Insider's Guide to Spas
Loma de Vida Spa at La Cantera

Stellar Spas

Three Great American Spas

Mary Bemis

From a fresh, modern spa with a wink and a nod to its Texas roots, to a gleaming state-of-the-art temple in Miami, to a classic grande dame in Naples—here are three great American spas that reveal the rejuvenating powers of spa.

Loma de Vida Spa at La Cantera Resort

Where do I begin? This is quite simply one of the best American spas to open in some time—and in San Antonio, of all places. Loma de Vida has all the makings of a true-blue destination spa.

So, what makes this spa a standout? Location, for starters. Loma de Vida (which translates to “hill of life”) is a serene getaway, set on 550 acres, offering incredible views of the Texas Hill Country. The 25,000-square-foot freestanding spa has a design and décor that’s fresh and modern with a wink and a nod to its Texan roots— a secluded sanctuary that you really won’t want to leave.

The dream team behind the spa includes the inimitable Maggy Dunphy, Executive Director of Spa and Wellness for Destination Hotels and La Cantera Resort; spa consultant Cary Collier of Blu Spas, recently named one of the “Top Innovators” by Hospitality Design magazine; HKS Architects, and Looney & Associates interior designers. (The latter two are Dallas-based.)

“Reflecting on the year since we’ve been open, I would say the original concept of creating a space for people to disconnect in order to reconnect—a space for people to breathe—we’ve full-on achieved that, and then some,” Dunphy shares with me.

“The whole complex is a beautiful venue,” adds Collier. “There are a lot of cool, interesting places to gather. For me, it’s a feel-good space. There’s a good energy about it, people smile when they walk into the space.”

Noteworthy spots include the Sky Lofts, three garden cabanas that serve as mini spas within the spa. Outfitted with old-fashioned cowboy tubs, these are perfect spaces for couples or small groups to gather. The intention behind them was to provide private spaces for treatments or for just relaxing and “being,” explains Dunphy.

And speaking of gathering, that’s exactly what the inviting and open relaxation area is called: The Gathering Place, complete with fireplace, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a terrace overlooking the lush countryside and outdoor infinity pool below.

There’s also The Grotto (one of my favorite spaces), a private outdoor pool with a secret garden feel to it. And plenty of gorgeously landscaped garden spaces that attract monarch butterflies and hummingbirds.

If you go solo or with a partner, be sure to book the accommodations of Seven, the club-like seventh floor that is reserved for 21 and older.

Not to be Missed:  Try the Clearing Himalayan Salt Stone Mineral Massage, and request massage therapist Anthony Samuel—one of the best. Workout (row!) in the well-equipped indoor/outdoor fitness room, then opt for a healthy lunch at Quenche, the spa café. Visit the nearby San Antonio Missions, newly designated a World Heritage Site. Then dine at Signature, inspired by Chef Andrew Weissman, a San Antonio native and four-times James Beard Award finalist, and created by Executive Chef Jake Andrews. Their focus is on local and organic, and ingredients are culled from herb, fruit, and vegetable gardens on site. Before you leave, pick up a pair of loose and comfy Maggy Jams at the spa boutique. Maggy Dunphy partnered with LA-based Sita Couture to create this signature loungewear. +1 210-558-6500


Ame SpaÂme Spa & Wellness Collective at Turnberry Isle, Miami

“My passion is about building something unique and special,” Tammy Pahel tells me. And that’s exactly what she accomplished with âme spa—one of the most ambitious spa remodels in recent history. Pahel is a leading spa expert and Principal of Spa Management Solutions, and formerly Spa Director at Turnberry Isle. She has a long and glorious history with the property.

In 2000, Pahel was tasked with opening the original spa and worked alongside spa icon Tag Galyean on the design and floor plan. Their vision took shape as a three-story spa with 28 treatment rooms, three of which were Vichy rooms. And of course, there was the completely over-the-top Swiss Shower, designed by Tag. “At that time, we didn’t really have a lot of amenities like we do today,” recalls Pahel. “We had a steam room, soaking tubs, and Tag’s Swiss shower.” Pahel stayed on as spa director through September of 2006, when Fairmont took over and the spa was branded a Willow Stream Spa.

Fast forward to December 2013, when a colleague who worked for Turnberry pushed her to return. She wasn’t interested, she told him, unless there was going to be a renovation—and boy, did her wish come true!

She went to work revamping the spa, adding amenities like a Himalayan Salt Suite, an aromatherapy and chromatherapy steam room, and bringing in Galyean’s son Taylor, who not only refurbished the grand old Swiss shower that had “just been sitting there,” but retrained the staff on how to use it.

