Are You Man Enough For Pampering?

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By Robert Schroeder
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, November 27, 2002

It was about halfway through my "sea salt glow" treatment at Rehoboth Beach's Bellmoor Inn and Spa that I found myself thinking, "Man, I feel like a woman."

The aromatic essential oils being rubbed into my body had something to do with it. So did the sea mineral mist bathing my stark-naked figure. Then there was the New Age flute music drifting over the massage table and the soothing flickering of a soy candle. It added up to one unmistakable thing: I was being pampered. At a freakin' spa!

Excuse me. It's just that I don't normally go for the luxury hotel/spa thing. But when an editor asked me to check out the newly opened Bellmoor, I decided to succumb.

I'm glad I did. Because a sea salt glow, reflexology treatment, "de-stress" massage and (guys, don't laugh) "gentleman's facial" will turn even the most Apollonian everydude into a Dionysian pleasure slave.

Once I'd gotten past the health questionnaire -- Hypertension? Exercise habits? -- my Bellmoor spa experience was off to a splendid start. After I'd shucked street clothes and donned a plush bathrobe, a masseuse named Angel led me into what she called the wet room. As in wet treatments, like the salt glow. I chose this one because I have a history of bad skin. The idea, Angel told me as I lay face down on the table, is to exfoliate, stimulate circulation and hydrate the body. She used Himalayan salts mixed with a peppermint-juniper-pine-eucalyptus vital oil concoction. "So your energy is really pumping," she told me.

Jumping was more like it. Ever had large grains of salt worked into your person? It hurts. But it is surprisingly relaxing after you get used to the initial sandpapery feeling. And, indeed, after an hour-long session, my skin was softer, smoother and pleasantly fresh. I also felt a little spacey, thanks to the body rub and the Enya-meets-Peruvian flute soundtrack. I was getting into the spa groove.

The 78-room Bellmoor opened in July on the grounds of the former Dinner Bell Inn. With lovely rooms sporting Jacuzzi tubs and fireplaces, plus a location two blocks from the beach, the inn is one of Rehoboth's newest exclusive Arcadias.

But don't call it a hotel in front of co-manager Todd Moore. "We tried to capture the inn feeling," he said in the wood-paneled first-floor library, which indeed feels right out of an Eastern Shore B & B. This time of year is couples season; warmer months draw families.

While my wife, Naomi, walked on the beach and browsed the shops, I remained in the second-floor spa for more pampering. My next appointment was reflexology, with the poetically named Stacey Love Benson. I knew from her description that I was going to enjoy this one. "It's like a massage for your internal organs," she said. Stacey explained that this ancient treatment was mainly done by massaging the nerve endings of one's feet: The body's various parts are mirrored in corresponding locations on the soles of the feet. Example: Poking or prodding the upper part of my foot should relax my shoulder.

But then the smiling Stacey broached the P-word: Pain. Reflexology should be "a good hurt," she said as my naked feet lay helpless in her waiting hands. "We want to go as deep as possible without it being painful." By then it was too late to back out, and besides, I could take it. Right?

I won't say it didn't hurt, because it did, a little. As Stacey "thumb-walked" across my oiled-up feet, I thought: I've gone from aromatherapy to this? Then a strange thing happened: I relaxed. I'd been ready to write reflexology off as hocus-pocus when my tense neck and shoulders began to loosen up. By the time she took my right hand in her clench, I was Deadhead-mellow. The hibiscus and gingko "Mind Over Muddle" tonic I'd been drinking was also kicking in.

Which is why, when Naomi later saw robe-clad me between appointments and said, "Honey, you look just like one of the girls," I was able to reply, "Proud of it."

I'm being a bit unfair: The Bellmoor's spa does attract its share of men. Garret English of Stamford, Conn., staying with his wife, Amy, had signed up for the "Gentleman's Heaven": four hours divided among a sea garden body wrap, a facial, a sports massage and lunch. "We're not big for crowds," he said over coffee in the Bellmoor's airy, sun-drenched breakfast room, explaining why they chose an off-season Rehoboth getaway. "This time of year it's good to be around here."

Garret had loved his facial. That was where he and I diverged. Because despite the expert ministrations of aesthetician Selina Zadeh, I simply couldn't get used to having hot towel after hot towel draped across my face. Nor did I enjoy the steam machine, or the extracting of clogged oil and dead cells. "Are you antsy?" Selina asked while she was rehydrating me. I was, though it wasn't her fault; she was clearly a pro. For the record, my face did feel better, but from now on I draw the line at facials.

Enough. After three consecutive spa sessions, I was ready for a stroll and some dinner. If you, like the Englishes, are crowd-averse, Rehoboth in winter is your place. During the week the town has a ghostly, uninhabited feel to it. Many shops and restaurants are on reduced cool-weather schedules and do their main business on weekends. The beach and boardwalk are always there for a romantic stroll, and the close-by strip of outlets along Route 1 will keep brand-name shoppers busy.

Naomi and I were happy to take it easy. After lobster and mahi-mahi at the Stoney Lonen restaurant, we retired to our very cozy room and read magazines from the Bellmoor's well-stocked library. My spa-going had dampened my enthusiasm for the Stephen Ambrose book I'd brought along -- I kept imagining Lewis and Clark having a couples massage (55 minutes, $150).

I did schedule my own de-stress massage, though -- the Swedish, or deep-tissue, which was billed "something different." Anti-stress essential oils turned out to be the unique part, and soon I was bathed in more sticky goop than a small OPEC nation. Massage therapist Deborah Steeley worked each part of my body until I was good and rubbery, and reminded me afterward to drink lots of water to help flush out toxins. I did. I felt darn good.

I can't say that the Bellmoor exactly made me a spa aficionado. But men, if you're like me and you enjoy indulging yourself once in a while, I have a recommendation when it comes to the Bellmoor.

You go, guys.


© 2002 The Washington Post Company


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