FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Top Destination Spas

Jul 1, 2013
2013 / July 2013

What’s the difference between a tune-up and an overhaul? A touch-up and a makeover? A refresh and a renovation?

Time? Money? Results?

If you guessed all three, you’re right.

The same could be said for the difference between a day spa and a destination spa.

While the occasional massage, facial or body scrub has become de rigueur in terms of routine maintenance, an annual (or better yet, semi-annual) multiday spa immersion is the equivalent of hitting the reset button on mind-body wellness.

YOUR BODY KNOWS MORE than your mind could ever imagine. It was a late Sunday afternoon in spring. My sister, Nancy, and I had arrived at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass., a few hours earlier. Never one to sit still for long, Nancy ran off to a knitting class. Yes. Knitting. At a spa resort. Her theory? Finding an activity that would keep her occupied in a relatively passive manner would enhance her chances of successful meditation. And she’d get a new scarf, to boot.

I, on the other hand, find it fairly easy to slip into meditation. Hint: A former yoga teacher taught me to picture the thoughts that inevitably drift into consciousness during meditation as puffy clouds I can simply push away. More recently, someone suggested imagining my consciousness as a babbling stream where crystal-clear water flows easily over and around pebbles that represent my thoughts. Find a tool or an image that works for you and the rest will follow.

But I digress. My personal journey involves finding ways to go deeper into meditation and enhance its benefits. A class titled “Healing Energy Self Care” caught my eye, so I made a beeline for the yoga studio where, instead of a stereotypically lithe female instructor, I discovered a somewhat paunchy, mildly disheveled, middle-aged man in the lead position. Although he appeared more “absent-minded professor” than “New Age guru,” there was something charming and innately calming about his demeanor.

Before leading us through a series of chakra meditations, the instructor offered a brief overview covering the basics of chi, or universal energy, how it flows through our bodies and how blocked energy caused by stress or trauma can manifest physically and emotionally. When he reminded us, “Your body knows more than your mind could ever imagine,” I knew I was exactly where I should be at that time and place. And it was only Day 1.

Anyone who’s visited a day spa or found time to squeeze in a massage appointment at a hotel spa knows all too well that dreaded it’s-almost-over feeling. It usually pops in with a bang at the very moment you’re beginning to relax: It’s almost like the hypnic jerk many of us experience just as we’re about to fall asleep. Realizing you’re on Day 1 of a four-day spa stay? Nirvana.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING as a one-size-fits-all destination spa retreat. The experience varies from property to property and even within a specific property. The beauty of a destination spa getaway is, if you plan well and indulge in treatments and activities based on your own personal goals and needs, you’ll be ready, willing and able to go the distance when it’s time for re-entry.

Kettle bell workout © Martinmark | Dreamstime.com

Kettle bell workout © Martinmark | Dreamstime.com

At Canyon Ranch Lenox, my sister, Nancy, a registered nurse, ran from one activity to the next, reveling in an early-morning abs workout followed by a kettle bell class with a quick break for lunch before heading off to a lecture on memory and brain chemistry. While I joined her for one abs workout and tried (but didn’t like) the kettle bell class, my schedule focused more on yoga and meditation. Still, we spent plenty of time together, including a morning hike in the foothills of the Berkshires and, of course, at the spa.

Founded in 1979 by Mel Zuckerman and his wife, Enid, the original Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Ariz., remains one of the world’s premier destination spas. In addition to its locations in Tucson and Lenox, the brand now includes Canyon Ranch Hotel and Spa in Miami Beach and Canyon Ranch Spa Clubs at The Homestead in West Virginia, at The Venetian and at The Palazzo in Las Vegas, and on board the Queen Mary 2.

That’s a heady roster for a concept born from the owner’s personal weight-loss and health goals. Fast-forward 30-plus years, and the Canyon Ranch philosophy remains rooted in healthy living as a lifestyle choice, but the overall viewpoint has expanded to incorporate mind-body wellness. Still, Canyon Ranch remains committed to certain healthy-choice policies. Salt and pepper aren’t included with table settings; alcohol of any kind is verboten outside private guestrooms. Ordering a cappuccino at the on-site café? Be sure to specify whole milk, if that’s your preference. It’s available upon request, but the baristas, at least at the Lenox location, are only allowed to ask, “Skim or 1 percent?”

