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Kohler Waters Spa at Burr Ridge
Battered by northerly winds and sorely in need of pampering, but getting on a plane for a week at Canyon Ranch isn’t in the cards? Create your own mini spa vacation right here. It’s easier than ever, thanks to the openings of several high-profile day spas in the Chicago area in recent years. There’s the ultraposh Spa at The Elysian, for example. The mystifying menu-free Valeo at JW Marriott. And NoMI Spa, a chic refuge with a gateway to a polished lap pool and gym. All that extra competition is great news: It’s prompting the others in town to sharpen their games. “Spas everywhere are raising the glam factor,” says Susie Ellis of SpaFinder, an organization that monitors global spa trends.
Or are they? To separate the spas that make you feel like you’re on a luxury vacation—if only for a day—from those that don’t, we compiled a list of 45 day spas in Chicago and its suburbs, eliminating those that weren’t full service (for example, they offered massages but not facials) or had gotten poor reviews. We called the remaining spas with a list of 15 questions, from whether they offer complimentary access to robes and sandals to whether they welcome guests who want to stay all day. Fewer than 25 made the cut. Then we started booking appointments anonymously, generally choosing the treatment or treatments that each spa considers its signature. And, of course, we spent time indulging in other amenities (gyms, steam rooms, whirlpools, and so on).
We got a few surprises: Some popular spots flubbed reservations or neglected housekeeping. But a full dozen met our standards, from bottomless carafes of cucumber water to virtuosic aestheticians and massage therapists. Five of them were good enough to deserve top ranking. For that elite list—and the rest of the winners—keep reading.
For An All-Day Retreat: Kohler Waters Spa at Burr Ridge
You could travel two hours north of Chicago to Kohler Waters Spa, a retreat in southeastern Wisconsin that consistently crops up on lists of the world’s top destination spas. Or you could drive 20 miles southwest of the Loop for a similarly serene, hydrating experience at its sister location in Burr Ridge.
We were skeptical of the skin-softening claims of the spa’s “remineralizing” water treatments. But we were believers after sampling the signature Highland Fling ($120 for 50 minutes, $130 on Saturdays), a coffee-mint exfoliation under the warm, gentle spray of a custom-made full-body Vichy shower (plus surprisingly pleasant periodic drenchings from buckets of warm water). More than an hour disappeared as we skipped between the sauna, immaculate steam room, and 25-foot whirlpool—with a plunging waterfall that does double duty as an impromptu back massager (see above). Time kept slipping away in the cozy, peaceful relaxation room (where chenille blankets were neatly folded on each reclining seat and we could help ourselves to all the tea, cucumber water, and snacks we could ask for).
Yes, Kohler Waters Spa is in a newly developed massive shopping center. That’s not ideal. But more than any other spa we encountered, we felt this one tug us a little harder each time we thought of leaving—from the baskets packed with magazines near every chaise longue to the luxurious array of toiletries offered outside the showers. In every way, it was so hard to say goodbye. 775 Village Center Dr., Burr Ridge; destinationkohler.com
Includes: Men’s services, express services, pool
Photograph: Bob Coscarelli