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Easy Escapes for Two

Getaways that are close to home — and yet a world away

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Spas in Saratoga Springs
Beneath the foothills of the Adirondacks, saratoga springs probably packs more tourists within its boundaries during August than most tourist communities attract in a whole year. Long before thoroughbred racing lured horse lovers to its famous race track, undergrads to Skidmore College and culture lovers to the justly renowned open-air performing arts center, summer home of the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra (there’s chamber music, opera and jazz here in the summer as well), Saratoga Springs had been a spa destination. George Washington reputedly indulged in a mineral bath here, and later, well-to-do Victorian gentry from Europe and America flocked to the resort every summer to soak in water pumped from 1,000 feet underground, because the waters, it was and is still said, have therapeutic powers to reduce stress, increase circulation, soften the skin and strengthen the body’s overall functioning.

Saratoga Springs rose to prominence in the mid-nineteenth century as a spa town, on the strength of the mineral springs first discovered by Iroquois Indians. Today, its famous spring water can be tasted at a number of outdoor fountains or purchased in bottles. But it’s the soak that’s the draw. Reservations at mineral waters spas are difficult to secure in August, when racing fans converge, so autumn is a delightful time to pamper yourself.

At first, the tea color of the soak waters, caused by chlorinated water mingling with icy spring water, may be off-putting, but you quickly overcome your reservations once you climb into a tub filled with soothing water up to your neck for a thirty-minute effervescent experience. Towel off, slip under the covers of a nearby bed and snooze away. Further purify the body in a sauna, then enjoy a massage, perhaps a facial too. Mix it up any way you choose.

The roosevelt baths and spa is a short walk from the proper gideon putnam resort in the state park that seems perpetually green — and perpetually in use (picnickers, bikers and joggers frequently cross paths with golfers and tennis players off to their courses and courts). Roosevelt has a Pompeii baths feel about it — and large sections of it seem deliberately designed to reflect that connection — but that is part of its old-world charm. Follow your purification bath with a walk through the park to the automobile museum where you can admire antique and classic cars, as well as race, Indy, sports and stock cars. A longer walk will bring you to the dance museum if you’re interested.

Crystal Spa is a more up-to-date facility that presents a fuller spa menu, as well as a mineral water soak. Crystal sits on the fringes of the main thoroughfare, in a Grand Union Motel complex, and boasts top estheticians.

There are also spas where all the water comes from above ground. You can’t go a block in this small metropolis without passing such a spa, from behind humble storefronts to within posh hotel sites like the aldelphi on Broadway or the roosevelt inn & suites (great Swedish massage) on South Broadway.

Our favorite is the young sanctuary spa in the heart of downtown. Everything is beautiful about Sanctuary, a mere block from bustling Broadway. Scented candles perfume the air, changing rooms and showers are spotless, and the soothing sound of rippling water in a “relaxation” room will have you in deep sleep in minutes. The staff has been highly trained to perform medical and traditional services: Restylane, Botox, Juvederm and Radiesse, laser treatments, facials and makeup applications, manicures and pedicures, hair styling and seaweed body wraps. Whatever service you reserve, be sure to book a facial (Michele was our esthetician and she was superb).

Opened two years ago by physician Dr. Stanley Docyk and his wife, registered nurse Debra Docyk, Sanctuary has such a steady clientele of both men and women that reservations must be made well in advance, even during off-tourist season. Schedule an oxygen facial for the woman and a shiatsu massage for the man.

In between your spa experiences, you will have time for other pursuits. Although the racetrack is closed this month, you can still feel the thrill of the race at the national museum of racing and hall of fame. A visit here could take an entire morning. Exhibits waltz you from the beginnings of thoroughbred racing in this country to the present day. One plaque claims that thoroughbred racing is the only sport in which women competed equally against men, and you will get a whole history on that score. An exhibit this month takes a look at the roles the horse has played in the history of the White House. Like all the museums in town, it is beautifully maintained.

To get a sense of the city, visit the history museum in Congress Park, home of summer Shakespeare in the Park (we caught a very funny Much Ado about Nothing, done in cowboy garb, with Gene Autry in the background crooning “Back in the Saddle Again”!) The Canfield Casino within the history museum is preserved virtually in tack. Here, men (no women were allowed) played faro, roulette, rouge-et-noir and Boston. The High Stakes Room was for the elite of the elite. Bets in this upstairs parlor ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Five rooms on the third floor are reproduced with furnishings from the nineteenth-century home of Reuben Hyde Walworth (his daughter-in-law Ellen cofounded the Daughters of the American Revolution).

The gardens at yaddo offer a meditative excursion. On the outskirts of the central district, in a woodland where tranquility trumped commercialism, Spencer and Katrina Trask created a retreat for artists and writers in the early part of the twentieth century. Although the stately, ornate mansion — which you can see from a short distance and where artists still live and work — is closed to the public, the gardens (which admittedly could use a bit of excitement in its plantings) are open to the public year-round.

Then when hunger strikes, Broadway is your restaurant nirvana. There are 100 restaurants in Saratoga Springs, seventy of them on the Broadway strip alone, which is also chockablock with shops offering anything and everything you could possibly need or desire. This main thoroughfare was named one of five “Best Main Streets in America” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

There are two restaurants, however, just off the strip that are truly worth seeking out, mouzon house and one caroline street bistro. The food at these two gems is star-quality. Because menus vary from week to week, it would be reckless to recommend a dish. Owned by Diane Pedimonte, the restaurants feature live music on weekends (this city is almost as big on music as it is on thoroughbreds and spas). country corner is a must for breakfast (superb French toast, eggs and hash, pancakes and cereals; excellent coffee). One innovative dish was the fried oatmeal with vanilla, walnuts and cranberries, served with apple-maple syrup. There are two Country Corners, one on either side of Broadway and both popular with year-round residents, who swear by its muffins and scones.

For lunch, be sure to visit cantina, an upscale Mexican eatery that makes a wicked margarita. Locals order it by the pitcher. A pharmacy and a shoe salon once occupied the tin-ceiling space side by side before it morphed into a restaurant. Picturesque olde bryan inn whips up American favorites like burgers or hot turkey sandwiches with gravy for sit-down guests in its wood-paneled rooms. Local lore has it that a ghost loves to get the chandelier swinging. (And hush-hush, there are other friendly ghosts — at Mouzon House and at the Batcheller Mansion.) Salads, wraps and panini are the lunchtime norm at scallions on Lake Avenue. Order takeout, pick up cold bottles of Saratoga water at nearby Stewart’s Market and head on home, picnicking in the car or at a highway rest stop.

Accommodations are almost as profuse as restaurants — and at less than half the price of in-season costs. Hotels abound, from the courtyard at marriott to the hilton garden inn; as do motels and B and Bs (check out the colorful, quaint batcheller mansion for Victorian ambience in abundance); and, outside the hubbub of downtown, the conference center longfellows, with a very popular restaurant on its grounds and within a hop, skip and jump of the nearby public links, Saratoga National Golf Course.

Now that you’ve state-hopped in search of places to enjoy together, you’re ready to face that office desk and your hectic lifestyle once again — at least, until ski season rolls along. We’ll take you to other places and other pursuits another time.