old Town, like some other day spas in Alexandria’s historic heart, is in a small, classic rowhouse. It’s a prime location if you want to shop or have a meal in Old Town before or after your spa visit.

You do trade location for a bit of comfort: The restroom doubles as the women’s locker room. Treatment rooms can be small; my massage therapist kept bumping against the massage table and into the walls when she moved about.

The staff is pleasant and efficient. Within a minute of my arrival, I was escorted through the hair salon on the bottom floor, up a set of narrow wooden stairs, to the second-floor spa, sealed off by a glass door. Stephanie, my massage therapist, was waiting.

After filling out a one-page health questionnaire, I changed in the restroom into a white terrycloth robe. I couldn’t find slippers—they were missing from my locker—so I walked barefoot to the massage room, noting that the floor could use vacuuming.

Stephanie stepped out of the room so I could disrobe and slip under the sheet on the heated massage table. I hung my robe on the back of the door, then turned around. I was standing fully exposed in front of a window. It faced two office windows across the alley—luckily, no one seemed to be looking out. I quickly got under the sheet. When she returned, Stephanie apologized and lowered the blind.

The rest of the session went smoothly. Although she has practiced for only two years, Stephanie’s strokes were confident. She found a kink in my neck and worked on it patiently. For stubborn spots, she used a heated flat stone—a pleasant surprise. She applied long, soothing strokes that started on the back of my calf and went up the leg, across the hip, and up my back, stopping at the shoulder blade. For the price—$75 for an hour—it was a good massage.

Windsor has been in business 24 years, and it has a following. At the end, I was still not convinced it was a place I’d return to unless I was in Old Town. As I was leaving, I spotted the Gentlemen’s Quarters. This separate facility for men is a clubby space, with red walls, dark woods, leather wingback chairs, flat-screen TVs, and a minibar. There are private rooms for hair coloring and manicures. Men can have their shoes shined or enjoy a hot shave.

Maybe I would come back—with my husband.

Bottom line: A perfectly nice women’s spa if you’re in Old Town. The men’s spa is even nicer—and may be worth a special trip.

Windsor of Old Town, 107 S. Union St., Alexandria; 703-836-7330;

Gentlemen’s Quarters, 105 S. Union St., Alexandria; 703-836-7330;


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Rubbed the Wrong Way: Abelyne Beauty Spa

I liked what I saw when I walked into Abelyne, a year-and-a-half-old salon near the Court House Metro in Arlington.

A hip decor that features invigorating yellow walls and overize mirrors. Then I was led into the massage room. Small and cramped—with no hooks, hangers, or even a chair for your clothes—it was a cold, white room with glaring light. The massage therapist instructed me to take off my clothes and put on a thin cotton robe and, oddly, a throwaway gauze panty—the kind you wear during a bikini wax. For a massage? Yes, she insisted.

I piled my clothes on the floor. Once in the robe, I realized there was no sheet or blanket on the massage bed for me to slip under. So I waited, seated on the edge of the bed. When the therapist reentered the room, she told me to take off the robe and lie face down, naked except for that small piece of gauze. She would cover me with towels. So much for modesty.

Under the towels, I was cold. I asked for a blanket, but she assured me I’d warm up. The lights stayed fully on, so whenever I opened my eyes, I was blinded.

I could hear every voice and hair dryer outside the door, in the salon. The music—it thankfully segued from energetic pop to Norah Jones—didn’t drown out the voices.

The therapist started well, with soothing strokes. But soon she began digging her thumbs into my feet and calves. The thumb work hurt, and not in a good way. As she continued to drill her thumbs into my back and shoulders and scalp, I asked what kind of massage this was. “Mongolian,” she answered.

I told her the pressure hurt and asked her to ease off. She assured me it was normal to hurt. Maybe in a Mongolian massage. Personally, I think the Swedes have it right.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get less relaxing, she had me sit up to do my neck and shoulders.

At the front desk, I was shocked to discover the hour massage cost $100—more than at established spas. They agreed to honor an Internet coupon for 20 percent off, even though I’d read the coupon wrong. Even at $80, it was too much.

Bottom line: A hip salon where it really matters which treatment you sign up for. Skip the massage.

Abelyne Beauty Spa, 2250-H Clarendon Blvd., Courthouse Plaza, Arlington; 703-248-9552;


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As Good As It Gets: Amenity Day Spa

A suburban strip mall crowded with medical and dental offices isn’t where you’d expect to strike spa gold.

But from the minute I walk in to Amenity’s candlelit interior, done in shades of sand and straw, I’m well taken care of. I slip into a waffle-weave robe and socks, put my jewelry in a tiny basket, and stow my clothes in a blond-wood locker in the pretty, private dressing area.

The waiting room is cornered with cushy chairs you’d find in a horse-country living room. There’s a bin full of current magazines and a free juice-and-wine menu. Everything is impeccably timed: The moment I settle in to my chair, an attendant arrives with iced tea. As I sign the last line of the very detailed information form (What temperature water do you use to bathe? Do you blush easily?) my massage therapist, Rachel, introduces herself.

