The spread of day spas in the 1990s created confusion. There are now spas for pets, teeth, and nails. Resort spas increasingly market wellness programs for kids and adults. But let’s not forget that small, independent destination spas still define a true health resort.
And that’s the problem. No two destination spas are alike. How do you find one that fits your life and budget? The Destination Spa Group sets criteria in its directory of 20 members. What they share is a total focus on you. Personalized, stress-free, adult-only with camaraderie that’s supportive.
At the luxury level, Golden Door in California, Miraval and the original Canyon Ranch in Arizona, and Rancho La Puerta in Baja California, are truly life-enhancing and often life-changing. But there are less expensive destinations across America, offering all-inclusive programs plus regional attractions. In California, The Oaks at Ojai has a 30-year record for weight loss. Also 30, Spa Eastman near Montreal in Quebec, adds cross-country skiing to lifestyle programs. So does Birdwing in Minnesota. Amid the scenic grandeur of British Columbia, Echo Valley Ranch offers equestrian programs and America’s only Thai house of healing.
Recently revitalized by new owners, Golden Door gained 300 acres to protect and restore the classic gardens and organic farm surrounding the original Japanese-style inn. During my visit last September, one guest revealed that it was his 112th visit to the Door, and he wants it preserved just like it is. This serene 50-year-old retreat retains the concept by America’s spa pioneer Deborah Szekely, but offers new “Boot Camp” exercise and wellness programs themed to today’s lifestyles.
Golden Door accommodates just 39 guests for an all-inclusive week costing $8,250 plus tax and gratuities. For the same price but a different feel is nearby Cal-a-Vie Health Resort, which has 32 Mediterranean-style villas, golf course, and aquatics center. Owners Terri and John Havens came to Cal-a-Vie in 1998, after John completed a marathon in San Diego to benefit The Leukemia Society. They built a home at the resort, elevated the luxury level with a new dining room, plus culinary center in a converted French orangerie. The expanded spa is state-of-the-art, feels like a French village. Options include short stays, tennis workshops, and women’s weeks.
Canyon Ranch near Tucson, Arizona, and in Lenox, Massachusetts, both have loyal followings, but the small-group program at the Arizona ranch’s Life Enhancement Center is more rewarding than the main campus. For a new tradition try a Canyon Ranch SpaClub, which debuted last summer at the historic Omni Homestead Resort in Virginia. Aboard luxury liners of Oceania Cruises, SpaClubs now cruise the world.
Fitness fads come and go but Deborah Szekely’s original Rancho La Puerta has a 73-year record of healthy vacations. Set at the base of a mystic mountain, Mexican traditions mix with five gyms, two spa treatment villas, and a culinary center. My favorite challenge was a five-day workout for men with a former Belgian army drill sergeant. Progressively difficult, it attracted women as well as guys.
Who needs Tough Mudder!