Spa-venture in Kohler

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The pool area of the five-star Kohler Waters Spa. -Photo: Courtesy

As the warm summer days cooled into fall, it seemed like an ideal time to refresh my mind and body at a spa. Not just any spa, mind you, but the five-star Kohler Waters Spa.

Why would anyone travel beyond the greater Milwaukee area for spa services? Well, we are not just talking about massages, facials and pedicures. Kohler offers all of the standard spa services, but also provides the above-and-beyond treatments that create a true spa-venture.

Some of the more exotic treatments require a bit of courage. I chose two of the newest offerings: one involving the spa rituals of ancient Turkey and another featuring a futuristic, new-wave massage table. I promised myself a good old-fashioned pedicure if I could meet these challenges.

The spa is located in the heart of the American Club in Kohler. This leafy, quiet community is an hour’s drive north on I-43 from Milwaukee. When you arrive, don’t expect any blinking neon signs that announce “spa entrance here.” This isn’t the Wisconsin Dells. Two discreetly located spa entrances precede the main entrance to the American Club.

If you are fortunate enough to book one of the 55 guest rooms in the Carriage House, located adjacent to the spa, entering the spa is particularly convenient – just a few steps from the lobby elevator. You can even wear your hotel-provided robe and slippers in the spa and hotel lobby all day, eliminating the need to bring your ratty terrycloth bathrobe and pink bunny slippers from home. Trust me – they will look terrible in this oasis of gracious living. 

The spa is always stocked with unusual teas, excellent coffee, bite-sized cookie bars and fresh fruit. They are located upstairs, along with a cleverly stocked boutique of take-home spa products.

Almost all of the spa services are held downstairs. Here, one can find heavenly locker rooms (with hot tubs, cold plunges and saunas). There’s also the spa’s centerpiece feature: an elegantly lighted pool anchored on one end by an 8-foot waterfall.

Prior to receiving services, clients are led to one of several of the spa’s waiting lounges. Soothing music, dim lighting, beautiful flower arrangements, and the rare whispered voice signal that this is de-stressing nirvana. 

Healing waters

My spa-venture began with the Hamman Ritual ($205). This 80-minute hydrotherapy treatment is supposedly based on ancient practices in Turkish bath houses. Having never been to Turkey, I’ll have to take their word for it.

My cheerful spa attendant Beth began by cocooning me in something called a pestimal. This is a very colorful, light cotton wrap. It doesn’t stay dry for long. At first, I sat on a massage-type table while Beth slowly poured warm (not hot) water over my shoulders. She used a set of copper tas bowls from Turkey.

The pouring ritual is supposed to suggest a baptism. I was baptized more than 50 years ago, and this didn’t quite capture that experience. In fact, I felt more like a turkey being basted. And I mean the gobbling sort of turkey, not the country.

The pouring continues once you lie down on the massage table, which is covered with a thin, heated waterbed. This pleasurable addition did a great job of keeping me warm as Beth switched from pouring warm water to exfoliating my skin. This she accomplished with a rough cotton mitten and what she called “black soap,” which was neither black nor bar-shaped. Composed of eucalyptus essence and olive oil, the creamy, caramel-colored soap is scooped out of a jar. It, too, is warm to the touch and reinforces the “turkey basting” sensation. This time, I felt as though I was being covered in butter.

The exfoliation is gentle, and it proceeds at a leisurely pace. After more rinsing with the tas bowls, Beth switched to my favorite part of the treatment: a soothing scalp massage followed by the application of Moroccan shampoo and then an oil-based conditioner. (After a summer’s worth of sun, wind and pool chemicals, my hair certainly needed an oil treatment.) Try doing that with your Thanksgiving turkey!

Lest you think the Hamann ritual is some “girlie” treatment, Beth told me that almost as many men as women request it. For men or women, it seems like a great way to de-stress after a few rounds of golf. (The Kohler complex
includes several world-famous golf courses.) 

Back in the main spa lobby, sipping tea and nibbling on the tasty treats, it is easy to feel relaxed. Maybe that’s why the Turkish water ritual has persisted for thousands of years.

Futuristic treatment

The next morning, I was greeted by a new crew of spa staff. I was now ready to propel myself into a more futuristic spa experience. The centerpiece of this treatment is a new-fangled massage table. According to Jean Kolb, director of Kohler’s wellness business and product development, it’s one of only four of its kind in the world.

Called the WaveMotion Body Table, the surface can be moved in nearly all directions. That sounded a bit scary.

Jean assured me that this wasn’t going to be a spa-style amusement park ride. “We don’t strap you onto the table,” she promised. Thank goodness.

First I was escorted to a small spa room, filled with candles, dim lights and a water feature (this is the Kohler Waters Spa, after all). I was asked beforehand to wear loose-fitting clothes, which are not removed during treatment, making it a good choice for shy folks or beginners.

At the center of the room was an innocuous-looking massage table. It had no visible moving parts. Before you experience the WaveMotion table, however, you are asked what type of music you would like to hear on the sound system. Please note that the selection does not include music from “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Star Wars.” You may feel as though you are launching into the future, but you will have to use your imagination when it comes to the musical aspect. I chose the standard relaxation mix. 

My spa coach was Karen. (If you prefer, you can request a male coach when you make your reservations). The treatment starts with a compression massage instead of the traditional kneading motions typical of a Swedish massage. Before I hopped on the table, I nonchalantly asked Karen whether customers have ever fallen off during the treatment. She assured me that she had not dropped one. But just in case, perhaps, she rarely took her hands off me the whole time.

Relieved, I plopped down on the table and Karen began her compressions. It felt as if she was trying to mold parts of my body into the table surface. She told me the table is locked in place at first. When it is unlocked, the table barely seems to move. But in actuality, it moves more than you think it does. The feeling is one of weightlessness, almost akin to riding in a hot air balloon. 

Personal tip: I recommend closing your eyes while on the WaveMotion Table. I found that the gently shifting table is better experienced when one is not looking up at a spinning ceiling. In fact, if you are planning to “tie one on” the night before, this is not the place you want to be with a hangover.

Even without alcohol in your system, keeping your eyes closed is recommended (by me). As the treatment revs up, the table begins to swing in the opposite direction of where the spa coach is pulling on your arm or leg. The stretching is similar to what one might experience in yoga class. 

As it turns out, guys really like this spa treatment, too. According to Karen, the treatment expands your range of motion (which might improve your golf swing?). As I was pondering this notion, the table began rocking back and forth as Karen vigorously rolled my body by the ribs and hips. At this point, I felt like a piece of dough being rolled for cut-out cookies.

Despite all of the odd movements, I never felt dizzy or disoriented. I would definitely recommend both treatments for an “other-worldly” spa experience that you can’t find anywhere else.

Kohler Waters Spa is good place for a spa-venture to begin – and end.