Uncover Health & Rejuvenation Hiding in the Southern WV Underground

by Kelsey Thomas

When traveling to the Salt Cave and Spa in White Sulphur Springs, it becomes increasingly clear why the website warns in all capital letters: “ADDRESS WILL NOT WORK WITH THE GPS.”

First you’ll pass a sign welcoming you into the Monongahela State Forest. Then, the sudden lack of cellphone service marks your entrance into the National Radio Quiet Zone – a 13,000-square-mile area mandated technologically silent by the Green Bank Telescope, which is located another 50-some miles up the road.

The spa built into the mountains.

The spa built into the mountains.

While grumbling over the disappearance of your smartphone’s GPS signal, a good old-fashioned roadside sign cues your arrival at the spa. Tucked into a hillside directly off of W.V. Route 92, it’s a striking juxtaposition to the barns and farmhouses typical of the area: The rounded cave-like structure has wildflowers growing out of its roof, a sitting area composed of a single rock slab and a few tree stumps, and 2 small triangular windows cut into its spackled mud-colored shell.

Although the road doesn’t get a ton of traffic, many of those who do pass feel compelled to stop in out of curiosity.

Marius Grecu, who co-owns the spa with his wife, Adriana, opens the weathered forest green door to an equally curious interior. Tribal drawings speckle the walls of a large dome-shaped room. Gnarled bark frames a round, gold reception desk, and a synthetic tree extends from floor to ceiling, camouflaging a heat stove in its outstretched trunk. Twisted branches serve as a railing for the curved staircase, which leads to 2 spa rooms upstairs.

While the outside took some serious architecturing, reinforced steel and more than 280 tons of concrete, the inside was a blank canvas for the couple, who are also artists. They designed the space with help from fellow artists and friends.

“We did not start with an exact idea,” Marius says. “The only thing that was set was the structure itself, the concrete structure. When it came to the interior design, we just let it flow.”

“Everybody noticed how salt miners were very healthy— their immunity was very strong and they had no respiratory problems. When they did have an infection or a fever, it would go away really fast.”

The most unique feature of the spa is the salt cave— in fact, you won’t find another room like it in all of West Virginia. The floors, walls and ceilings are composed entirely of Himalayan salt, just like the pink salt in the spice aisle at the grocery store— 16,000 pounds of it, to be exact.

“Everything you touch in the room is salt,” Marius explains, sitting in a zero gravity reclining lawn chair as he digs his socked feet into loose granules on the floor. Large salt rocks are stacked on top of each other, like bricks, to create the walls. Lights shine through those rocks to bathe the room in a dim, glowing orange. For the ceiling, salt was condensed into a paste which was then sprayed to coat the surface. Details are intricate: faux stalactites droop from the ceiling, ambient music quietly hums from hidden speakers and tiny lights on the ceiling twinkle like a night sky. There’s even a salt box (a sand box, but with salt) in the corner to keep children occupied.

The room is made to mirror a Himalayan salt mine. Himalayan salt, Marius says, is “as pure and pristine as it gets.”  It has been maturing in the Himalayan mountains for approximately 250 million years, under intense tectonic pressure, which shields it from the world’s pollutants. The main reason people use it, especially as table salt, is for its mineral content. It contains all 84 elements in our bodies.

You might wonder what on earth a pseudo salt mine is doing here, in the rural hills of eastern West Virginia.

“Everybody noticed how salt miners were very healthy— their immunity was very strong and they had no respiratory problems,” Marius says. “When they did have an infection or a fever, it would go away really fast.”

salt cave

Inside the Salt Cave & Spa’s Himalayan salt room.

The popularity of salt caves has ramped up in the past few years, and they’re popping up all over the United States in an effort to harness the healing abilities of salt. The use of salt vapor to treat ailments is known as halotherapy. Due to salt’s natural anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory properties and the negative ions it produces, people suffering from allergies, asthma, respiratory infections, bronchitis and arthritis commonly benefit from halotherapy. The practice has been around for centuries and is very popular in Europe, where some hospitals even partner with salt caves as a form of treatment.

A salt cave experience requires no work on the guests’ part: simply sit back, relax and breathe. Sessions at the Salt Cave and Spa are 45 minutes each, and you can get one complimentary with another therapy session of 50 minutes or longer. Otherwise, sessions are an affordable $15.

“45 minutes in here is the equivalent of 3 days by the oceanside, as far as negative ion intake,” Marius says. Negative ions are important because our computers, TVs and cellphones all create positive ions called free radicals, an environment where disease thrives.

A quiet generator “pulverizes” the pure Himalayan salt into particles tiny enough to inhale (Don’t worry, you won’t even notice), which in turn helps with sinuses, congestion, asthma, bronchitis, allergies and upper respiratory tract infections. It also helps with joint and inflammation issues.

“We like to tell people— and we truly believe— nobody can heal us. The body has all the tools that it needs to do the healing.”

“We had a lady last week that came here and after 45 minutes, she said that for the first time in 25 years she was able to make a fist,” Marius says.

You don’t have to be sick to benefit from your time in the cave, however. It’s simply a great way to forget the outside world.

Marius notes that stress probably causes more damage and creates more toxins in the body than the worst diet.

“De-stressing allows the body to heal itself,” he says. “We like to tell people— and we truly believe— nobody can heal us. The body has all the tools that it needs to do the healing.”

That’s why all of the services offered at the Salt Cave and Spa are natural. Aside from halotherapy, a small staff offers massages, clay body wraps, acupressure, ion foot detoxes, facials, yoga and light therapy. He boasts the spa’s use of natural sulphur water. Marius notes that despite the strong, rotten egg smell present in the room, it is great for the body (especially kidneys and joints) because it contains MSM— an element that is in every cell of our bodies.

The bathroom even offers a more natural alternative.

Salt Cave Spa

Inside the Salt Cave & Spa

“A lot of people ask, ‘What is that?’” he says, pointing to an inground toilet (what he calls a “squatting toilet”) positioned next to a traditional American one. He said people who use modern toilets are more prone to illnesses such as colon cancer, hemorrhoids and appendicitis.

A sketch above the toilet shows how the biomechanics of the body change and what happens to the colon when you sit versus when you squat.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t think a lot of people use it,” he adds. “It’s more of an educational item than anything, but at least it helps people become aware of their options.”

He wants West Virginians to have access to healthy living alternatives, and he would like to see the halotherapy trend continue to spread— even if that creates competition.

“The more people use them, then even more people know about them,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation. People get better and businesses can support themselves at the same time.”

His outlook on managing a business is refreshing and down-to-earth. Many of the salt spas they have visited were in unnatural places— strip malls or busy parts of town. Marius says being on a rural road with little drive-by traffic is a blessing and locating the spa in a cellphone-free zone was deliberate.

“From a business standpoint, you would think being in a busy area would make more sense,” he explains. “But when people come to this type of establishment to relax, destress and get well, being in nature is actually a lot more beneficial.”

The quiet zone keeps clients from being distracted with incoming calls, text messages and Facebook updates. He and his family, who relocated here from Pennsylvania, live on a small homestead farm adjacent to the spa and are also enjoying the serenity that comes with living near Green Bank.

“We chose West Virginia,” he said with a smile. “It is nature at its best.”