My signature Key Largo massage ($45 for 30 minutes)—named because of the mango- and coconut-scented lotions—is more relaxing then therapeutic. The treatment bed is heated and plush, and Rachel’s long, strong strokes across my back and shoulders nearly put me to sleep. I’ve never been a fan of foot massages—too ticklish—but Rachel’s reflexology is immensely soothing. In the meantime, every part of my body not being worked on is covered with hot towels. Soon, the piano concerto on the speaker comes to an end. As if on cue, Rachel gives me one last rub, and we’re done.

There are lots of things that can blemish a spa treatment, even at the priciest places—stray noise, a rude attendant, too-hot water, too-cold air conditioning, a painful treatment. Amenity is the rare spa that got everything right.

Bottom line: This two year-old Loudoun County gem is worth going out of your way for. You’ll find creative treatments (keep in mind they don’t do hair), talented technicians, nicely appointed rooms, and bearable prices.

Amenity Day Spa, 44365 Premier Plaza, Ste. 120, Ashburn; 703-726-8100;


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Face First: Anabella Spa

I had been disappointed with many of the salons in McLean until I came across Anabella.

A pretty, two-year-old spa with walls painted in tranquil shades of peach and green and blue, it is owned by Ana Snow, an experienced aesthetician.

During my hourlong $80 facial, Ana explained everything she put on my face, from the soothing gel around my parched eyes to the blueberry enzyme mask to the clay-herbal mask. Her touch was feathery—well, except the neck and shoulder massage she performed while waiting for a face mask to dry. That was just okay.

Ana’s facials include lymphatic drainage, a process using two suction cups that she swore would help drain toxins from my face. The clicking and swooshing sounded like something out of Star Trek.

There are other treatments on this spa’s menu that are lost on a skeptic like me, such as Cold Light Therapy, which claims to “increase RNA and DNA synthesis.” I did think my skin looked a little better when I left, though I was disappointed to see a few breakouts the whole next week.

Bottom line: A pretty place with an experienced facialist.

Anabella Spa, 1620 Old Chain Bridge Rd., Suite 160, McLean; 703-847-9003,


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Neighborhood Choice: Avivo Salon & Day Spa

My complaint about salons where hair reigns is that they’re usually so busy, it’s hard for spa customers to relax—no matter how hard the salon tries. That was my experience with Avivo Salon & Day Spa in Vienna.

Avivo tries very hard. On my visit, the receptionist was friendly, and my massage therapist, Grace, was talented.

Grace greeted me at the front desk, then led me down a hall, past the pedicure station, and into the spa area with its own pretty sitting room.

After undressing in the massage room and lying on the heated table, I noticed that I could hear laughing and talking from down the hall. Without my asking, Grace closed the door into the spa area, cutting out the noise. She said that earlier in the day, when a bridal party was in, a massage client not with the group had had to listen to the conversation right outside, in the spa’s seating area.

Turns out there was an advantage to having the last appointment of the day.

Bottom line: This is not the first spa I’d choose, but if it’s near your home or office, it’s a pleasant place worth a try—during a slow part of the day.

Avivo Salon & Day Spa, 513 Maple Ave. W., Vienna; 703-242-4301;


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Great Reputation: Cahra Salon and Spa

Cahra is more salon than day spa. You walk through the lobby, filled with hair products for sale, past the hair stations, and upstairs to a tiny waiting area and three treatment rooms. You don’t get a robe or slippers. You leave your clothes on a chair in your room. There aren’t any female massage therapists.

None of this mattered. Steve, an auto mechanic for 22 years before deciding three years ago he’d rather work with people, gave me the best massage I’ve ever had.

A few minutes into my $75 one-hour Swedish massage, Steve asked if he could cover my eyes, which he’d noticed I wasn’t closing. I was so tense about having a male therapist that the dim lights and soft music of Pachelbel’s Canon weren’t helping. “It makes the world go away,” Steve said as he placed a cloth on my face. The darkness did the trick.

“I won’t see a thing,” he said early on. Steve draped the sheet over me like a tent when I switched sides. I wasn’t paying for a deep-tissue treatment ($85), but I asked him what one was like. He felt cricks in my upper back and said he’d do deep tissue until I wanted him to stop. I didn’t. He rubbed the pressure points on my palms and temples, did soothing stretches throughout, and finished with a gentle back scratch. Steve went an extra ten minutes, and we chatted afterward about exercises.

When I’d called Cahra to make my appointment, the desk attendant told me that Steve has a great reputation. It’s easy to see why.

Bottom line: The facilities aren’t as nice as some local day spas—there’s talk of expanding in the near future—but who needs fancy facilities when the treatment is this good.

Cahra Salon and Spa, 5 Grand Corner Ave., Gaithersburg; 301-921-6655;


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Serenity at a Strip Mall: Capelli Hair and Skin Spa

It’s not easy providing soothing massages and facials in a hair-salon setting, but Capelli Hair and Skin Spa in Falls Church pulls it off.

When you walk in, it’s not promising. The place looks like a suburban strip-mall salon—because that’s what it is. As I sat in the main waiting area, stocked with a big assortment of fun magazines, I noticed a little girl getting a haircut, while her younger sister spun around in the next chair. It’s that kind of place.

Off to one side, behind a door, is a section that’s sealed off from the noise and bustle of the hair stations. The salon has made the most of the space. Outside the three treatment rooms, in a short hall, are chairs and tables where you can rest with a glass of water.

