Spa in the Valley

Chocolate Brownie a la Mode pedicure treatments at Spa in the Valley help clients relax and de-stress from all the holiday chaos. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / December 5, 2012)

Featured in Scene When did the holidays become an exercise in anxiety, tension mounting with each fa, la and la? Shopping stress. Baking stress. Light-stringing stress. Relatives. And that "Are you ready for Christmas?" thing. Hardly helping.

But the year is winding down — shouldn't we take a cue?

To that end, it seemed a good, scented rubdown couldn't hurt. I took on the not particularly arduous task of searching area spas for a moment or two of Zen, to see if a massage, scrub or perhaps a paraffin pedicure could straighten the star atop the tree and help the Hanukkah oil burn an extra night.

Here comes my hot toddy

Four Seasons Spa

200 International Drive, Harbor East. 410-223-1440.

Hot toddy for the body, $145 for 50 minutes.

The receptionist greets me as though she was expecting me, my name at the tip of her tongue, ready with a choice of cucumber- or lemon-infused water. It's a hint at what's to come, as is the tour through the Far East-vibed back corridors where I trade my clothes for pillowy robe and sandals. All berobed, I wait for my therapist in a bright sitting area where there's organic hot tea to drink and candied fruits to snack on.

The treatment I booked is a seasonal one called Hot Toddy for the Body. Whimsically based on the winter drink, it starts with me lying on a warmed bed so the therapist — or maybe it was a bartender — can scrub me head to foot with a bourbon-and-sugar concoction. Each scrubbed body part is immediately swaddled in heated towels, supposed soaked in milk. The scrub smells exactly like something you might swirl in a snifter. The therapist jokes that it's probably not the choice for anyone with an alcohol problem.

Next, she steps out so I can rinse away the sugar in the shower, which leaves my skin slippery soft — shining even. Then I'm back on the warm cushions for an application of a rich, caramel cream that goes on with the kneading and stroking of a satisfying massage.

Though it's in the books as a 50-minute treatment — here's the extra-delicious part — once you're in, you're in. They welcome you to linger. They tell me some people get a treatment and then stay all day. Still in the robe, I dangle my feet for a bit in the frothing whirlpool, then dry them off with a sit in the sauna. The steam room and a multiheaded shower experience are also options, but I don't want to de-caramel.

I wander over to what they call the relaxation room — stopping first to grab tea and snacks from the waiting area. It's filled with S-shaped chaises designed to support a resting person, each with a thick blanket. They have all the new magazines and a pitcher of jasmine iced tea. You can read or close your eyes and tempt sleep or you could do what I do — walk over to the window, little cup of rooibos in hand, and gaze down at all the people going about their ordinary days, the sadly unmassaged who probably don't smell a bit like caramel.

Brownie bliss

Spa in the Valley

118 Shawan Road, Cockeysville. 410-771-0200.

Chocolate Brownie a la Mode Treatment: 45-minute manicure, $36; 75-minute pedicure $61

It seems to me that if gift-hunting is why anyone's stressed, Spa in the Valley — smack in the middle of a shopping center — has a strategic advantage. Cross a certain number of people off your list and book a reward. Better yet, book something and then bliss your way through Wegmans, not caring how many people bump your cart.

When I call to ask about the brownie pedicure, the receptionist swears that it's worth it. She'd never had it, but her friend had and said the only thing missing was an actual brownie. I'd have to agree.

If Willy Wonka wanted his nails done, he'd get this.