by Pace Webb
While spa vacations may seem like an unnecessary Band-Aid for a hectic modern life, you’re sure to leave these exceptional destinations with lasting habits and valuable insight that will enhance your daily life. Whether you go somewhere where you’re pampered like a princess or you choose a place with an ambitious well-being itinerary, it is almost a guarantee that a relaxing and rejuvenating experience in a new environment will leave a lasting impression.
1. The Sanctuary in Koh Pha Nagn, Thailand
This alternative island resort located on the tropical island of Koh Pha Nagn is for the adventurous. It will be quite a trek to get there (fly into Beijing, fly to Koh Samui, ferry to Kho Pha Nagn, long boat to the Sanctuary), but the experience will be life-changing. If you’re coming all this way, I recommend the full-cleanse program, complete with colonics using Arise and Shine products. If fasting isn’t your scene, there is a hip cafe next door where you’ll find plenty of scrumptious organic edibles.
Yoga and meditation classes are offered daily at the top of the resort surrounded by the rainforest. The spa is a small tree house where they offer a variety of the usual spa services, but the Back to Bali warming, cooling, and exfoliating treatment is by far the best— it’s not listed on their menu, so you have to ask for it. The steam room is the ultimate place to socialize with a variety of interesting international travelers. If you are coming to do a cleanse (liver and candida cleanses are also offered), the only drawback is not being able to partake in the amazing cuisine of Thailand. Ideally you should be on a raw diet at least one week prior to arrival and one week after your cleanse, and trust me, you’ll be sorry if you don’t abide by these rules! There is an abundance of fresh raw food in Thailand and you can make arrangements with your airline to accommodate your diet so you can survive the journey home.
2. Golden Door in Escondido, California
Nestled between Los Angeles and San Diego, the legendary Golden Door has been open since 1958. All the essential elements are in total harmony on the grounds: babbling brooks, an impeccably maintained Zen garden, a three-acre organic produce garden, candles and lanterns, and a plethora of fresh air. The Golden Door was originally built to replicate a Japanese honjin inn with elements of California style. If service is a priority for you, you’ll feel right at home with four staff members per guest and a personalized wellness program. Weeklong programs are offered mostly for women, but some weeks are open for all-men or co-ed groups. The experience is more like a summer camp than a country club, though the price leans more toward the country-club end of the spectrum.
A true camaraderie is formed between patrons during the week, and with a maximum of 40 people at a time it can really feel like a private party. Services range from aerobics, water sports, and personal training to hiking, t’ai chi, yoga, and meditation. The restaurant menu is mostly vegetarian and the ingredients come exclusively from their garden, so slimming down here is a definite.
3. Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California
The Esalen Institute was originally founded as a sanctuary to develop human potential through workshops on psychology, massage therapy, and t’ai chi. Today similar courses are still offered, but it’s mostly a place of rest and relaxation with the Esalen massage and ocean-side mineral baths as the main attraction. All services are offered as a priority to overnight guests, but massages and late-night mineral baths can be arranged for non-guests in advance. The Esalen massage is synced with the motion and sound of the sea: long sweeping strokes along the body. As the Esalen Institute is located on 125 acres of the Big Sur coast, it is only appropriate that the view from your face cradle is nothing less than the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. Accommodations are basic and are available for singles as well as families.
4. Kushi Institute in Becket, Massachusetts
If you’ve ever wondered about food as medicine, this is the place for you. The Kushi Institute was founded in 1978 by Japanese macrobiotic pioneers Michio and Aveline Kushi. Each year more than 800 people from around the globe go through the courses, which range from counseling and macrobiotic lifestyle to healing and empowerment. Weekend and weeklong courses are available for those interested in personal improvement, while monthlong courses are available for those interested in becoming practitioners in a specific field of well-being. The various aspects of the Macrobiotic Lifestyle Leadership program are cooking, diagnosis, healing, philosophy, and shiatsu. The macrobiotic diet incorporates alkaline foods (beets, celery, cauliflower) as opposed to acid foods (tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers) and strongly emphasizes the importance of harmony with nature by consuming local and seasonal foods. Practicing an alkaline diet has been clinically proven to prevent the formation of calcium kidney stones, osteoporosis, some terminal illnesses, and age-related muscle atrophy.