Roxanne, my massage therapist, guided me to the spa, where I filled out a one-page health questionnaire before disrobing and slipping under the sheet of the heated massage bed. Candlelight and soft music were a nice touch, but Roxanne’s sure strokes were all I needed to drift into deep relaxation. It was one of the nicest massages I’d had in a long while. And, at $68 for an hour, a good value.

Bottom line: It’s not a spa to drive out of your way for, but if you live in the Arlington/Falls Church area, it’s a lovely break.

Capelli Hair and Skin Spa, Willston Center II, 6112 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church; 703-241-5971;


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Plain and Simple: Christie Adam

Imagine being showered off during a clay body treatment in a room bathed in red light. Welcome to Christie Adam’s funky Vichy shower room. It’s the nicest spot in the spa—the rest of the rooms are rather plain and sterile. And it’s the only room where you’ll wear a robe and squishy slippers. In the other treatment rooms, you hang your clothes on hangars on the back of the door.

I had an appointment for a full body massage. The massage therapist, Stacy, led me away from the salon’s front desk and down a narrow hallway. We passed a triangle-shape dining booth where day of beauty spagoers can eat lunch. Then I peeked into the pedicure room, which was tucked behind a French door and felt grand with its private thrones—I’ve never been a fan of public pedicures. (A colleague later mentioned having a good pedicure at the Reston Christie-Adam, done by Maya—who, because it was slow, threw in a free hand paraffin treatment.)

We didn’t stop in the waiting area with its girly high-back chairs, Oriental throw rug, and patterned mod couch. Usually the spa has cookies, juice, wine, and water, but by 3:45 on a weekday there was nothing out.

Each treatment room is decorated by the therapist who occupies it. Few were cozy. Stacey has up posters of the human muscular system. A sign gives tips on how to enjoy the massage: Take deep breaths; keep talking to a minimum. Every so often she’d ask if the pressure was okay, and she checked to see if I was warm.

Bottom line: I left feeling relaxed and cared for, but I wasn’t blown away by the facilities.

Christie-Adam Salon and Spa, 1025 Seneca Rd., Great Falls; 703-430-4800, Also at 11710 Plaza America Way, Suite 40, Reston, 703-481-9006; and 11857-U Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax, 703-591-1810.


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Nice but Not Perfect: Circe Aveda Lifestyle (Spa Salon)

I grew tense sitting in Circe’s waiting area, which is a couple of cushioned benches near the entrance. I filled out my health questionnaire with the loud hum of blow dryers in my ears. One woman, who was upset her appointment was canceled, started yelling at the manager. I poured myself a glass of cucumber-flavored water, which was warm.

Christine, my massage therapist, saved me. She led me into the spa, behind a door near the front desk, where fruit was placed out on a wicker table in a short, narrow hallway—so narrow, at times we had to walk single file. Off the hall were two treatment rooms, a bathroom with a shower, and, for those who spend an afternoon, a locker room and a princessy alcove for lunching.

When I got to the treatment room, which was clean and cozy, I was ready to forgive all of this. Christine lit four candles, which illuminated the tan-tiled walls, and offered hangers and a jewelry box. Before the massage, she soaked my feet in hot water and caressed them. The hot-stone massage ($100) was heavenly. She rubbed sage-scented oil deep into my muscles, going over them a second time with smooth stones.

Calming music wasn’t enough to drown out sounds in the hall. I jumped when someone dropped a set of keys and later when someone knocked on the door. After the knock, Christine began to rush the last few minutes of the massage. I was irritated until I glanced at my watch. My one-hour treatment had gone over by 20 minutes.

Bottom line: Good if you’re in the neighborhood but not the place for a day of beauty or for relaxing.

Circe Aveda Lifestyle (Spa Salon), 123 N. Washington St., Alexandria, 703-519-8528,


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All Organic, Partly Zen: Comfort & Joy Wellness Spa

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at Comfort & Joy Wellness Spa in Fairfax. The strip-mall location doesn’t jibe with the organic, natural focus the spa advertises.

Things started looking up when I opened the door and was welcomed by a friendly receptionist. I had been sick with a cold when I called to set up the appointment, and she not only remembered but asked whether I was feeling better.

She led me down a long, narrow hallway to the sitting area, next to the pedicure room. The decor suggested Zen—a little tray of sand on a table invited guests to rake away stress—but the bright fluorescent lights worked against the Zen vibe. There were no locker rooms, just men’s and women’s restrooms.

While I waited for my 30-minute Energy Medicine treatment ($40), owner and therapist Julie Smalfelt brought me some reading material to explain energy medicine, a treatment that aims at getting the body’s energies into a balanced flow. I’m not usually one for holistic treatments, but because I was getting over the cold I figured it was worth a try.

When I finished reading, Smalfelt took me into a treatment room with a massage table and soothing music. Although I would remain fully clothed for this treatment, she asked me to take off my shoes.

She then had me hold up my right arm at a 90-degree angle. She pushed against it twice, moving my arm all the way down to my side. She said that the energy was not flowing correctly out of my right arm; if the energy is “stuck” and not flowing in and out of the body, according to the theory, health suffers.

