The bathhouse attendant handed me a plain paper cup of hot mineral water collected from the tub spigot and said, “Drink this before it cools. It will acclimate your body from the inside.” This was important, said my attendant at the Arlington Hotel Spa www.arlingtonhotel.com in Hot Springs, Arkansas www.hotsprings.com, because I had just slipped my naked body into water that was over 100 degrees.
I had come to “take the waters,” as multitudes of travelers have done for more than a century. While modern medicine has discounted most of the healing powers ascribed to the bubbling spring water, historic baths still make the springs a popular attraction. The reason: Relaxation heals. Even if you indulge out of curiosity, as I did, the ritual still has restorative benefits that can’t be discounted. It accomplishes what even contemporary spas are noted for—lifting the body and soul away from everyday stresses and creating a sense of complete well-being.
Separate facilities are available for men and women—originally men were the main partakers of the baths. “The Works” is a modern indulgence that features a whirlpool mineral bath using Hot Springs’ thermal waters, followed by hot and cold wraps, steam, sitz bath or sauna (if desired), and pressurized (needle sharp) shower. It ends with a soothing, full-body Swedish massage.
My experience started in a small private room, one of 50 with piped in mineral water, where I settled into a tub whose glaze and pipes showed the wear from servicing generations of health-seekers. Jets swirled soothing waves over my shoulders and across tummy and chest, gently relaxing muscles from head to toe. After a 20-minute soak, my attendant Jo Dee returned to scrub my legs and arms with the personal mitt provided on my arrival. Note to bathers: It’s best to check your modesty when you check in. “You can find a spa anywhere, but this is a bath,” the attendant said emphatically.
Next came the towel wrap, a skill Jo Dee has perfected after working more than a decade at the baths. As I lay on a padded table, she deftly flipped wet, hot towels around my back, arms, and legs, encasing me like a mummy. She placed a cold towel on my face to remove puffy circles under my eyes and help control overall body temperature. A sense of euphoria enveloped my immobile limbs, as the bath metamorphosed into a luxurious spa treatment. This sublime state was further enhanced during the massage, where any part of my anatomy that had not yet released itself from tension’s grip was pressed and prodded into submission.
“The Works” is an incredible experience any visitor to Hot Springs should try at least once, but if you chose to forego the bath, a variety of spa treatments are available at The Arlington as well as other facilities on Bathhouse Row.
Photos by Beverly and Larry Burmeier