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Head to Toes: The traditional Japanese-style enzyme baths at Osmosis aim to refresh.

Soaking It Up

'Wine Country Spas' a chatty treat

By Gretchen Giles

Chatty and colloquial, Laurel Olson Cook's fifth book rounding-up California spas focuses exclusively on the lowdown of rub downs available in Sonoma and Napa counties. Like reading the travel notes of an indulged friend, Cook's Wine Country Spas of California (iUniverse; $16.95) not only points visitors to the many spas of Calistoga and the less frequent establishments of Sonoma County, but suggests ancillary tips and travel spots of local interest to pique the jaded curiosity of that new consumer: the spa vacationer.

Certainly a New World invention, the spa vacationer travels in search not of art and culture and extreme sports or stunning views, but rather of aromatherapy blends exotic to home, pummeling techniques never before visited and different ways of essentially lying around being pampered, head to toe, from the muscles outward. However, a spa traveler need not struggle far from home nor even spend the night in order to have "traveled"-- at least from stiff and sore to rubbery and beatific. Cook introduces the concept of the "one-hour vacation," that which can just about be squeezed into a lunch break, but which allows you the time to really step out of your world.

An authority on which hotels accommodate pets 60 pounds and under, Cook, a proud Healdsburg resident who tends to favor her hometown, also reveals which wineries are famous for summer Shakespeare and what's in walking distance of the Vineyard Creek Hotel, Spa and Conference Center near Railroad Square. It appears, for example, that this facility offers Monday night football pedicures for men.

Not exactly brimming with strict research--though Cook visits each spa she writes about--this amiable book offers a glut of small insider nuggets culled from her own friends ("Gloria and others agree you should not miss the gift shop and gardens at Ferrari-Carano. Lavish!") and her jovial sense of fun. Regarding the Raymond Burr Vineyards, suggested as a day trip once one has pruned up sufficiently at the nearby Spa Hotel Healdsburg, Cook notes that she "bumped into Perry Mason in an elevator on Market Street in San Francisco. OK, forget that. Check its website for more significant doings."

For those who like to know what to expect in advance, Cook's eye for the smaller detail or fuller explanation is grand. She notes if a spa offers complimentary robes to those visitors who are wandering all relaxed-like between treatments; she notes the type of stone that lines a particularly lovely hallway or the coffee grounds that rough up a bar of gardener's soap. She even does a marvelously straight-forward explication of the mysteries of hot stone massage when discussing the Lavender Hill Spa in Calistoga, suggesting that having hot and cold stones placed all over the body is one way for those "leery of being touched by human hands" to get the stress relief and circulation bump of massage therapy. Perhaps of more use to those of us who live here, we learn that Graton painter Claude Smith worked at the Lavendar Hill Spa in 1993, that Cook "has been told" that the food at the restaurant Catahoula is "excellent," and that the Frog's Leap Winery grows organic grapes according to biodynamic laws outlined by Waldorf school founder Rudolf Steiner.

With lots of asides, opinions, straight forward news and odd tidbits, Wine Country Spas of California is just the thing to read in the tub.


Laurel Cook appears at the Quivira Vineyards Mother's Day event on Sunday, May 9, to read from and discuss 'Wine Country Spas of California.' Free mini-massages will be offered and a spa giveaway raffled. Wine, of course, should abound. Quivira, 4900 W. Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. 12:30-2:30pm. Free. 707.431.8333.


More Peace at Osmosis

As if being plunged into their heady enzyme baths, enjoying tea ceremony, being swaddled and having attendants sort of just hold you up as you stagger gloriously about weren't enough, the Osmosis Enzyme Bath and Spa in Freestone now boasts a new meditation garden. Designed to represent the 10 stages of the Zen parable "The Ox and Ox Herder," this new garden--which took four years to construct and features a koi pond, sculpted pines, a waterfall and chamomile-strewn lawns--is now just part of the experience for Osmosis guests. Those wishing to remain fully clothed may visit the garden and hear Osmosis owner Michael Stusser discuss the project with his master gardeners on Tuesdays May 25, June 2 and Oct. 12 at 9am. Osmosis, 209 Bohemian Hwy., Freestone. $5. 707.823.8231.

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From the May 5-11, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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