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Occupy the Spa

A Day at The Spa at Norwich Inn Diverts You From the Worries of the World

My friend and I are weighed down with stress, the near kind and the far kind. Between us, we have a pre-teen and a teenage son, finding their ways in complicated peer societies and school bureaucracies. We have family and friends relying on us to help with serious medical conditions, and some health issues of our own. And, let's not talk about the American workplace in decline, the economy or the environment. Overdone.

We thought about Occupying Wall Street, but then we totally caved and decided to just steal a day at the Spa at Norwich Inn. It took the stress right out of us. And while it's not a forever kind of thing, it's reassuring to know you can go to that place in your body and soul that soothes your head.

After a rainy weekday drive to Norwich, we park and walk up the lane to the beautiful Georgian Colonial manor built in 1929. We are not thinking that the inn has catered to guests such as Sinatra, Streisand, Tiegs or Swank, nor that, when down on its luck and owned by the City of Norwich, it was a boardinghouse with holding cells for overflow prisoners in the basement. But we know this place, now owned by the Mashantucket Pequots, houses plenty of stories.

We make our way downstairs to the spa, passing two pianos on the way, a good sign on any search for stylish comfort. We are efficiently checked in at the desk, receive our terry cloth spa robes and flip flops and lockers, and make our way to the Jacuzzi. We enjoy our opportunity for open-ended conversation while relaxing, a rarity in our friendship. As another spa guest joins us, we are falling into an energetic discussion about what's on Broadway when she politely asks for some silence. We clam up, not wanting to encroach on her experience. (Later, when we return for another dip in the Jacuzzi, a guest who overheard the earlier conversation, says, “I don't mind if you talk.”)

We head to the indoor pool, which is just the right temperature and we hang out, loving the water and the greenhouse atmosphere. The pool is surrounded by comfortable chairs where you can enjoy fresh fruit and tea or water as you await a spa treatment. And there is a darkened relaxation room with windows to the pool area, so you can hold onto that feel-good aura you achieved with your spa therapist. (The spa day fee is $20 when accompanied by a treatment. Those include facials, massages, skin therapies, body wraps, nail and hair treatments and myriad other selections.)

Our massages are scheduled in the afternoon, so we head up to the Kensington dining room, feeling wicked that we get to go in our spa robes. I mean, really, how can you not like wearing your robe to a great lunch in a classy dining room?

She orders a gourmet sandwich with seasoned fries; I get the Kensington lobster salad (about $17 each). The menu gives us calorie count, protein, fat and carb data, so we can see that you don't have to lose sight of the numbers when you opt for great-tasting food. We take our sweet time, order rich coffee and willingly spoil our healthy record with dessert ($6).

And now it's time for our 50-minute Swedish massages ($95 plus tip and tax). My masseuse is a pro, having worked at Norwich for more than 20 years and taking her lead from me on how much chat we should have. We compare notes on a surgery we have in common and then it's not long before I slip into a non-verbal state. I've asked for work on my neck and shoulder area, where most of my stress resides. She kneads me. I need her.

Afterward, I meet my friend poolside and we decide to make our way up to the gallery off the lobby where complimentary tea and scones are served. Being fall and all, we opt for the hot apple cider with our pastries, with marmalade and a dollop of clotted cream. We look out the window at the gorgeous gardens and, ensconced in comfort, enjoy our gray day.

Complimentary tea segues into complimentary wine tasting, but we have enough time to clean up, dress, settle our bill and return to the gallery for a choice of the red or white du jour with cheese, fruit and crackers. The server regales a mixed group of guests with stories of his dramatic Hawaiian breakup. We laugh and reassure him he will be fine.

It's time to go. We take in the sweep of the inviting lobby, now filling with dinner and overnight guests. They are lucky but we knew we were escaping for just one day. We drive home, still in the rain, but not as bothered by it, and holding on to a rare and peaceful bliss.

The Spa at Norwich Inn is located at 607 Thames St. in Norwich. Spa hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For information on spa and inn packages and activities, call 1-800-ASK-4-SPA (275-4772) or visit the The Spa at Norwich Inn website

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