I had been trying for years to schedule time to experience The Resort at Paws Up, a working cattle ranch in remote Montana. Oddly, it took the pandemic to get me there. I could never manage to slow down enough from my international travels to allow for a domestic escape to the restorative hinterlands—until now. At last, as part of a three-month-long road trip, I found myself checking in, my husband and two dogs at my side. Feeling safe amidst the masked staff, I also relished the fact that the resort’s vast expanses allowed social distancing to be measured (as the resort likes to say) “in acres rather than feet.”
A River Runs Through It
On land traversed by Lewis and Clark, with a river that runs through it, encompassing a mind-boggling 37,000-acres of unspoiled forest, meadow, and mountain-land, Paws Up sometimes earns the moniker of dude ranch. Indeed, one can whisper to equines, learn to drive cattle, and play cowpoke here to their heart’s content. But, calling this expansive spot a dude ranch sells it short. Credited with coining the much borrowed, often overused expression “glamping,” Paws Up elevates the old-school summer camp in the mountain experience (which we all certainly loved as children) to unimaginable heights. With just six luxury tented camps peppering the property (each far enough away from the next to feel secluded) and a handful of monumental cabins hidden among trees, the resort seamlessly conveys the tranquility of the Walden Pond effect. Whether a commodious, antique-filled tent (some complete with copper tubs) or a two-story, art-bedecked cabin, the accommodations prove that sleeping rough isn’t required for immersion into the wilderness and its largesse or to receive its healing impact. Being comfortable doesn’t detract from delving into nature, after all. Neither does the romance spun by the retreat—or its plethora of activities, from painting to paintball, fly fishing to river rafting.
No matter how much I yearned for healing touch and the slathering of curative products, I just couldn’t commit to being one-on-one with anyone for more than a second . . .
In my years imagining myself at Paws Up, I’d always visualized spending at least one afternoon at Spa Town, the resort’s veritable tent city of stand-alone, meadow-ensconced treatment rooms. But, now that I’d arrived, I realized I wasn’t yet comfortable indulging in a treatment. Despite my enthusiasm for wellness and spa exploration, no matter how much I yearned for healing touch and the slathering of curative products, I just couldn’t commit to being one-on-one with anyone for more than a second who wasn’t part of my family. From my cabin’s ample terrace, I could see Spa Town tempting me, but I just wasn’t there. I couldn’t do it. The very idea of doing what I’ve done multiple times a week for more than three decades filled me with anxiety. Self-care? Sometimes that means saying no.
Created with Love & A Wish for Healing
I moped around a bit, swearing at the universe (as we all have countless times this year), but then I had an idea. Why couldn’t the spa pack up a treatment for me, along with instructions and the caveat that, of course, it would not be the exact same treatment without the able therapist in attendance? Wouldn’t that work? DIY in the privacy of my grand cabin seemed a passable, even pleasant alternative. Of course, it would not be the same. I’m not a highly skilled therapist or esthetician. Nonetheless, it would be a spa treatment with stellar ingredients, specifically created for this spa, something packed with love and the wish for healing. I’d administer it myself (possibly somewhat awkwardly) on the resort’s property, imbued with its distinctive, outdoorsy ambiance. It would be almost like having a treatment in Spa Town.
All it took was a phone call to the spa’s director, yogi extraordinaire, Laura Russell-Nygard, and options appeared. Pivoting, during a pandemic, keeps us in the flow. Deciding to help me combat my dry skin, ravaged by high altitude aridity, she proposed a DIY exfoliation and moisturizing extravaganza. In a few moments, a big bag was delivered to my cabin. Taking a rift from Paws Up popular Whippersnapper Apothecary class where guests can learn to make scrubs, soaps, and other delights from an array of local ingredients and resort-grown herbs, Russel-Nygard had decided to present me with my very own apothecary cabinet. There were flasks and flagons holding salts, sugars, and oils, as well as jars of dried flowers (think rose) and herbs (mint, thyme, lavender, and more). Beautifully scribed instructions accompanied the package, all trimmed with a bow. This wasn’t simply one DIY treatment, but many—with plenty of leftovers to share with my spouse. What I learned was that it isn’t always the spa shelter itself that proffers the spa experience, but the soul and caring of its people—and the quality of the ingredients used in the treatments. Scouring my body with healing goodness in my cabin’s immense bathroom, with Spa Town in view, and a panoply of backcountry surrounding me, I decided I was bereft of very little at this moment. In fact, despite the barriers and swivels and re-inventing of our daily rituals due to COVID, a ranch-grown rose-mint salt scrub in a cabin in the woods would re-infuse my spirit just fine. As Julian of Norwich penned in 1342: “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” And, that’s true—even in 2020.
