Timeless Spa and Salt Cave is one of several popular salt caves in Chicago. (Photo: Courtesy Timeless Spa and Salt Cave)
There are many places in Chicago where you can lie back and relax without a care in the world — on the golden sand of North Avenue Beach, grassy stretches of Grant Park and any number of chichi downtown spas. So it takes a special, intrepid type of Zen seeker to do the same at an attraction that’s barely made the map. In a small cave. With strangers. Barely clothed.
This is the scene at neighborhood public salt caves. While not a new concept by any stretch (natural salt caves have been used for therapeutic purposes in Eastern Europe for hundreds of years), these oases are few and far between stateside. Those that go must let their guard down, open their mind and focus on the alleged benefits: relief from respiratory and digestive ailments — attributed to the negative ions of salt in the air.
In Chicago proper, the first dedicated spot of its kind, Galos Caves, opened in 2005. The city’s large Polish population (reportedly close to 1.5 million of Polish descent) has embraced the concept and largely contributes to its success. Here is the scoop on this sanctuary, plus two others.
Breathe in the Black Sea Air
Galos Caves in Portage Park plants you in a man-made salt cave, under an umbrella of stalactites. Recline on a lounge chair and breathe the saline air while getting an earful of New Age music. The salt is 100% natural from the Black Sea, from the pebbly walls to the crunchy floor. Unlike other caves which have a shorts-and-tee policy, guests wear their street clothes inside. There are three rooms, which tend to fill up, in part due to an article that TIME magazine wrote about Galos. Sessions are 45 minutes long. Kids are welcome, too, and even get own sandbox-like cavern with shovels, Frisbees and rakes.
Try Fire and Ice, and Everything Nice
King Spa & Sauna is more than just a salt cave; it’s an entire blissful world unto itself thanks to eight micro-climates, each with a different healing property. The salt cave, while able to fit just eight people, is one of its most popular. It’s a curiously igloo-shaped cave with an interior crafted from 350-year-old salt rocks. Bounce from there to the Bul Ga Ma, a chamber containing amethyst crystals and infrared ray-projecting stones called elvan; and the Ice Room, chilled to just above freezing to stimulate blood flow. You might even want to brave the Fire Sudatorium, heated to 165 degrees for anti-inflammatory benefits. You could easily spend an entire day at this north suburban hot spot, especially considering it also has a Korean-food cafe, movie theater, and upstairs den for napping or meditating. To enter, you must change out of your street clothes and wear a uniform of shorts and a tee shirt.
Zen Out and Forget Time
Timeless Spa and Salt Cave gives you your sodium chloride fix and also offers traditional spa treatments. Its Himalayan salt cave, spangled with beach chairs resting on what looks like sand (yes, actually salt), is dimly lit and quiet — ideal for zoning out during a 45-minute session. Before or after your cave powwow, book a facial, Reiki treatment or massage. If you’re feeling more daring, give the Zen Bed a go; it’s a full-body table that gives you the sensation of floating as you succumb to a 20-minute dry hydrotherapy treatment (purportedly the equivalent of a full night’s sleep).