A seaside escape near home

Resourcesn Galos Salt Cave10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily6501 W. Irving Park Road., Chicago(773) 283-7701 for reservations, kids 4-12 years, additional child, free kids 2 and under

Just off the hustle and bustle that is Irving Park Road, the Galos Salt Cave—the first salt-iodine cave in the U.S.—lies quietly nestled below the Jolly Inn Banquet Hall. Eastern Europeans have touted the health benefits of salt therapy (also called Halotherapy) for decades, and the Polish community of Chicago ushered in its very own Chicago-style cave last summer.

On our first visit, my son, 6, and I donned fresh white socks and the attendant ushered us inside. The"cave” is a peaceful, pastel-lit room; the ceiling is lined with faux stalactites and the walls are decorated with seashells and entirely lined with salt. The ground is about 4 inches thick with large salt crystals. A column features dancing salt-like dolphins and a little mermaid sits politely forlorn in a corner. A soft, relaxing seaside soundtrack plays in the background

My son’s eyes opened wide upon entering. He made quick friends with two other children and they settled into the kids corner and played with the salt crystals as if it were a giant sandbox (sand toys are provided). After awhile, the music—or was it the salt—got to him: he found a good spot, made a pillow with a provided white blanket, covered himself in salt crystals and proceeded to relax. My father joined us, and he and I settled into the comfy chaise lounges and entered meditative states. Visitors are asked to remain quiet during the 45-minute session.

The manager of the cave contends that one 45 minute session is equivalent to a three-day trip to the seaside (and at per adult, a whole lot less expensive). I spoke with a mother who has been taking her children to the salt cave three mornings a week—and she’s concluded that these visits have saved her children from the colds that linger in Chicago throughout the year.

Am I a believer? I could feel the salt lightly sting the back of my throat as I breathed in and the softly lit, quiet environment certainly left me rested. Was it the vaporized salt or the forced familial mediation that left me relaxed and reinvigorated?

In any case, possible health benefits may have been canceled out by the hearty lunch we enjoyed afterwards. In addition to the salt cave, the Jolly Inn features a romantic restaurant as well as an affordable, all-you-can eat Polish buffet.

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