I lay on the table. Smalfelt was thoughtful, making sure I was warm enough and the pressure was right. Her hands lightly massaged my head, back, feet, and hands, moving in a flowing motion. To “release” my energy, she ran her hand down my limbs in one long motion, as if she were brushing water off it. Her bracelets jangled as she shot past my fingertips and shook her hands in the air.

At the end of the treatment, when she pushed my arm again, it stayed still. Smalfelt told me the energy was flowing through my right arm again and the chakra over my throat was better, which would help my cold. I was relaxed. But I can’t honestly say my energy level felt different. Maybe I’m too much of a skeptic.

One reason I might go back to Comfort & Joy: The spa uses all-natural, organic products, right down to the nontoxic polishes for manicures and pedicures.

Bottom line: Comfort & Joy gets high marks for a lovely staff, attention to detail, and a relaxing environment.

Comfort & Joy Wellness Spa, 9514-A Main St., Turnpike Shopping Center, Fairfax City; 703-425-8800;


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Eclipsed by Its Offspring: Eclips Salon & Day Spa

At first glance, Eclips seemed like a real spa find. It’s tucked discreetly in a nice shopping area of McLean, near Sutton Place Gourmet. I parked in the ample lot and went inside full of expectation.

I had booked a $75 Specialized Treatment Facial, which I was assured on the phone would be customized for my skin’s needs. The receptionist was busy in this bustling hair salon when I arrived; after a few minutes, we made contact, and I was introduced to the aesthetician and led upstairs to a treatment room.

I was asked what type of skin I had and about any sensitivities before she started. My facial began with steam and a cleansing and was followed by some mildly unpleasant but necessary extractions, a series of creams, and a relaxing face and scalp massage.

It was a pleasant and adequate facial, but I had no idea what was being applied to my skin and how the facial had been tailored for me, as the facialist never explained what she was doing. And compared to other facials I’ve had, the results weren’t impressive either: I came out with red spots where she’d done the extractions. My face wasn’t calm or smoother or radiant.

At the end of the treatment, I asked for a recap of what exactly she had used, but it was brief and lost on me at that point. Maybe it was just a busy day.

At one point, the facialist raved about Eclips’s other location, in Ashburn. Previous Washingtonian reviews of that spa have been very positive—unlike the one in McLean, that one was built as a true day spa, with relaxation in mind.

Bottom line: A convenient location and a pleasant staff, but in this busy salon, relaxation begins and ends in the treatment room.

Eclips Salon and Day Spa, 6643 Old Dominion Drive, McLean, 703-821-0022; and 44110 Ashburn Village Plaza, Ashburn, 703-858-7555;


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New Age in Old Town: Fountains Day Spa

Owner Suzanne Olsen warns new clients upfront: She likes to talk.

“If you want to relax, just tell me, and I won’t talk,” she says prior to my one-hour, $90 Hydradermie facial. Otherwise, she may offer first-time clients a running commentary on their skin and health—and she isn’t shy with suggestions.

Olsen, whose accent was formed growing up in Kenya and London, has been in the business of beauty for 38 years. As she leads me from the reception area back to the treatment room, she offers to carry the cup of cucumber-flavored water she gave me earlier. “From this point on, you’re in our hands,” she says.

The spa, in a lemon-yellow townhouse, isn’t fancy, but it’s homey. There are no changing or relaxation areas (there are locker rooms for those getting multiple treatments)—you undress in the treatment room. There are no hair services, so it’s calm. There’s a small display of Guinot products but not a hard sell; I would leave with free samples.

After slathering my hands in moisturizer and placing them in warm mitts, Olsen gently exfoliates my face, asking in a soothing voice if I use antiperspirant or deodorant. Antiperspirants are a no-no in her book: When uric acid can’t excrete through the armpit, she says, it can back up into areas such as the face.

“Human beings were made to sweat,” she says. “Just use a deodorant; deodorants mask odor. That’s the first thing I like to tell my clients.”

After exfoliation, my pores are opened not by steam—Olsen feels steam is too stimulating for some skin—but by applying sea-algae gel and then rubbing my face with small rollers and metal balls charged with gentle galvanic current. While she works, she asks if I would like a free reflexology session on my feet, since the therapist is available. Within minutes, while Olsen is expertly extracting my pores, Francis Vergara is massaging my feet. It feels mostly blissful, except for the few times when Vergara digs in his thumbs and I feel a jolt of pain in my foot. (“Do you work at a desk?” he asks when he applies pressure to a tender spot he says contains a connection to the lower back.)

With Olsen ministering to my face and Vergara my feet, I feel like an indulged princess.

After Vergara leaves, Olsen massages into my face an herbal mask she says will infuse oxygen into my skin. While the mask sets, she has her own look at my feet. “I find feet fascinating,” she says, claiming she learns about someone’s personality through his or her toes.

My big toe, she notices, is large. “You are a person who uses their brain. I use my hands more than my brain. But you’re in your head,” she says. (I am visiting under a different name, and she does not know I work at the magazine.) A prominent curve on the outside of each toe troubles her. “You’re smart, but you can be overbearing.” The toe next to my big toe, she says, hints at emotion, and mine is long—a temperamental combination, she says, of intellect and emotion.

Back at my face, Olsen pronounces my skin in good shape—it was a little dry when I came in, she says, “but you obviously take good care of it.” My skin feels so dewy, I’m willing to ignore the “overbearing” comment.

