As a peripatetic traveler, I am always trying to balance the pleasures of dining well with a life-long challenge to control my weight. It’s not always easy, because I consider tasting typical, authentic regional dishes among the highlights of most journeys, and those foods are rarely known for “healthful” rankings! So, I started staying at spas way back in the 1980s — before they were ubiquitous — because meals were assured to be pure, clean and wholesome.
I discovered Hilton Head Health Institute about 20 years ago, during an extended February road trip to Florida. At that time, I found healthy, hearty meals and extensive wellness programing. Each time I’ve returned, I’ve noticed an expanded program and an upgraded facility. As a result, Hilton Head Health has become one of my favorite wellness retreats.
This past June, when I returned to spend a few days at H3, I flew into the incredibly welcoming and easy-to-navigate Savannah International Airport where I was met by a driver for the hour-long trip to the spa.
H3, as it is fondly called, is located on Hilton Head Island in Shipyard Plantation, amidst moss-draped, oak-shaded paths and roads leading about a mile away to the oceanfront beach. The compact campus features a well-designed and updated main building with lounges, lecture and exercise rooms, a demonstration kitchen, and a lovely dining room with a snack bar area off to one side and a circular windowed wall alcove in the back. The stunning, stand-alone spa is just a short walk from the main entry. On the other side of the entry courtyard, there’s a palm-bedecked pool deck and pool next to a fitness facility, which houses the changing rooms. Across the adjacent driveway, there’s the entrance to the recently constructed, 30-room Sweetgrass Inn.
The driver escorted me to my ground-floor accommodation in Sweetgrass Inn, which felt like a junior suite because there was a sitting area with a mini refrigerator and coffeemaker, a desk area and a sleeping corner. The generously sized bathroom with a walk-in shower houses a washer and dryer in a closet. On past visits, I’ve always stayed in the neighboring condominium-style accommodations, which are attached, house-sized, duplex, two-bedroom, three-bath units with a fully outfitted kitchen and dining area, living room and two porches, including one overlooking a waterway and a golf course.
The program is staffed with inspiring wellness educators, especially Bob Wright, whose sessions have impressed me since my first stay. Wright’s lectures introduce a series of practical topics, such as Breaking Up with Sugar, Portion Control and Restaurant Survival Strategies. One recurrent leitmotif addresses food choices, which he identifies in three categories: “unwise, better, best.” It’s a simple take-home strategy that adapts to daily life and travel.
Meals are delicious and prepared with many organic and local ingredients. The menu emphasizes interesting multiethnic dishes, and I particularly enjoyed dishes I never have made at home, for example, a Thai peanut slaw prepared with a Thai peanut vinaigrette. The portion-sized menu items meet the guidelines of the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and American Diabetes Association. Dishes are designed to maximize each guest’s suggested calorie count, between 1,200 and1,600 daily, and the menu indicates calories for each item and whether it meets dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan preferences.
As a resort, H3 is an all-inclusive getaway with superb facilities; wonderfully healthy food; 50 fitness classes a week; superior educational programs; and a variety of mind/body lifestyle, aging and anti-stress programs. Some guests are on structured plans, but many do their own thing, resort-style; some arrange daily itineraries with built-in “work” hours to use the computer or have meetings via Zoom.
During each of my stays, I adapt my daily schedule to what I love best: beach walks, the occasional fitness class and as many aqua-aerobic classes in the heated outdoor pool as weather permits, plus treatments at Indigo Spa, where I love the hot-towel Arnica massage and facials. I always take advantage of the chef-led, spa cooking classes in the demonstration kitchen because they’re fun and I invariably learn something new.
H3 is both an active wellness retreat and a vacation resort, steeped in Southern hospitality.
14 Valencia Road
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
tel 800 292 2440
After a stressful pre-holiday season and a busy work schedule, there was no better time for a relaxing spa experience than during my recent trip to Pasadena with the FXExpress Publications, Inc. team. We headed to The Langham Huntington, Pasadena for the 20th anniversary of the GT Tested Reader Survey awards, which meant a jam-packed trip, but I managed to carve a little time out of our busy schedule to visit Chuan Spa at the hotel.
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