A Wellness Circuit was established, encouraging guests to arrive an hour pre-treatment to spend time in the Himalayan Salt and Infrared Therapy Suite, followed by the Aroma, Chroma, and Music Therapy Steam Room, and ending with a five-to-seven-minute session in the Swiss Shower.

The foundation of The Spa & Wellness Collection was incorporated and based on 5 Pillars of Wellness: Physical Wellness; Wellness Therapies; Medical Wellness; Beauty Wellness, and Nutritional Wellness. Leading experts in each pillar were brought in and exciting partnerships, like the one with Rezilir Health, were formed. New, cutting-edge studios were added to the Fitness Center that offers 70 classes per week.

Then in 2014, at SpaTec, an industry networking event held at Turnberry Isle, things got really interesting when Tammy Pahel met Sammy Gharieni.

“I had heard of him, but didn’t know him,” recalls Pahel. “We’re in the pool, talking with a bunch of spa industry peers, and Sammy looks at me and says he’s going to open a US showroom for Gharieni spa equipment at another spa in Florida. I looked back at him and told him that was a mistake—that he needed to be at a spa in Miami, where people could really experience his equipment.

“I told him we were renovating our spa—it was $11 million to build and owners were going to invest another $3 million into it. I asked him why wouldn’t he want to be in a beautiful, newly renovated 25,000-square-foot spa.” The next day, Sammy told Tammy he was in. “And $440,000 worth of equipment later, we’re a showroom!” exalts Pahel.

Which is the reason why Âme Spa & Wellness Collective at Turnberry Isle, Miami, is such a great American spa. The total spa experience, with such state-of-the-art equipment, is hard to beat. Additionally, 50 percent of the staff is made up of the original spa staff that has remained since the spa opened back in 2001. This all adds up to a terrific experience for the lucky spa-goer who steps foot inside this modern temple to health and wellbeing.

Not to be Missed: A relaxing float session; the infamous Galyean Swiss Shower; a private life-coaching session with Rezilir’s Susan Luck, RN; a light bite at Corsair Kitchen & Bar, offering an American-inspired menu in an open-kitchen setting; a cocktail and dinner at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak.; +1 305-933-6930


Ritz Carlton Naples SpaThe Ritz-Carlton Spa, Naples

The hotel, which opened 33 years ago, is a designated Florida Green Lodging property—and it’s classic spa has held up extremely well. In fact this spa is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, in the Ritz-Carlton portfolio. Run by spa veteran, Michelle Kelthy, who has been at its helm for 13 years, there’s even more to The Spa at Ritz-Carlton, Naples, than meets the eye.

At 51,000 square feet and spread out over three levels, The Spa manages to feel intimate (you wouldn’t guess there are 35 treatment rooms). The design and décor are elegant and inviting, so if you’re looking for a stark, contemporary spa, look elsewhere. This is classic and comfortable, meant for serious time-out. Amenities here are solid and straightforward; the aqua lounge (one for men, one for women) offers hot and cold plunge pools, a eucalyptus steam room, whirlpool, and infrared sauna. There are indoor-outdoor relaxation lounges, and a popular outdoor mineral pool.

Best of all are treatments that go far beyond what one expects to find at a luxury hotel spa. Kelthy knows what makes a menu tick better than most—and her choices in treatments over the years have been forward-thinking and impressive. Among the better treatments I’ve experienced worldwide, are those developed in partnership with Michael Scholes, a magician when it come to aromatherapy and founder of The Laboratory of Flowers. Try the Drift to Sleep or the Intuitive treatment for a calm and peaceful experience.

You can expect topnotch service from a staff that knows its stuff. Kelthy is particularly proud of her team. “The ladies and gentlemen are the most important resource,” she tells me. “We have associates here who have worked at the spa for over sixteen years. We pride ourselves on consistent education, consistently bringing respected and authentic wellness experts to the spa to educate and mentor the pillars of health and wellbeing.”

 Not to be missed: The highly customized Intuitive treatment at The Spa; a cold-pressed juice and healthy bite at +H20+ Café in The Spa; a walk along the beach (three miles of pure white sand); dinner and a gorgeous sunset at the oceanfront Gumbo Limbo; time in the tempting and well-stocked spa boutique.; +1 239-598-3300



Mary Bemis

Mary Bemis

Mary Bemis is editorial director of She is an award-winning spa journalist, honored with Folio's Top Women in Media Award, and the distinguished ISPA Dedicated Contributor Award. In 1997, she launched American Spa magazine, and in 2007, Mary co-founded Organic Spa magazine. A pioneer in the sustainable spa and beauty worlds, Mary is co-curator of Cosmoprof North America's Discover Green Pavilion. She sits on the board of Wellness Warrior, is a Global Wellness Day Advisor and a co-founder of the Washington Spa Alliance.