For my birthday this week, my friend, Barbara booked Body scrubs and massages at Institut Spa Valdys in Roscoff, a town about one and a half hours west of Perros Guirec, Brittany. I was quite excited and kept telling people that I was “taking the waters” at the Spa. Finally she said to me, “Have you never heard of Thalassotherapie? I can’t believe it.” I hadn’t. I wasn’t sure I’d even heard the word. It looked Greek and that was about it. Thalasso means ‘sea’ in Greek. Thalassotherapy is the use of seawater as a form of therapy. So I may not have known what I was talking about, but I wasn’t that far off the mark.
After chatting away happily for a one and a half hour drive, we arrived in Roscoff. The landscape had changed about ten minutes before entering the town. It seemed flat and grey. Although we could see the sea, there wasn’t much attractive about the geography. We followed the directions on my iPhone to the Hotel Tulip next door to the Spa. We found parking and began our day at Noon. Unlike American spas, this spa checked us in and left us on our own. No ‘Welcome, let me show you around’. No ‘First you go here and change, then you go there and’ …..American Spas, at least the ones I’ve been in, treat every person like a Queen. I wasn’t sure if this was the french way or just this Spa. We wandered around a bit lost until we finally asked someone what we do. She explained where to change our clothes and get a robe. Then to come back to her floor and sit in a jacuzzi or steam bath or swim in the swimming pool. Upstairs on the 4th floor was a gym with bikes and walking machines. No one was there!
At 2pm, we sat in waiting rooms waiting for our names to be called. When called, I was asked what kind of scrub I would like. I asked her what the difference was. One was for sensitive skin which I don’t have so she suggested the ginger scrub. The word in French is Gommage. I hadn’t asked for a translation so I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for. It turned out to be delicious. She rubbed my entire body with this oily exfoliating scrub and after showering the particles off, I was left with glowing sweet smelling skin. I wanted to keep the oil on forever. She took me back to the waiting room where I found Barbara and we compared experiences. We had picked different scrubs but the looks on our faces probably said to anyone looking that we had both loved it.
My name was called again and this time I was led to a massage room. My massage was good but not great. At the end, I was relaxed and happy. Barbara had a great massage and couldn’t believe how effective it was. Her masseuse had told her go to the Solarium and relax. So I followed along. The door that said Resting Room opened up to eight chaises longues with buttons to push for music or heat. I tried to read but promptly fell asleep. Barbara’s chair had a view of the sea at low tide. There were tide pools, tons of algae, three large pools for swimming that filled up at high tide. We decided to get dressed and go for a walk.
The sand had the strangest little curly-que details. It was like pieces of thick string wound up and dropped. I thought maybe it was droppings of some sort but when I put my foot on it, it collapsed into sand. They were everywhere. I was trying to imagine how the water would roll in as the tide rose to make those little ‘decorations’. I was stumped, it was beyond my imagination.
So what exactly is Thalassotherapy? This is what Wikipedia has to say:
“It is based on the systematic use of seawater, sea products, and shore climate. The properties of seawater are believed to have beneficial effects upon the pores of the skin. Some claims are made that thalassotherapy was developed in seaside towns in Brittany, France during the 19th century. A particularly prominent practitioner from this era was Dr Richard Russell,whose efforts have been credited with playing a role in the populist “sea side mania of the second half of the eighteenth century”, although broader social movements were also at play. In Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal, an area believed to have high concentrations of iodine, due to kelp forests, and subject to sea fog, the practice is in historical records since 1725 and was started by Benedictine monks; it expanded to farmers shortly after. In the 19th century, heated saltwater public baths opened and became especially popular with higher classes.Others claim that the practice of thalassotherapy is older: “The origins of thermal baths and related treatments can be traced back to remote antiquity. Romans were firm believers in the virtues of thermalism and thalassotherapy.
In thalassotherapy, trace elements of magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium, and iodide found in seawater are believed to be absorbed through the skin. The effectiveness of this method of therapy is not widely accepted as it has not been proven scientifically. The therapy is applied in various forms, as either showers of warmed seawater, application of marine mud or of algae paste, or the inhalation of sea fog. Spas make hot seawater and provide mud and seaweed wrapping services. This type of therapy is common in the Dead Sea area”
Well, whatever it is, I enjoyed it. I didn’t wash the oil off my skin for eighteen hours!