Just when you cannot possibly stand one more minute of driving on U.S. 19, you see the sign you've been waiting for and turn west.
From traffic, heat and stress, you roll into the soothing green of Innisbrook, the famous 900-acre golf resort that just got a $26 million facelift.
Now, with the opening of the 14,000-square-foot Indaba Spa, we locals can start thinking of Innisbrook as our own little close-to-home getaway. Sure, you can book a room at bargain summer rates and make a weekend of it. But for the price of a massage (or facial, or whatever you like from the extensive spa menu), you're encouraged to settle in and relax at the area's newest resort spa.
"It's an escape into your own back yard,'' said Innisbrook's spa and fitness director, Sheila Bracewell. "We encourage people to come early. Bring a book, your bathing suit, order lunch, sit outside.
"Even if you can only afford one service, plan to spend some extra time. It's not about rushing out. We want you to feel you've had a complete day.''
Given the state of the economy, spa vacations may not be at the top of your vacation itinerary.
But if you choose a spa close to home (and there are many choices all around the bay area), you may find that personal pampering is within reach. Depending on the stress you're experiencing, a spa day (or couple of hours) could yield relaxation benefits that last well beyond your visit. And you might pick up some health and beauty tips you can keep using at home.
Today in Personal Best, in addition to visiting Indaba, we're also offering reviews of other local spas Times staffers have enjoyed. And we invited local businesses to let us know about their summer specials.
How do you find the one that's right for you? Ask friends, of course. And look for a place that's convenient, affordable and just feels good to you. Check out Web sites. Drop by before making an appointment; you can learn a lot by walking in the front door and talking to the manager.
If you want to extend your visit, see if the spa has an appealing lounge where you can have lunch, alone or with a friend. Ask if there's a whirlpool spa, pool, or fitness facilities you can use if you book a treatment. Amenities like that could easily turn one or two treatments into a day-long retreat.
A WHOLE EXPERIENCE
Whatever spa you choose, here's a great tip from Bracewell, who is also a licensed massage therapist: Get there early. Not even the greatest massage therapist is going to make a dent in your deltoids if you hit the table moments after battling traffic.
Bracewell says she starts her workday by walking the meditation labyrinth behind Indaba, a moving meditation that gets her calm and focused. She invites clients to do the same.
It won't cost you anything extra, nor will time spent luxuriating in the saunas and whirlpool spas (bring a bathing suit). Ditto for stretching out with a good book on a comfy chaise in the women's lounge, which offers a pleasant, leafy vista and high-end herbal teas. By the way, the name Indaba comes from a Zulu word for "gathering place,'' which fits here entirely.
If you're looking for something more adventurous than the usual softly lit massage room, you might enjoy an outdoor massage in the middle of the labyrinth, as we show on our cover today. Peer up through the bordering shrubs, and you might see golfers teeing off on the Copperhead course. (The golfers, spa staff reassured us, cannot see the massage in progress because of how the land is sloped. Anyway, you're modestly draped.)
Prefer to keep your massages indoors? You'll notice the treatment rooms are generously proportioned. Some have terraces, and the couples massage room even has a fireplace.
On the theory that you're never too young to start enjoying the spa experience, Indaba offers something special for the tween set, the Ice Cream Social pedicure and manicure. As your feet are pumiced, massaged and polished, you get a hand-scooped ice cream cone. Naturally, the products used have sweet scents, such as chocolate, strawberry and marshmallow (manicure, $45; pedicure, $70.)
The full spa menu is at Indaba's Web site (www.spaatinnisbrook.com). Among the more intriguing packages: "7 Paths To Wellness,'' with a wellness consultation, personal yoga session, labyrinth walk, exfoliation and massage treatments, lunch and a wellness book, a half-day experience for $270. Feeling sporty? Try the Champions Package, with a golf lesson, golf-specific personal training and a sports massage for $285.
Summer deals include the "30 for 30'': Book a regular-priced service, and add a 30-minute massage, scrub or facial for $30.
Don't see any package you like? "Ask for what you want,'' Bracewell urges. "We want this to be your experience.''
Charlotte Sutton can be reached at (727) 893-8425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.