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The Spa Solution : Relief for the stressed-out, from low-cost to luxury : New York: A seaside pampering place to stars

July 14, 1991|PAMELA WARRICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER; Warrick is a staff writer for The Times' View Section. and

MONTAUK, N.Y. — "Eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace to let the pitcher fill up to the brim."

--Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Let's just say my pitcher was empty. With two small children, a husband, cat, friends and any number of editors to nourish, I seemed to be pouring myself away.

I needed a place to go, a place to be quiet, to be by myself. I needed nourishing. Clearly, the time had come for me to "take the waters."

Long before moving to California, I had dreamed of coming to a special place carved into the beach here at the very tip of Long Island: Gurney's Inn, a posh but remote oceanfront resort with the only sea spa in North America.

Three hours from Manhattan, this end of Long Island is a lush peninsula of grassy dunes, purple peonies and scrubby pine. This is where the state of New York ends, and with it, that state of mind.

At the end of the Spanish American War, Teddy Roosevelt brought his Rough Riders to Montauk to recuperate from yellow fever and "to gallop down to the beach and bathe in the surf, or else go for long rides over the beautiful rolling plains. . . ."

Almost a century later, this is where Mick Jagger comes to recuperate from concert tours (usually at the mythical Memory Motel), and where Paul Simon writes his songs, Ralph Lauren ponders his plaids, and where Dick Cavett does whatever it is he does.

Like them, I came seeking the restorative powers of the sea. Unlike them, I was on a budget.

Years ago, as a struggling reporter for Long Island's Newsday, I managed to live on the ocean by wintering in the fashionable Hamptons (where Lauren Bacall comes from) and summering in the Moriches (where Long Island ducklings come from). My life was a beach. But I never got to Gurney's.

Back then, I couldn't afford Gurney's at all. And though it costs less than most U.S. spas, I could not easily afford it now. But weary mothers in search of a spa experience are nothing if not creative. After many phone calls and several letters to the Montauk Chamber of Commerce, I found the answer. I found the Panoramic View.

Neither a picture window nor a global philosophy--though in a way it was both--the Panoramic View is a motel with the perfect location. That is, right next door to Gurney's. Same beach. Same breathtaking view of sea and sky. But at $60 to $150 per night, less than half the price of Gurney's. And for just $16.50 a day, I would have full access to Gurney's spa.

While Gurney's Inn is 65 years old, the spa did not open until 1979 when innkeeper and Brooklyn restaurateur Nick Monte realized a personal dream of building a European-style spa.

This is the only "marinotherapeutic" spa on the North American continent, says Monte. And so, in addition to the traditional spa menu of mud wraps, massages, herbs and exercise, this spa is one of the few in the world to offer thalassotherapy (thalassa is Greek for the sea), or seawater treatments.

The sea and its curative powers are taken very seriously at Gurney's. The eightysomething Monte drinks an ounce of seawater every morning before his 7 a.m. stroll down the beach. And there is an unquestioning commitment here to the negative ion theory of human behavior.

In this way of looking at things, one accepts that negative ions (caused by the sun's breakdown of oxygen atoms) equal positive energy.

Those who embrace this notion know that anywhere there is a lot of water, especially in the form of waterfalls, rushing streams and crashing waves, there can be found a refreshing sense of emotional and physical well-being.

My happy time by the sea certainly confirmed this theory. Then again, the air was clean, the sand was soft and I had maid service every day. . . .

The true spa experience, a la Gurney's, begins with the aerobic walk--or in the case of my group, the morning amble--down the beach. This may be followed by any number of other exercise regimens. Then again, it may not.

On paper, fitness classes are scheduled almost hourly throughout the day. But my first inquiry about an aerobics class discouraged me from further participation. "Is the aerobics class high-impact or low-impact?"

The young woman at the spa desk looked at me blankly and then smiled. "Oh, it's just regular."

In one of a dozen elaborate Gurney's brochures, one finds this gentle advice: "Always exercise at your own pace . . . Do not hesitate to slow down when you feel you should." Well, no pain, no pain. That's my motto, too.

Although there are many opportunities to work up a sweat here, they are neither encouraged nor particularly popular. The weight room, for example, was empty every time I looked in except once when someone was applying lipstick in the mirror. And the Parcourse, a series of exercise stations on the beach for sit-ups and pull-ups and such, was overgrown by dune grass.

But if you like your fitness passive and your pampering thoroughly professional, then this is the place to be.

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