Spa Attraction

Two new Mid-Atlantic resort spas attract relaxation seekers on opposite ends of the spa-going spectrum.

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Relâche Spa—Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor, Md.

The Destination
Unlike the Omni Bedford Springs Resort, which pays homage to the past, Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, which opened in April 2008, is future focused. The resort and its adjacent convention center are the anchor of the new, 300-acre urban waterfront community known as National Harbor.

 Located along the Potomac near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and less than 30 miles from Bethesda, National Harbor is home to hotels, restaurants, clubs and shops, as well as Gaylord’s Relâche Spa, a sleek, black-and-white oasis that looks like it could be an outpost for Chanel.

That fits in with the feel of the area. The Peterson Companies, master developer of National Harbor, found inspiration for this pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in Barcelona, Spain. It copies Las Ramblas, a hub in that Spanish city, right down to the main street’s median, which is lined with 35-foot London plane trees. While the area is still growing (the new National Children’s Museum is scheduled to open in 2013), it already includes shops such as South Moon Under, Godiva and Fossil, as well as restaurants such as PotBelly Sandwich Works, Rosa Mexicano and live music venues such as Bobby McKey’s. In addition, National Harbor is host to a summer concert series and the Washington area’s home for Cirque du Soleil. Visit for an events schedule.

The Gaylord itself offers excellent restaurants, a chic infusion bar nightclub, “dancing” water fountain shows set to music and a gorgeous garden terrace on the banks of the Potomac. The atrium looks like a street corner taken from Alexandria, Va., and placed inside an 18-story house of glass, complete with trees, brick buildings and cobblestone walkways. Gaylord National is an ideal getaway for daytime relaxation and nighttime fun.

The Spa
Relaxation seekers can choose from an assortment of massages, facials and body therapies at the resort’s European-style, 20,000-square-foot spa.

Book a treatment with a friend or significant other to take advantage of one of Relâche’s best features: the couples suite, which has been the site of at least one marriage proposal. This stunning corner space offers panoramic views of the Potomac River, comfortable seating, an oversized shower and a built-in Jacuzzi tub with a view of the Washington Monument. Or, book a spa service near sunset and watch the sky turn red, orange and pink from the relaxation room’s floor-to-ceiling windows.

The spa also includes a full-service salon, steam rooms, a full-size fitness center with yoga, plus belly dancing and salsa lessons by the pool on weekend nights.

Signature Treatments
The “Soothing Stone Massage” incorporates smooth, basalt river stones over sore muscles (50 minutes, $145; 80 minutes, $225). The “Relâche Allure” facial includes nourishment for the skin, as well as a head, neck and shoulder massage (60 minutes, $145). Treatments for two in the couples suite begin at $290 and are well worth the expense.

Nice Touch
A scented eye pillow clears stuffiness as you flip from front to back during a massage. Purchase a pair of pajamas from atrium store Pajama Party and have them laundered and sent to your room. Two bottles of water per day are included at no charge in each guest room.

Sleeping In
Gaylord National’s 2,000 rooms offer a range of accommodations, from 400-square-foot rooms with kings or two queens, to executive and presidential suites with expanded living and dining areas. The standard room was comfortably turned out with warm cherry and walnut furnishings, black and white photographs of Mid-Atlantic landmarks, plump pillows and a 32-inch flat-screen TV. Atrium-view rooms have a balcony overlooking the colonial-style streetscape and nightly fountain shows.

The resort’s Old Hickory Steakhouse is a sophisticated restaurant with the area’s only full-time restaurant maitre d’fromage (she conducts tableside cheese presentations and oversees a $10,000 collection of cheeses). Fisherman’s Wharf-like Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine features seafood with a modern twist. The uber-classy National Pastime Sports Bar and Grill (official sports bar of the Washington Nationals) has a 30-foot, high-definition video wall, an impressive collection of memorabilia and excellent—even healthy—menu items, such as the delicious “Chesapeake Chopped Salad” with Maryland lump crabmeat.

Active Pursuits
Swim a few laps in the Junior Olympic-sized pool. Or run, walk or cycle (rentals available at Gaylord) the recently completed Woodrow Wilson Bridge pedestrian path, a 1.1-mile route over the Potomac that connects Gaylord National with the Mount Vernon Trail for trips to Old Town Alexandria, Va., Washington, D.C., and Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.

Take Note
A large section of the resort is devoted to its convention center, but pockets of serenity can be found in the outdoor garden terrace, at the spa and at tables tucked away near the glass wall of windows in the atrium.

Water taxi service is available to Mount Vernon, Alexandria and Nationals Park (

Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, 301-965-2000, Call 301-965-4400 for spa appointments. Fall rates (beginning Sept. 1) from $179 per room, per night. The “Spa Escape Package,” available Friday and Saturday nights, includes a deluxe room, 50-minute massage and 10 percent off purchases in the spa’s shop for $249.

Christine Koubek has written for The Washington Post, Washingtonian, Coastal Living and Budget Travel and is an assistant editor of Going Places With Children in Washington, D.C.

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