“The last thing I’ll tell you: breathe. Your breathing is too shallow,” she says, before leaving the room so I can dress.

While some clients might find the spa’s approach a little, yes, overbearing and preachy, others feel in competent, caring hands. As for me, my skin looked great the next day—it was a very good facial and one I’d get again. My back was stiff—it hadn’t been stiff before the reflexology. Maybe I’m overthinking it—in my head too much. Or I wasn’t breathing.

Bottom line: The owner is chatty—and can be a bit overbearing—but her treatments are just right.

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


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One-Stop Beauty: Hair Port Salon & Day Spa

Hair Port doesn’t do just hair—it’s a big, busy place. If you like beauty products, you’ll have to restrain yourself, because the front of the salon is wall-to-wall with things for sale.

The spa is calmer, but here, too, there’s a slightly cluttered air. I filled out a health questionnaire while sitting on a chair in the hall. The massage room was cramped and had, in place of soothing decor, posters of human anatomy. I undressed in the tiny space and slipped under the covers.

Scott, my massage therapist, dispelled any doubts I had about the spa. I had signed up only for the 25-minute, $45 Ultimate Stress Release Massage, but Scott worked out every ache in my neck and shoulders. I usually stay silent during a massage, but I asked Scott lots of questions, and he talked about how well the salon treated its staff. I believe it because the staff seems to pass on that respect—to clients.

Bottom line: Not a calming place to linger all day but a great choice to run into for every beauty need.

Hair Port Salon & Day Spa, 46 Pidgeon Hill Dr., Sterling; 703-430-3400;


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Tops in Arlington: Jouvence Aveda Lifestyle Salon & Spa

Sunlight streams through the windows, and the spare reception area gives off a modern vibe. Though this is an Aveda salon and spa, it’s less cluttered and frenzied and perfumey than some of the other Aveda addresses in the area.

Downstairs is the salon, with one of the cleanest, prettiest manicure and pedicure areas around. Upstairs, in a loftlike aerie, are four treatment rooms and a tiny waiting area that makes me wonder whether I’ll have to fight for the one chair. But on a Monday afternoon I’m the only client in the place.

I was dragging a bit that day, so of the choice of oils for my stone massage ($95 for 60 minutes), energizing peppermint seemed the thing. I settled on the heated and padded massage table.

In a stone massage, stones and pebbles are used two ways: They’re placed under and on top of muscles, and they’re used to massage as well. So instead of the flowing, uninterrupted movement of a traditional massage, there’s constant placing, removing, and repositioning of stones. Just as I’d be drifting into a relaxed state, stones would be shifted, and I’d thud back to reality. At times they were searingly hot, and though the therapist cooled them down apologetically, that was disruptive, too.

Granted, those tiny pebbles found muscles in my temples and along my sinuses that I never knew existed, and the larger smooth stones worked my shoulder and back muscles. But if I had to do it again, I’d go for a traditional Swedish massage.

Bottom line: An appealing, serene spa.

Jouvence Aveda Lifestyle Salon & Spa, 1101 S. Joyce St., Suite B10, Pentagon Row, Arlington; 703-413-4100; Also: 11913 Democracy Dr., Reston Town Center, 703-904-6900; 130 A Gibbs St. (Rockville Town Square), Rockville, 301-424-3744.


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Touch of Whimsy: K-Spa

The temperature had plummeted, so the heat-therapy massage ($80 for 75 minutes) I had booked sounded even better as I pulled up to K-Spa on a blustery January afternoon.

A bowl of chocolate hearts sat on the counter of the small waiting area that doubled as a beauty and body-products boutique—unlike many spas, K-Spa has no hair salon. I had enough time to sip a cup of tea before the masseuse whisked me through the door to the spa.

Inside the spa door was a casbah-like chaise draped in vivid fabrics and piled with pillows. But there was no time to linger, as we popped right through another door into one of the treatment rooms.

Once I disrobed and was settled face-down on the massage table, the masseuse unrolled a warm towel on my back. Heated sand-filled pillows were arranged on my body. Heavenly.

The pillows were lifted and rearranged as she worked on various parts of my back, neck, arms, and legs, probing lightly with her fingers as if she were testing a cake to see if it was done. It was the strangest massage I’ve ever had, and when I asked about it at the end, she said it was mostly craniosacral with a bit of accupressure thrown in. She also warned that I’d be in a lot of pain the next day if she had pressed harder.

Even though my body felt loose and relaxed, I’m more of a Swedish and shiastu girl. I like to feel like my muscles have gotten a workout—although the day after this massage, they did feel a bit tender. Still, there should be a better description of the type of massage involved on the spa menu.

Next time—and if I lived in Virginia, there’d be a next time because the spa sent me a card offering a 10-percent discount on a future visit—I’d go for a more straightforward massage or a signature package like the Grecian ($200), several treatments done in a room with whimsical Grecian decor. Rooms for other packages like the Saharan and Moroccan—a spacious space where you can “spa” with a friend—are done up with appropriate ethnic flair.

And another thing: I’d ask to do any waiting on that pillow-laden chaise.

Bottom line: Interesting services, and whimsical treatment rooms and common area, make this worth a try for those who live in the area.

