Friday, February 1, 2008

French Body Care - Part One of a Perfect Day

My last day of adventuring in the Avignon area began in the most delightful way. I had an appointment at the Kan Day Spa, a bit of a hidden treasure, in a small storefront I found one day when I was out exploring. Their flyer offered a variety of options at affordable prices and since I hadn’t been able to do anything but sponge bath (my hotel room is sans shower) for over a week I thought I would take advantage of the Hammam (steam bath) and spa (Jacuzzi) combination package offered with a short massage. Not only did I get squeaky clean, but I had one of the best body care experiences of my life. The beauty was really in the simplicity of it all.
The Hammam is downstairs, in the rear of a beautiful treatment room with bathroom, Hammam and attached shower for alternating the Hammam with cool showers, the spa (Jacuzzi) and a massage table. The Hammam is the heat, and the effects of alternating the steam room with the cool shower provide excellent stimulation for the circulation and lymph systems.
Let me tell you that this is not for the modest as, remember, we are in France. I was directed (all in French) into the bathroom where I was to emerge with only a disposable thong, shower cap, and pair of slippers – no towels, no robes – just me in my middle-aged glory and the very scanty disposables merely there for some hint of hygiene, certainly not for hiding anything. From there I went into the Hammam which was a completely tiled, large sauna-sized room with two levels of tiled benches to lie or sit on. The steam was augmented with some aromatherapy and was not too hot, but hot enough. The adjacent shower was a step through the glass door, where I could adjust the water temperature from cold to warm. I went back and forth a few times, and while showering, used the exfoliating scrub available. After about 20-30 minutes of this alternating treatment, my therapist checked on me and prepared the Jacuzzi. I was given a hand-towel to dry myself enough to walk across the floor and get into the spa.
The Jacuzzi spa part of the therapy is not for heat like a hot tub, but rather more for the relaxing and massaging effects of the jets. The water is at a comfortable 35ºC (95ºF) so you stay warm but don’t overheat. I was in the spa for about 30 minutes – I think it was two 15-minute timed sessions as she came and checked on me and turned it on a second time. My darling little French therapist had dimmed the lights and the spa was really a pre-massage. I thought – how clever they are, letting the Hammam and the spa do so much of the work for them! By the time I emerged from the Jacuzzi I was very relaxed and used the same hand-towel to mop off a little, again merely to get me across to the massage table which had a towel on it.
I was instructed to lie down on my stomach. My therapist dried me off some more with another towel and then asked me if I wanted scented or unscented oil (all in French). She let me sniff the three scented options and I chose the Jasmine. She then slathered me with the oil – no sheet or towel over me – just me and my thong. She did a simple and yet wonderful Esalen-style massage (a northern California massage spa known for its naked massages with long, sweeping massaging), first along the left side of my body, and then the right, with a bit extra on my back, but it was feet to neck for about twenty minutes. I have never been so relaxed during a massage.
And it was fine when it was over as well – no longing for it to continue. I was satiated. I slowly rose and went to get dressed while my therapist made me a cup of green tea. I was there a total of almost one hour and 45 minutes, and the whole thing was 65 Euros – a deal by any standards.
I went out into the sun of the day – now almost noon – and sat in the main square with sun at my face and relished the deep, warm, satisfied feeling. I hadn’t eaten much, but wasn’t even hungry. I wrote a little and watched the teens come out for their lunch break. A man was teaching his young daughter to ride a bike in the square and she was squealing with delight. I savored it all. Finally, the cement I was sitting on got the better of me and I moved on to find delicious Provence pears at the bio market.
The thought of leaving Provence without seeing the orange-red ochre hills in the town of Roussillon was bothering me, but there were no buses or trains to Roussillon and renting a car was ridiculously expensive – 125 euros a day for the smallest car on the planet (that’s almost $190 a day with the exchange rate!). I headed to the Tourist Office to see if they had any other suggestions of how to get to the rouge hills. This is where I found my angel Francois. I will describe this adventure in another post.

K•an Day Spa, rue Favart, Avignon in old part; Tel: 0490 85 2692,; Open Mon-Sat 10-7pm.

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