By Josh Baldwin
A few years ago, Marius and Adriana Grecu were driving back east from Indiana, when their route took them through the scenic, pastoral landscapes of the Allegheny Mountains. They immediately fell in love with the views of the verdant green mountains and the couple decided to get a homestead for the family to enjoy.
“We do a lot of travel as artists,” says Adriana, who, along with Marius, specializes in frescos and finished interiors, through their company Adriana Studios. Their work ranges from portraits and sculptures to murals and faux finishes, and can be found throughout the country in casinos, resorts, restaurants and even residential homes.
“When we found this spot, here in Greenbrier County, the energy was just right and we knew we had found our home.”
The couple had originally planned for their move to be a sort of semi-retirement, but the universe had other plans. What started as an idea for a man-made salt cave dug into the hillside quickly snowballed into a full-service spa unlike any other.
At first, construction was slow. There aren’t any readily made blueprints for building man-made underground salt spas, and Marius jokes that it was difficult to get contractors to return calls. “No one had any experience doing anything like this so it was very difficult for a contractor to come in and bid on the project,” he says.
Marius and Adriana dug into creating a highly unique space that impacts anyone who walks through the front door. The lobby features 20-foot high exposed “rock” ceilings, cork floors, and a faux tree rising through the back of the counter, lit by the soft glow of salt lamps that line the shelves and three high windows that allow some ambient natural light.
“The structure is something called shotcrete, which is double the strength of regular concrete. They shot it out of this concrete ‘gun’ at 80 miles per hour,” Marius explains, with the sly grin of a kid getting a turn at the power tools.
“These murals,” says Adriana, gesturing to a large drawing of roaming buffalo, one of many that adorn the walls throughout the lobby, “help remind us of how ancient we are as a humanity. They are all taken from actual cave drawings from around the ancient world.”
The doors leading into each of the therapy rooms are reclaimed from an old barn on the property, and the stone trim that surrounds them are etched with symbology from James Churchward, the British writer of the early 20th-century. Centered above the entryway to the therapy rooms reads a quote from Churchward: “Spirituality is a condition of responsiveness to and membership in the universal spirit of the Creator. The Infinite Substance—God.”
“We love to read and after discovering the work of Churchward we found much inspiration from both the historic value of his work and the universal human struggle to find unity in a world plagued by separatism,” says Adriana. “To us this unity can only be achieved through God as Love.”
The Salt Cave itself is, of course, the room everyone is most curious about. To create a natural looking salt cave, the Grecus used over 16,000 pounds of natural Himalayan salt. Small, pebble-sized pieces of salt make up the floor while the walls and “stalactites” are covered with even more crystals. Tiny LED stars flicker across the ceiling, with a basketball-sized, ochre-colored light sphere suspended from the center, filling the room with a warm, amber hue.
Halotherapy, or “salt therapy,” has been proven to benefit the lungs by clearing them of mucus. To that effect, many customers will find themselves lightly coughing 10-20 minutes into the session. As the respiratory tract widens and clears, the coughing subsides. Halotherapy can reduce the inflammation throughout the body, benefitting such ailments as Asthma, bronchitis, arthritis, ear infections, and scores of other symptoms and illnesses.
The Salt Cave was designed to support the immune and respiratory system. The Himalayan salt, zero-gravity lunge chairs with fresh, clean blankets draped over their arms, and the Zen music filling the air of the room all combine to create a peaceful, meditative experience.
Like so many others, I watched The Salt Cave being built and couldn’t imagine it being more than a bomb shelter,” jokes Nancy Tuckwiller, now a regular customer who used to drive by the spa on route 92.
“I actually showed up on Sunday the day after their opening. Cari Cohen, a massage therapist, greeted me and I apologized for not being present for the opening and her remark, with her kind smile and gentle way, was, ‘But you’re here now.’”
“Cari gave me a brief tour and I decided to purchase ten Halotherapy treatments,” says Tuckwiller. “After only two treatments that week the swelling disappeared in my knee and after another three treatments the following week, my asthma started to disappear. I’ve visited The Salt Cave only 6 times with amazing results so far and look forward to experiencing many of their other offerings. It’s my new sanctuary!”
After a 45-minute session in the salt cave, customers can enjoy any number of aesthetic services, ranging from facials to body treatments to a variety of massages, truly offering full-service spa amenities and therapies.
Of the more contemporary services The Salt Cave offers is light therapy. Light therapy uses specific wavelengths of pulsating light from the visible spectrum that have beneficial effects on the body’s cells. There is red light, which stimulates collagen production; amber light, which stimulates cellular growth of new skin, assisting in the healing of scars; and blue light, which has been shown to effectively reduce acne and decrease melanin levels.
Light therapy has also been shown to increase the production of serotonin in the brain, and successfully treats seasonal affective disorder—the depression that sometimes sets in during the winter months. A team of researchers at University of North Carolina published a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry that showed light therapy being as effective as antidepressants, without the side effects
Among some of the Salt Cave’s most popular services are their massages, which range from Swedish and Relaxation Massages to the Edward Cayce Massage, a unique blend of Swedish, osteopathic and neuropathic massage and Jin Shin Do techniques.
Upon entering the massage room for the first time, customers will find them calming and serene, with a loaf-sized wooden tray holding two jars of tea leaves, surrounded by plumeria flowers and atop a seagrass tapestry. Zen music daintily wanders about the room and the scent of lavender begins to soften the atmosphere.
Michelle Smith, one of three massage therapists that work at The Salt Cave, runs through the massage techniques before allowing you to unrobe and slip beneath the covers onto the warm biomat. While some of the The Salt Cave’s therapies utilize New Age and Eastern techniques, the therapists do a wonderful job explaining these and adjusting their “program” should the customer not wish to receive certain therapies.
Smith, a 1,000-hour graduate of The Cayce/Reilly School of Massotherapy, she has been trained to promote overall wellness and balance in her clients through body, mind and spirit healing techniques. She specializes in Integrative Massage Techniques, Jin Shin Do Bodymind Acupressure, Oncology Massage, Manual Lymph Drainage, Reiki and Reflexology, and loves performing healing work on her patients.
“Working at The Salt Cave and Spa provides me the freedom and flexibility of doing my work,” says Smith. “I incorporate different modalities according to my client’s specific needs and Marius and Adriana understand that healing does not happen by the clock. They allow me to complete my sessions based on my clients’ progress. I am really very blessed to have found this healing Sanctuary.”
“We pride ourselves on facilitating a creative environment for our therapists to work to their fullest potential,” adds Adriana, “as only then can we support the natural ability of the body into wellness.
The Salt Cave and Spa also provides ancillary services with a number of local practitioners. Samara Michaelson provides yoga classes, while Cari Cohen offers mediation—both of which take place in the salt cave, notes Adriana, “enhancing these already powerful experiences.”
“We are excited about the therapeutic advantages of The Salt Cave enhancing these already powerful experiences,” says Adriana.
As The Salt Cave and Spa continues to grow, the management and staff are continually shifting their services to suit the seasons, almost as a chef only chooses ingredients available at the market.
“We are looking forward to implementing seasonal therapeutic modalities that will support the health and well being of the community at large,” says Adriana. “We will be revealing our fall and winter therapies mid-September on our website as well as other media, so stay tuned.”