12 DEC 2017: Waterfalls and Wine Wellness flow freely in Ithaca. Located in New York State's Finger Lakes region, the city of 30,000 derived its name from the Greek island mentioned in Homer's Odyssey. Ithaca doesn't pop up in any top ten North American spa destination lists but perhaps it should.  

No ultra luxury mega resorts here. Instead visitors enjoy stylish and welcoming boutique inns as well as a range of mid-range to four-star properties. Ithaca's wellness comes with a personal and distinct cultural touch through spas, wine and waterfalls.

Cayuga Lake, at over 61 km is the longest of the 11 Finger Lakes. It is the anchor of Ithaca known as the "City of Hills." Within 16 km of the city centre more than 100 waterfalls provide a natural wellness sanctuary from cascading to high vertical waterfalls including Taughannock Falls - three stories higher than Niagara Falls. Hydrotherapy takes on new meaning here and provides a year round oasis of tranquility.

Water for me is both mesmerizing and therapeutic. Ithaca's waterfalls are complemented by verdant forests and rolling hills. Spread out across 75 acres is Cornell University, an Ivy League institution dating back to 1865. Some students cross daily on a suspension bridge that connects the university to student and teacher housing. The youthful spirit permeates the city with a bounty of restaurants, microbreweries, cafes and boutiques.

For oenophiles the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail beckons your discerning taste with 15 wineries, a cidery, meadery and four distilleries. Treat your palate to a healthy helping of local flavours without an ounce of pretension.

AUGUST MOON SPA

Ithaca's tiny in population but big in spa offerings. My Ithaca wellness journey began at the August Moon Spa located at the La Tourelle Resort & Spa. Despite being only 10 minutes from downtown Ithaca the hotel and spa is located up on a hill overlooking a blanket of forest and in the distance Cayuga Lake. You can even get in some walking wellness with a scenic hike to Buttermilk Falls.

Local is the operative word at August Moon - for both the therapists as well as the ingredients used in treatments. The spa menu served up an eclectic mix of treatments from vinotherapy with its Cayuga Cabernet treatment featuring regional grapeseed oils, to its Buttermilk Falls cane sugar and buttermilk scrub. The spa uses a variety of local herbs and ingredients that are produced by the spa manager and her partner - for them it's all about all local and all natural.

I selected a maple syrup and maple sugar scrub and massage. I had no idea maple was so big here in New York state. I told Jenna my therapist who trained at the Ithaca School of Massage to get rid of the Toronto city pollutants infiltrating my body and bring in New York states finest maple products. The 50-minute treatment was relaxing but my body yearned for more maple. Seconds please. With my body "maplefied" I felt the need to head to the hotel's bistro for a helping of waffles with maple syrup. Maple on my mind

GOTHIC EVES SPA

Dark, mysterious and perhaps even sultry came to mind when I saw the name of the Inn at Gothic Eves. It is located in Trumansburg, a small town 25 minutes north of Ithaca. There was nothing dark about it. The stylish Gothic Eves inn next to the spa run by innkeeper Rose Hilbert exuded only warmth, relaxed sophistication and exquisite design with distinct modern touches in a century old house.

If you are looking for a more soulful spa experience this is the place. They offer the usual massages but what sets them apart are its oxygen bar treatment, a combination shaman and massage therapist treatment. I elected to try their two hour crystal therapy treatment. Mark, a newly trained crystal healer, had a voice and manner that oozed peacefulness. Mark would be a perfect late night radio show host where his voice caresses you to sleep.

Before the treatment there was a series of forms to fill out. The questions revolved around how your body and mind feels, spirituality, what do you want to get out of the treatment? It was an introspective journey into my emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. It's not a treatment for everyone. To get the most out of it you must have an open mind.

In layman's terms crystal therapy revolves around the crystal's properties to help restore balance in the person's subtle energy. All matter is energy and by selecting the right crystals and their placement you can help bring the body back into balance.

After reviewing my answers to the various questions, Mark selected crystals and placed them under the specially designed glass table I lied on. You are fully clothed for the treatment. He placed a blue crystal in the palm of each hand. In a Mister Rogers style voice, meditation and periods of silence and discussion followed as I lay on the table. The crystals seemed to become one with my hands and not as separate objects. He placed seven chakras underneath me. He said all were" open" except the one on my throat (peridot). A pendulum was used over my throat as well as my feet. The pendulum apparently swung wildly over my right foot.

Mark explained some people can become very emotional and it necessary to remove or change the crystal amount or type. My experience was different. There wasn't a wow moment but following the treatment my mind was certainly more at peace and body was in a very relaxed state.

RASA SPA

My last day in Ithaca couldn't pass without checking out Rasa Spa  one of Ithaca's most popular spas. I'm a big fan of ayurvedic treatments so that was on my spa wish list. Offerings include a wide variety of body and energy work including lymphatic drainage, rekei and wholeness healing as well as several aesthetic treatments including facials, mani-pedis and waxing. Asian inspired treatments are tempting here -- Red Flower, Japan and Hammam rituals with its combination of exfoliations, scrubs, massages using a variety of aromatherapy oils and moisturizers leaving you in a state of bliss - no Finger Lakes wine required though always a good add-on.

I'm an ayurvedic leaning spa enthusiast so signed up for a scrub, Ananda hot oil scalp treatment followed by a sleep-inducing aromatherapy treatment. Sitting in their spacious relaxation lounge I felt like I transported myself to the idyllic Greek island of Ithaca in the Ionian Sea.

Ithaca combines wellness in so many ways. Savour the fruits of the vine at the wineries, observe Mother Nature's waterfall wonders and enjoy therapies to soothe and balance the mind, body and soul.

Legendary Canadian bandleader Guy Lombardo encapsulates a waterfall's wellness and romantic allure with the song, By the Waterfall. A visit to Ithaca will do the same.

"We can share it all beneath a ceiling of blue.
We'll spend a heavenly day,
Here where the whispering waters play.
There's a whippoorwill that's calling you,
By a waterfall, he's dreaming too.
There's a magic melody,
Mother Nature sings to me,
Beside a waterfall with you."

For more info. - www.visitithaca.com

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Chris Ryall

An industry insider with strong, outspoken opinions that readers enjoy, whether they agree, or take issue with his point of view.

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