Other acclaimed wellness destinations are more liberal. During a three-night stay at Miraval in Tucson, Ariz., last fall, I indulged in a glass of wine every evening in addition to enjoying some of the best meals I can remember. My sister, Nancy, was with me on this trip, too. Select two out of three desserts from the dinner menu. Umm … we’d like to try all three, please. No problem. Is that the most delicious brownie ever? Let’s bring a couple back to our room for later.

Indulgent? Yes. What I know is this: I lost seven pounds without trying and without once feeling deprived. And while I welcomed the unexpected weight loss, it wasn’t the goal of my stay. Magic? Maybe. More likely, the credit goes to Miraval’s team of accomplished chefs who routinely come up with innovative ways to create healthy food without surrendering to tasteless ingredients. (Been there. Done that. Bought the cookbook!)

Guests prepare for a leap of faith © Mirival

Guests prepare for a leap of faith © Miraval

Like Canyon Ranch Lenox, Miraval offers an almost daunting roster of activities ranging from rock climbing and desert hikes to morning meditation and over-the-top spa treatments. While the spa is spectacular — it would be tempting to spend days on end never venturing beyond the soothing complex — even the most spectacular massage can’t rival the memory of an early-morning hike in the Sonoran Desert watching the sun rise above the horizon.

Experiencing moments like a sunrise is the very essence of the Miraval philosophy:

“Mindfulness is the core of the Miraval philosophy. In everything we do, we encourage our guests to live in the present moment, conscious of the unique intersection of mind, body and spirit.”

Mind, body and spirit came together for me when I decided to push my personal boundaries by participating in one of Miraval’s signature experiences, Swing and a Prayer. The group activity involves donning a helmet and strapping into a harness attached to a rope strung horizontally 35 feet above the ground. Once secured, other group members hoist the “swinger” into place, where it’s up to the swinger to decide when to let go.

Staring out at the desert from 35 feet in the air, I made a decision to let go — literally and figuratively. I made a vow to let go of fear, self-doubt and judgment. I took a deep breath and I let go. The release was powerful; the feeling of freedom was liberating. I had asked one member of the group to take my photo at the top of the line.

She did better. She made a video for me. It’s still on my iPhone; whenever I feel fear or self-doubt creeping back into my life, I watch myself let go and I remember that feeling.

SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE ARIZONA is rich in metaphysical energy, a difficult-to-describe “vibration” that promotes physical and emotional healing. True? Who knows. But it’s interesting to note some of the country’s most renowned destination spas are in similar “vortex” locations.

The island of Maui has a similar reputation. That’s especially true of upcountry Maui, home to Lumeria Maui. Coincidence? I think not.

Lumeria Maui lobby © Lumeria Maui

Lumeria Maui lobby © Lumeria Maui

Award-winning architect and conservator Xorin Balbes, known for high-profile restorations including Lloyd Wright’s 1926 Sowden House and silent screen star Norma Talmadge’s 1920 Talmadge Villa, discovered the property in 2009 while searching for a vacation home on Maui. The 1911 Craftsman-style structure had fallen into disrepair, but Balbes recognized its potential.

He also felt its pull. The property is rich in geodes, hollow rock formations often lined on the inside with crystals.

“Having the geodes in almost all of the environments that I have lived has always supported a deep and profound feeling of peace in me,” Balbes said in a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “Because the geodes come from being inside the earth and not on the earth’s surface, they usually act as a very grounding energy for a home or other space.”

In a video posted on the Lumeria website, Balbes describes seeing the property for the first time: “It was clear to me it was a soul calling; that I was here to restore it and give it its next 100 years of life.”

During its first century, the former Fred C. Baldwin Memorial Home had served as a convalescence home, a college dormitory and housing for World War II veterans.

Balbes envisioned a sanctuary.

Following an extensive renovation carefully planned to honor the property’s heritage, Lumeria Maui opened in March 2012 as an alternative to the island’s modern resorts and hotels in traffic-riddled beachfront locations. Although it’s not a destination spa per se, its tranquil setting lends itself to a wellness experience.

The daily schedule of activities is heavy on yoga and meditation, starting with a sunrise meditation and often ending with yoga nidra, a practice designed to release physical and emotional tension, giving way to deep relaxation. In between, guests may choose to relax in a hammock, experiment with essential oils or learn how to cultivate an edible garden.

Every aspect of each day centers on the Lumeria promise: Emerge refreshed, enlightened and connected to the natural rhythm of your soul.

That’s what I’d call a makeover.

Read more about Miraval here.

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FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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