K-Spa, 7295 Commerce St., Springfield; 703-644-9525,


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Waste of Time: Masters Touch Salon & Spa

There’s nothing masterful about Masters Touch in Falls Church. It was one of the unhappiest spa experiences I’ve had.

When I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, I was greeted by a desk full of unsmiling staffers—some with unflattering hair, a surprise in a place that’s mostly a hair salon.

I had signed up a $35 half-hour massage—just enough, I had hoped, to unkink muscles sore from a day of holiday shopping. The massage therapist led me back to a candlelit room, instructed me to “lie face up,” and left. She asked no health questions, so when she returned I volunteered that I wanted her to pay the most attention to my neck, back, and shoulders.

While I lay on the unheated table, I could hear rock music and voices in the salon and an annoying intercom system that would squawk messages such as “Monique, line 1.”

During the massage, my attendant used the same boring strokes on my back and shoulders over and over. Twenty minutes in, just as I was about to ask why she wasn’t touching my neck, she said, “thank you,” and made to leave. That was it? I asked her to massage my neck, and so she had me turn over, spent a few minutes on it, and again called it quits. When I got up, I noticed the clock said 25 minutes past the hour, not even a full half hour.

Bottom line: A total waste of money.

Masters Touch, 6201 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; 703-533-1402;


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On Their Toes: Natural Body Spa

The new Natural Body Spa in Arlington gets the little things right.

Natural Body, an Atlanta-based franchise, already has a location in Potomac. The same owners of that franchise opened a branch in Ballston Common mall in April. While spas this new often have kinks to work out, the Arlington spa, thanks to the owners’ experience and a corporate playbook, hit the ground running.

On two visits—the first just weeks after it opened—I found a professional, efficient staff that was quick to lead me to a quiet waiting area and offer water. Natural Body isn’t a slick modern space but a candlelit New Agey haven heavy on aromatherapy scents and potions.

During my massage, my therapist, Allison, actually read the health questionnaire I had filled out—something many spa therapists don’t seem to bother with. After rubbing the kinks out of my back, she draped it with a heated blanket. When I flipped over onto my back, she gently placed on my face a cinnamon-scented eye pillow.

Allison’s strokes were very good. It was not the best rubdown I’ve ever had, but I’ve had a lot. And at $70, it was well priced.

I liked my massage better than my $70 manicure-pedicure combo. Natural Body’s pedicure procedure is very popular—you recline flat in a chair instead of sitting up. I will admit it was relaxing, almost surreal. But with an eye pillow on, I couldn’t see a thing, and that bothered me. I’d feel the technician doing something but sometimes couldn’t tell what. I also love flipping through gossipy magazines like Us while getting a pedicure. If you do, too, this isn’t the pedicure for you. But if you think ordinary pedicures are boring, try this.

When my eye pillow was removed and the chair righted, I beheld a decent polish job, although the polish stopped shorter on each toe’s nail bed than I would have liked, leaving a gap. The manicure that followed was rushed and didn’t clean up my cuticles enough, but I do like that Natural Body doesn’t cut cuticles.

Bottom line: The treatments aren’t always flawless, but the atmosphere and service make you feel very pampered.

Natural Body Spa & Shoppe, 4100 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-243-4015; Also: 1104 24th St., NW, 202-775-2070; 43670 Greenway Corporate Dr., Ashburn, 703-726-9935; 1081 Seven Locks Rd., Potomac, 301-610-5004.


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Off on the Right Foot: L'vida Spa (formerly, NuYu Salon & Spa)

I love foot massages, so the $70 hourlong Foot Fantasy treatment at L'vida Spa in Alexandria sounded divine.

The nearly two-year-old spa, on the ground level of a residential community near Landmark Mall, seemed more salon than spa at first. But when soft-spoken Natasha led me past the hair stations to the spa area, I discovered an oasis of calm.

First up was a brisk salt scrub for my feet, followed by a slathering of warm paraffin. Then, for the next half hour or so, Natasha performed reflexology, which posits that pressure points on the feet can be manipulated to open blockages in the body. I had heard reflexology was painful, but Natasha, who also is trained in massage, had a soothing touch. The few times she made me flinch, I asked what she had pressed. “That’s your middle back,” she said, although I hadn’t noticed back pain. She also said I had toxins in both shoulders. Which, presumably, she had flushed out. I wasn’t sure I believed, but it was still my idea of a great foot massage.

I was amazed two nights later when, in yoga class, I nailed “side plank,” a pose my shoulders rarely seem strong enough to do. Whether or not the Foot Fantasy had anything to do with that, it lived up to its billing.

Bottom line: A pretty, friendly place where you may find a new you.

L'vida Spa, 4907 Brenman Park Dr. (Cameron Station), Alexandria; 703-212-6752;


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Bit of Heaven in Tysons: The Ritz-Carlton Spa

My first impression of the Ritz-Carlton Spa wasn’t great. When I called to make an appointment for Stone Therapy ($150), I was surprised to hear that the touted signature treatment was offered only Thursday through Sunday. When I asked for a morning massage, the distracted receptionist offered a time in the late afternoon. It took us 15 minutes to nail down an appointment.

But after I wind my way through the towering hotel in Tysons, I brighten up. The spa is a bastion of elegance.

