by Sandra Hutchinson
Earlier this year, I wrote on this blog about my short springtime getaway Aurora, in New York’s Finger Lakes. I returned there in November because I had some family business to take care of nearby. I took the opportunity to visit the newly opened Spa at the Inns of Aurora.
The small village of Aurora is home to both Wells College and the headquarters of the home decor company Mackenzie-Childs. The village is situated on the east side of Cayuga Lake, about a half hour’s drive north of Ithaca and an hour southwest of Syracuse. It makes a nice base for exploring the wineries of the Finger Lakes, as well as the upstate New York landmarks associated with both the suffragist and the abolitionist movements.
Aurora has been heavily invested in by philanthropist Pleasant Rowland, the founder of the American Girls doll line, who graduated from Wells College in 1962. She has purchased a number of properties, some of which operate as inns, as well as two restaurants in the village. All the properties, staff told me, bear her personal style imprint and choices of amenities.
Ms. Rowland’s latest project, and the most recently opened facility, is a spa, located about a half mile outside of the village, on a hilltop overlooking the lake, surrounded by fields and woods. I had the opportunity to spend about four hours at the spa.
The architecture is reminiscent of Scandanavian farmhouse design, with a white exterior and steep gabled rooflines. There are a number of gas fireplaces within the spaces, starting with an enormous fireplace in the lobby area. The interior spaces are dramatic and stunning.
The spa offers many types of body treatments, as well as a salon that does facials and hair care. If you book a spa treatment, you can stay for the day, taking advantage of the other amenities like the saunas, steam rooms, and the several hydrotherapy pools.
There is an emphasis on hydrotherapy, and guests are offered guidance on how to do what is called “contrast bathing.” There are variations on this, but basically it involves spending time in a warm or hot pool, and then taking a cold shower or a cold plunge, just for a few seconds. (I first experienced this at the Scandinavian Spa near Mont Tremblant, when my family went on a ski vacation to Quebec. As I recall, I opted against taking my cold plunge in the river running next to the spa, where a hole had been chopped out of the ice, and instead did a quick dip in a cold pool!)
The spa has a large hot pool within an expansive room with tall windows and glass walls, looking to the outside, with many chaises for relaxing, with a nice gas fireplace lit. Immediately outside are several more pools; one considered warm, one hotter, and a cold plunge. There was one outdoor pool that was closed and covered for the winter season.
If you have chosen to book a body treatment, for example, massage, you wait to be called for your appointment in a beautiful space called the Tranquility Room. There are comfortable chairs and ottomans, an outdoor balcony with seats, and, and yes, a large gas fireplace. Hot tea is available in the room, and silence is requested. Honestly, I could have spent two hours just sitting there looking out at Cayuga Lake in the distance.
I only had about four hours to spend at the spa, so I had only booked one treatment – reflexology. While most people think of this as a technique of applying pressure to different points in the foot, this session also included a neck and shoulder massage. It was divine.
The spa has a cafe, and lunch choices are included in the visit. I had a cup of sweet pepper curry soup, and a nice green salad with beets. No complaints there. There were also wraps available. There’s an outdoor patio next to the cafe, with a gas fire pit. Among the regular outdoor chairs there are two interesting benches with heated seats and backs.
I do need to say that I felt the requirement to wear a mask (because of COVID) in the facility was not uniformly enforced. This policy was clearly stated in the email I received after I booked my appointment. While I was required to wear a mask anywhere inside, even while sitting in the hot pool, there were other people throughout the facility not wearing masks. When I received a follow up email asking how my experience was, and I gave the spa a less than top rating because of this, it was followed a day later by a personal email from the spa manager asking if I would call her to explain where they did not meet my expectations. I did that, and she was very appreciative that I took the time, and explained to me that the day I visited was the busiest day they had had since opening in June, and she said they are still training people and getting the kinks out. She even offered me a credit on my account if I should return. I felt that she handled my issues professionally and to my satisfaction.
I would definitely return to the spa, if I am in the area again, and might even make a special trip just to go to the spa, driving the several hours there from my home, and staying overnight in one of the beautiful Inns of Aurora. I would plan on spending an entire day at the spa. The treatments are what I would deem fairly expensive, and a 20% gratuity is automatically added onto each. Prices are higher on the weekends. Keep in mind you have access to the hydrotherapy pools, the cafe, and the other spaces for the entire day. Web site: https://innsofaurora.com/spa/