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Just past the rolling cornfields, dairy farms and apple orchards of Maryland is Frederick, a hot spot for Civil War buffs. The city's downtown streets are lined with historic red-brick row houses built in the Federal style, and it is here that Francis Scott Key, author of the poem The Star-Spangled Banner, was born and bred.

It is also here that the Golden Orchid Spa set up shop about a year ago in a charming 1800s home. It's an interesting modern-day experience,being surrounded by historical battlefields while taking a soothing afternoon rose petal soak.

Location

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Frederick is located at a crossroads that was witness to modern American history: 72 kilometres northwest of Washington and just 55 kilometres south of Gettysburg.

This is as American as America gets. The town's 33-block historic district, with its 18th- and 19th-century buildings and clustered church spires, is a sweetly inviting cityscape. Walking tours include visits to historic homes, and candlelit ghost tours are also offered.

Market Street, Frederick's main thoroughfare, has dozens of art galleries, bars and restaurants, including Brewer's Alley, which was once City Hall. The Golden Orchid Spa is just off the main strip, behind Shab Row, a newly gentrified antique area that is chock-a-block with cafés and gourmet ice cream shops.

Design

"The house was built in the 1870s," says spa owner Yvette Shirey. "In its first 100 years, 91 children were raised here, so it has a lot of life and vitality to it."

And it's got the look and feel of a country inn. "I love to go to B & Bs and inns," she says. "I always want to check out the next one, see what the experience is in a different room. So instead of pigeonholing us into being, say, an Asian spa, I wanted to be able to offer lots of different treatments and emotions that go with the different rooms."

To that end, each room has a different theme, be it celestial, tropical, Asian, Tuscan, or the English garden, where manicures and pedicures are had on the ground floor. The theme here, for example, comes across via rose-garden wallpaper, a fireplace, soft greens, hardwood floors, and a floral garland around the window, making it feel like a tiny teahouse. It's almost like stopping by the set of Newhart.

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Clientele

Spa day-trippers plus some spa virgins. Because it has a traditional environment, the Golden Orchid encourages people to take the plunge. Discounts for rebooking means there are loads of returning locals, plus visitors and groups such as bridal manicure parties who take over the place for an evening.

Treatments

For a small-town spa, they've got some decidedly New Age therapies, including meditation coaching and infant massage groups. Customized facials and other body treatments use the celebrity-approved Bioelements line, which can be custom-blended. The product allows aestheticians to add active ingredients to combat issues such as acne or fine lines.

The Golden Orchid signature spa hand treatment is a full manicure plus a Bioelements cream therapy mask. Hands are soaked in warm rose-petal water enhanced with rose oil. Then the hands and lower arms are slathered with a moisturizing mask containing sesame, rosemary and peppermint oils that the skin sucks in while wrapped in cling film and heated towels. Next comes a hand massage, nail shaping, cuticle grooming and your pick of polish . By then, those hands are primed for pointing out oodles of historical landmarks.

Service

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Chat the afternoon away with hometown girl Gena as she fills you in on local folklore while buffing.

Bottom line

Owner Shirey left a high-flying career as a publishing executive for the life of a small-town spa owner. "I used to frequent spas and never quite found a place that was comfortable and warm, where the people were friendly, that wasn't too uppity," she says, adding that she thought, "I can do this. I'll do it differently and make it the type of place I'd want to go; kind of like Cheers."

And she's done just that. The locals come by for treatments, and just to chat. They sip tea and linger perhaps longer than they should. Imagine going to a spa where everybody knows your name.

Information

Golden Orchid Spa & Shop: 313 East Church St.; (301) 695-5558; http://www.goldenorchidspa.com.

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The Golden Orchid signature manicure lasts one hour and costs $40 (U.S.).

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