When I reach the whisper-quiet spa—it takes two elevator rides to get there—I’m warmly welcomed, then whisked off on a quick tour of the lushly carpeted changing room lined with wooden lockers, plus a steam room and sauna. There is also a workout room and pool that clients can use.

I’m given a comfy robe and spa slippers, and I sink into a velvet couch in the sage-green waiting room. It’s more highbrow than other spas: Philip Glass’s soundtrack from The Hours is playing, and issues of Architectural Digest and Smithsonian are spread across the table.

I don’t wait long for Megan, my massage therapist, to find me. I climb onto the bedlike massage table in the candlelit treatment room, and Megan explains the massage: She’ll place volcanic basalt stones of varying temperatures all over my body and massage me with both her hands and the stones.

She lays the very warm stones in unexpected places—on my forehead, under my spine, between my toes. Her lavender oil-enhanced massage is light but transportive, more relaxing than therapeutic. I slip into a meditative bliss, and when I’m roused can’t believe 90 minutes have floated by. When I sleepily get up to go, Megan’s waiting right outside, offering ice water.

Bottom line: A good choice for those who want to work out before they work out the kinks. But it’s expensive.

The Ritz-Carlton Spa, 1700 Tysons Boulevard (Tysons Galleria), McLean; 703-506-4300; There is also a spa at the Ritz-Carlton, Georgetown, 3100 South St., NW; 202-912-4100.


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Moroccan Fantasy: Salon Nordine & Day Spa

I had high expectations for the newest Salon Nordine & Day Spa in Reston Town Center. I had visited the original Salon Nordine, in Fairfax, a few years ago and had had a nice massage there.

This third location—there’s also one in Gainesville—opened in October. It’s pretty: Rugs, light fixtures, and silver pieces from Morocco give it an exotic air. Upstairs, which is devoted to hair, was bustling during my visit; downstairs, the spa exuded calm.

A cocoonlike waiting area, in shades of blue and gold, has such cozy sofas that I started to doze off while reading a magazine. It’s a good thing I was comfortable, because I waited a half hour, due to a scheduling mixup. A tabletop menu listed all the free beverages available—including herbal teas and wine—but no one offered me anything.

I often find body wraps a waste of money, but the Coconut Rub and Milk Wrap sounded delicious. It started with the technician’s brushing my body with dry bristles—a very uncomfortable sensation—and went downhill from there. The table was too hard. The neck-and-shoulder massage, performed while I was coated in an oil-and-coconut concoction and wrapped in foil, was scratchy, as my skin was covered in the grainy goo.

My skin felt no smoother, $95 later. But while paying, I noticed smiling customers—including many men—getting haircuts, all sipping wine. Although the spa was only a few weeks old when I visited, clients seemed to love the place.

Bottom line: Go here for something basic, like a massage. Get there early, rest in the sitting area—and ask for some wine.

Salon Nordine & Day Spa, 11955 Freedom Dr., Reston Town Center; 703-437-6444; Also: 7526–28 Old Linton Hall Rd., Gainesville, 703-753-6971.


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Relaxing Oasis: Shapes Salon & Day Spa

I liked Shapes the minute I walked in and saw the spa waiting area. Next to the deep chairs sat a plate of butter cookies, a bowl of apples and bananas, a pitcher of ice water, a selection of herbal tea, and beauty magazines. Soft purple walls were covered in faux-painted tropical plants. A wall-mounted waterfall trickled gently. I was sorry I had signed up for only one service and had no excuse to linger.

Shapes, like most good spas, had me fill out a one-page health questionnaire. Then it was off for my $75 chocolate massage, one of the spa’s more unusual offerings. The massage felt fine, but I must say was disappointing: It was not one of the better ones I’ve had, and the massage therapist sniffled throughout the treatment. The hot towels on my back were a nice touch.

As an editor, I’ve received a few recent complaints from readers about the service at Shapes, so I wanted to see the place for myself. One reader hated a rough facial that produced skin rashes and pimples; for another, a poor makeup job left a bad taste; and one woman found the hot-stone massage overpriced.

When my massage ended, I wandered back to the sitting area, disoriented and in my robe. There, I found two chocolates waiting for me—they’re part of the chocolate massage. I steeped a cup of chamomile tea and enjoyed the weekday afternoon serenity.

Bottom line: The massage could have been better, but I was happy: It was like having an okay meal at a romantic restaurant—overall, a memorable experience.

Shapes Salon & Day Spa, 2435 Centreville Rd., Herndon, 703-713-0222. Also 5622-K Ox Rd., Fairfax Station, 703-250-0000;


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Rubbed the Right Way: Spa at Lansdowne

I don’t go around telling every massage therapist, “You’re the best I’ve ever had.” But I have said this twice—two years apart, to two different therapists—at the Spa at Lansdowne.

The spa at this full-service resort is perfectly nice, but what makes it special is the staff. They are very accommodating and seem to enjoy each other’s company while paying attention to clients. During my pedicure, I asked for green tea, and Catherine produced a tea bag out of her pocket.

Lansdowne is only 15 minutes from Dulles airport. In addition to the spa, Lansdowne has good food and golf. A huge outlet mall and the historic town of Leesburg are down the road.

