The diary of a spa virgin

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I have lived a truly sheltered and deprived life.  Until last Saturday, I had not yet experienced that rite of passage for a young woman that brings her to a fevered pitch of ecstasy and merriment: the spa day.

Fortunately, for newcomers like me and veteran spa denizens, there is a new destination for luxury and indulgence just a hop, skip, and water taxi ride away from Old Town.

What a perfect place for my maiden voyage into beauty bliss.

Nestled in the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor, lies Relache, French for relax.

The chic French theme runs throughout the spa with shining marble floors, black and white sofas and cushions, and fragrant orchids everywhere.  The lobby is grand, but not imposing.

I am greeted by a chipper spa girl and ushered into the ladies locker room, which has every amenity one can possibly need: blow dryers, toothbrushes, moisturizers even weight scales, which is probably the only thing I did not sample.

This sure beats the heck out of the locker room at the office gym, I think. I am handed a plush robe (with pockets deep enough for a blackberry and/or cell) and get into my spa uniform before taking a quick tour of the 20,000 square foot premises. (For those of you like me unfamiliar with the spa scene, thats big.)

Sorry, no Koalas.

First, the sauna and steam rooms. The steam room was a little small for my claustrophobic taste, but clean and functional. The sauna is larger, and the best part is the lovely eucalyptus scent that is emitted with the steam. You feel as if you are in the middle of a sultry Australian forest.

Pampering loves company. 

The VIP couples suite is a peaceful white room with breathtaking views of the Potomac and the harbor. Two small beds lie in the middle of the room for mothers and daughters, girlfriends, and newlyweds to enjoy the spas services together.

The main lounge area, where you wait for your therapist or facialist, offers another stunning view of the harbor and a place where you can chat with other spa visitors over a cup of herbal tea, although the atmosphere, tranquil and quiet, makes idle small talk seem inappropriate.

My facialist, Jean Martini, arrives and we go to a small, dimly lit room for my facial. I tell her that this is my first time, and she is patient and reassuring. She answers all of my questions and explains each step of the hour-long signature treatment.

All of the products used at Relache are natural and organic, with soothing aromatherapy elements. Most of the products are available for purchase in the spas retail shop.

The first thing people ask me is Why do I need a facial, Jean tells me. She explains that our skin is constantly regenerating cells, leaving behind the old ones. Also, as people age they lose vital natural moisturizers such as collagen that keep the skin supple and smooth.

My facial removed the dead cells, deeply cleansed the under layers of my skin, and nourished my face, leaving it luminous and healthy.

The signature facial also includes a light facial and neck massage with a wonderful scented lavender oil, which Jean also used on my hands and feet.

Now I know why this facial thing is so popular with my girlfriends. Yes, spas may be a girls best friend, but according to the spa director, Nelly Guerrero-Lent, boys can also benefit from Relaches menu. We have men come in all the time. I just had a gentleman come in this morning for a mani-pedi. Yes, an estimated 25 percent of spa services in this country are performed on men.

Just a few months old, Relache is trying to expand its audience to Alexandrians who may want to get away for the day with a trip to National Harbor. The people in Alexandria already know about the great shopping and restaurants here at the harbor-but they may not know about the great spa possibilities, Guerrero-Lent explained.  Relache wants to promote the idea of a true spa day-a few hours of spa-ing, then lunch at Pienza (Gaylords fantastic Italian eatery) and some sightseeing and late afternoon cocktails to round out the experience.

To lure more Alexandria spa lovers to Relache, the spa recently updated the price points for their luxurious services to make them more competitive with King Street salons. My signature facial and massage is now $130. A complete spa package called the Versailles Indulgence features massage, manicure, pedicure, facial, lunch, and your choice of shampoo, makeup lesson, or fitness class runs for $370.

Even the most jaded of spa rats will not be disappointed by Relache. The service is friendly, the services affordable, and the ambience is elegant and sophisticated.

I came in a skeptical spa virgin, but walked out a deflowered believer.

Stephanie Green is a producer at XM Satellite Radio.

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