Beautiful Spas & Hot Springs of California (book)

press_book_artBeautiful Spas and Hot Springs

From the outside, in keeping with the spirit and ambience of the tiny hamlet of Freestone, Osmosis resembles nothing more than a Victorian general store. Next door, after all, is the first schoolhouse in the county, which dates back to 1853. Once guests pass through the door, however, they enter a different world – one of Japanese serenity that offers a spa experience that many claim has no equal: the enzyme bath.

The enzyme bath is composed of aromatic cedar powder, rice bran, and a mixture of enzymes imported from Japan. Judiciously mixed together, these ingredients begin to ferment. Guests are gently covered with the moist, slightly granular mixture up to their chins, and the heat generated biologically by the fermentation process warms and relaxes the body. The enzymes in this mixture and the oils from the rice bran suffuse the skin with their soft healing qualities. The claims made for this novel treatment by those who have received it are myriad; they range from better digestion to the disappearance of minor aches or the end of arthritic pains.

But others claim different benefits from this novel procedure, including profound emotional outpourings: they cry, laugh, or fall into a state of sheer euphoric bliss. Not all guests reach theses extremes, but all agree that the enzyme bath will leave virtual anyone calmer yet subtly energized.

The enzyme bath, of course, plays the paramount role at Osmosis, but the genius is in the details. The real secret here is the meditative atmosphere, which elevates the enzyme bath from a purely corporeal treatment into a total experience that encompasses body, mind, and soul.

The enchantment begins with a prebath tea offered in the Japanese tea garden. The tea includes nettle, peppermint, red clover, and other natural herbs, as well as digestive enzymes, the object being to begin the process of cleansing from the inside out before the bath itself, which cleanses from the outside in.

The calming Japanese-style atmosphere is present throughout the spa, with shoji screens and shoji lamps filling the rooms with diffused light. Unlike many spa treatments performed in enclosed and often claustrophobic rooms, the approach at Osmosis is to invite the beauty of the outside world in, allowing the external environment to become an integral part of the treatment. While guests lie in the enzyme mixture in large redwood tubs – attendants coming in regularly to wipe sweating brows with cool, wet cloths – the shoji screens are pulled aside to reveal a landscape that evokes the countryside of Kyoto more than a small California hamlet. Indeed, those familiar with Japan may feel that they have somehow stumbled onto a ryokan – a country inn.

Following the ten to twenty minute enzyme bath, guests are helped with brushing off the excess cedar, and after a shower they have two options: resting quietly wrapped in a blanket to the accompaniment of mind balancing music; or having a seventy-five minute massage treatment by practitioners who take the art of healing very seriously. Some guests opt for an outdoor setting for their massage in the creekside pagodas that resemble Japanese tea houses.

Once the treatment is finished, guests are invited to linger on the five-acre grounds, or stroll through the quiet hamlet of Freestone. It is a good idea to spend some quiet time following the enzyme bath to allow its alchemy to settle into your body and soothe your spirit.

The ground at Osmosis have been thoughtfully cultivated. A collection of bonsai trees, started from seed forty-five years ago by a local gardener, are arranged in the garden by a small koi pond, a waterfall, and a classic Japanese gate. Rock rose, cistus, poppies, and swaying stands of bamboo grace the California heat with a faint aroma of chaparral. The view from the spa extends to the low hills of the Freestone Valley, one of California’s great undiscovered jewels.

One meaning of osmosis is “a gradual, often unconscious process of assimilation or absorption.” This is certainly true at Osmosis, where guests absorb far more than health-giving enzymes. For many, opening the delicate shoji screens at Osmosis also reveals a door to the inner self and allows one to absorbs the pervasive calm of the environment. Guests leave their treatments feeling lighter, their skin and especially their faces glowing with good health and peace. Osmosis offers a treatment with a difference, and many continue to feel the tranquillity they experience there long after they close its doors behind them.