Bottom line: Tempting hotel packages may turn a massage into an overnight splurge.

The Spa at Lansdowne, 44050 Woodridge Pkwy., Lansdowne; 703-729-8400;


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Getting Better: Spa Noa

Spa Noa in Reston seems the ideal spa: No hair services means no noise from blow-dryers. And a recent renovation has made this six-year-old spa—until recently, it was called Beaux Visages—pretty, with comforting green walls and rich dark woods. Everyone is pleasant; when you arrive, the receptionist offers tea or bottled water.

If only I had liked the services. In a space this nice, even an average facial or pedicure might have been enough to lure me back.

My facial was fine, and the aesthetician seemed very experienced, but after an hour and $85, my skin didn’t feel as plump as it has after other facials. Two bright spots: The facialist didn’t try to sell me a single thing. And, unlike with other facials I’ve had, I didn’t break out after this one.

The real disappointment was the pedicure. My nail technician, who never introduced herself, was really rough—even the way she filed my nails with an emery board made me wince. She manhandled my feet and made me yelp in pain at one point. Was she rushing because all I could get when I booked the appointment was the 30-minute “Presto Pedicure” versus the full hour?

To be fair, her working conditions weren’t ideal. While the spa finishes its pedicure room, she was squeezed into the back, in a drab area near the bathroom.

After my treatments, as I waited for my polish to dry, I overheard a woman checking out. “You guys have really improved,” she enthused. “I came here years ago and had an awful experience. You’ve really gotten better.”

One thing that impressed me: A few days later, I received a call asking whether I was satisfied with my services. When I told them I found the pedicure rough, I received another call a few days later, asking how they could make it better.

Bottom line: Although the services aren’t consistent, they try hard.

Spa Noa, 11638 Plaza America Dr., Reston; 703-318-3223;


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Thai It: Sugar House

Gimmicky massages usually don’t do much for me—or my aching muscles. But I was curious about Thai massage ($75 an hour), a type inspired by yoga moves and experienced fully clothed. It was said to be transporting.

I arrived at Sugar House Day Spa & Salon early enough to browse in its shop, well stocked with of-the-moment hair, skin, and body products. Also on the ground floor of this renovated Old Town rowhouse is the hair salon. On the second and third floors is the spa, offering face and body treatments as well as medical-spa treatments supervised by a physician.

I was given a short tour, mainly of the buffet table loaded with cookies, pastries, water, and tea, and escorted to a small locker and changing area staffed by female attendants who hang coats and walk you to the lounge, a dimly lit room with chaises and a good magazine lineup.

David came to fetch me, and we headed to a sunlight-filled room of whitewashed brick. My job was to remain as passive as possible, while David used his arms, legs, hands, feet, and body to stretch and manipulate my limbs, torso, neck, and head for an hour. At one point he was standing on the backs of my feet—amazingly, it didn’t hurt and, in fact, felt divine. At another, he was leaning into my upper thigh.

Though one is clothed for Thai massage, it may seem, because of the body-to-body contact, more intimate than the conventional hands-on version. Still, at no time did I feel uncomfortable or threatened. Rather, by the end, I was lazily thinking that this was the best stretch I’d had in a long time.

Bottom line: An appealing, well-run spa with worthwhile treatments and trendy products.

Sugar House Day Spa & Salon, 111 N. Alfred St., Alexandria; 703-549-9940;


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Tranquil It Is: Tranquility Day Spa & Salon

Saturday afternoon at a salon can be busy, with the whirr of hair dryers, the din of conversation, and the occasional whiff of chemicals. So when I made an appointment for a pedicure at Tranquility Day Spa & Salon in Manassas, I expected my treatment to be amid the bustle.

The salon was indeed humming, so I was pleasantly surprised to be escorted not past the hair stations but through a separate door to the spa, a peaceful and dimly lit refuge. There I was greeted by Renee Hull, who would be doing my pedicure.

After offering me something to drink, Hull showed me how to adjust the massage controls on the pedicure chair and draped around my neck a warmed neck roll scented with lavender, clove, and cinnamon. I hadn’t been there five minutes, but with a warm compress on my tired neck, my feet soaking in warm water, and my back getting a pulsing massage, I was already relaxed.

The “spa pedicure” included exfoliation with a sand-based scrub—many of the treatments at Tranquility have a beach theme, and you’ll see seashells everywhere—as well as a softening cucumber mask that worked wonders on my callused heels. I was a bit disappointed that the leg and foot massage wasn’t that deep, but I’m a fan of intense foot reflexology. Still, it was a nice feathery application of lotion, and with a stack of good magazines beside my chair, I enjoyed every minute of the $60, 45-minute treatment.

While my red toenails dried—the salon uses Opi polish—I relaxed in a wicker rocker by an electric fireplace in the small but pretty lounge. Hull had made me a cup of hot tea, and I nibbled on such snacks as cookies and trail mix. After weeks of testing day spas that hadn’t always measured up, I had found a place I would go back to. Best of all, the soles of my feet stayed soft for days, and the polish held up too.

Bottom line: I’ll happily go back for another spa pedicure, a relaxing treatment from start to finish.

Tranquility Day Spa & Salon, 10360 Portsmouth Rd., Manassas; 703-257-7200,