8 Great Spas Offering DIY Treatments
Here are eight more spas offering DIY treatments. Wherever your wellness travel takes you, don’t hesitate to ask the spa director to create a DIY treatment. Most spa staff will be pleased to create an experience for you. It’s a great way to keep our spas afloat.
Carneros Resort & Spa, Napa: Nestled amid the glory of wine county on 28 acres, this resort boasts 103 freestanding accommodations ranging from luxurious cottages, to suites, and private homes—a true social distancing paradise. For in-cottage treatments, the spa team suggests their own house-made rituals. Immune Booster Wellness At Home Kit by the Spa at Carneros and Sleep & Deep Rest Wellness at Home Kit by The Spa at Carneros, each with a dedicated cache of salutary goodies from massage oils to bath salts to eye pillows.
Rockliffe Hall, England: In Northeast England’s quiet Hurworth village, near the North Yorkshire border, moors and dramatic coastline, this country-house-style hotel coddles guests like heyday lords and ladies would have demanded. If you’d prefer your spa treatment en suite, their Spa in a Box works. Delivered by contactless room service, the spa treatment includes NEOM products (The Duchess of Cambridge’s go-to brand), a NEOM Organics “Scent to Sleep” candle and an expert-guided how-to video to ensure success.
Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya: Spread across a huge landscape, replete with bike paths, Andaz offers many secure locations for socializing. Its Naum Wellness & Spa, nevertheless, moved their spa programming outdoors, providing guests with a variety of new, complimentary offerings including aromatherapy, sessions where guests can mix their own scent, as well as spa workshops, which teach how to make scrubs, masks, and massage oils.
JW Marriott, San Antonio Hill Country: Though the Lantana Spa lures guests with its regional treatments and influences, they acknowledge that not everyone is comfortable visiting the spa at this time. Ergo, they’ve curated a few on-the-go items for in-the-room time. For travelers interested in combating mask-nee, the Patchology “Breakout Box” stands out as the perfect kit for them. The “Resting Beach Face” and “All Eyes On You” kits are also available for purchase and are great in-room treatments. Those yearning for a relaxing bath can use the spa’s Ella B neighborhood candles which imbue rooms with the scents of various local neighborhoods—such as the Japanese Tea Garden and Old Spanish Trail. Add in Pearl Bath Bombs for the win.
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay: The gorgeous new Healing Village Spas at this oceanside hotel has an entire room dedicated to DIY treatments. Enjoy The Longevity Garden, a specific space for solo or couple treatments. In view of lush tropical greenery, the garden was conceived for self-directed purifying, healing, and cleansing, including a Balinese-style steam room hammam adventure. Expect to scrub with coconut soap and pumice, apply nutrient-rich volcanic mud body masks—and much more.
Remède Spa at The St. Regis Deer Valley: While the opulent, multi-storied spa, complete with mountain views, offers guests 20 percent off, Monday-Thursdays for most treatments this fall, guests preferring to spa in their room have a bevy of director-guided treatment options. Choose the Knesko Skin Multi Masking Kit, part of their Diamond Radiance collection. The box includes two face, eye, neck, lip, and décolleté masks. Benjamin Donat, Spa Director, is emphasizing unusual retail selections, such as crystal-infused Aluminate Life candles and diffusers, as well as blankets, throws, and robes in luxuriously soft yarns by Kashwére, so that guests can bring the Remède Spa experience home.
Anantara Kihavah, Maldives:The splendorous villas at this far-flung getaway in the Indian Ocean are enough to make anyone long to stay “home.” Aware of this, the spa leaves a treatment menu in each villa to tempt guests to enjoy some beautification and restoration without leaving their villa. From masks to eye treatments to skin boosters, the Kihauvah Spa experience is easy for guests who’d rather social distance.
Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown: When this classic, urbane hotel reopens November 30, they’ve thought ahead. They’ll offer a range of spa services called self-healing immersions in the suite. Expect such rituals as bespoke sleep support oils by Soveral, virtual hypnosis by new resident healer Nicole Hernandez, crystal meditation with resident healer Rashial Bell, and rose quartz and organic salt bath soaks. One night to five night journeys will be available. Those anxious to try the immersions before the hotel opens, can purchase them for home use from the spa.
Becca Hensley is Editor at Large for Insider's Guide to Spas. Based in Austin, she writes regularly about travel and spas. She believes a good story draws you in like laughter in a crowded room, and challenges you to do it justice. Her work appears regularly in Austin Monthly, Travel Channel, Toronto Star and National Geographic Traveler.