5. Maya Spa and Wellness Center in Tulum, Mexico
There are three different eco-resorts to choose from at the Maya Spa and Wellness Center. Azulik and Cabanas Copal are clothing optional and slightly more rustic than Zahra, which is more refined and not clothing optional. The Maya Spa offers holistic activities and features a variety of Mayan treatments performed by local shamans. If you like the idea of a sweat lodge, you’ll love the Temazcal herbal steam experience. If that isn’t esoteric enough there is iridology, Mayan Energy Cleansing, Sensorama, and Mayan Astrology, but the spa also offers traditional massage and aesthetic treatments. Complimentary yoga classes are offered every morning at 7:30 a.m. If that all sounds like too much, just know that lounging on the beach sipping cocktails while only breaking for delicious Mexican meals served at the restaurant is a completely acceptable practice here.
6. Daintree EcoLodge and Spa in Queensland, Australia
It would be a sin to leave this lifetime without visiting this part of the world. Believe me, you’ll feel cheated if you don’t. Ideal for a couple’s getaway or a destination wedding, the Daintree EcoLodge has 15 rainforest villas best described as the Four Seasons meets Tarzan. Each villa has a screened-in Jacuzzi overlooking the rainforest below, and you never have to leave the premises as all of the amenities are there for you: an award-winning restaurant and spa, tours for the adventurous, and yes, even Wi-Fi and TV if you really must. All the usual massage, body, and facial treatments are offered here with a special Daintree twist, but Australians are extremely progressive when it comes to health and well-being so the naturopathic consultation will be extremely insightful. Private yoga and meditation sessions are available upon request; there is really nothing like practicing in the midst of the rainforest.
7. Tamarind Springs in Koh Samui, Thailand
Look to southeast Asia for incredible spas that won’t break the bank. You just have to get there first. Tamarind Springs is located in the area of Koh Samui called Lamai, just along the southeast tip of the island. They are currently restructuring their on-site villas, which are basically simple yet beautifully designed havens for two. Ideal for a couple looking to reconnect, there are no distractions here, only serenity and tropical beauty for 360 degrees.
There are two spas on the grounds: Classic Tamarind Spa for individuals and Forest Spa for couples. The Classic Tamarind Spa is a huge thatch- roofed pavilion, one of the most tranquil places on Earth, where you’ll truly feel as if you’re in a fantasy world that revolves solely around you. The unforgettable aroma of the steam room infuses fresh Thai roots and rhizomes such as turmeric, prai (closely related to ginger), lemongrass, bergamot lime, leaves of the camphor tree and the tamarind tree. Come early for your treatment to take advantage of the steam room (a cloth wrap is provided) and be sure to alternate between the herbal steam room and the magical plunge pool just around the corner. Lie down on the gentle gradient of the rock bottom of the plunge pool while your body is suspended by the water and your eyes are gazing at the wavering palm trees above.
8. Terme di Saturnia in Tuscany, Italy
Touring Europe can be stressful, what with all the sightseeing and language-coping. Reserve a stay at Terme di Saturnia in Maremma at the end of your next Italian holiday and this time you won’t need a vacation after your vacation. The Italian word “terme” means a healing mineral (mostly sulfur) pool. These termes have been used in Italy since ancient times to heal ailments ranging from eczema and acne to respiratory illnesses and rheumatic disorders. The thermal water experience is one of the most basic wellness rituals, and your skin will feel incredible. Depending on how much you spend shopping in Milano, you can opt to stay for a couple of days and soak in the terme and have a spa service here and there, or go full throttle with a thermal specialist, who will recommend a series of treatments for your specific needs. As of April 5, 2008, an 18-hole golf course is open on the grounds, and if you find yourself here in the winter (when rates are lower), horseback riding through the snow can be quite enchanting.
9. Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts, and Tucson, Arizona
Tucson is Canyon Ranch’s flagship, and the Berkshires location in Massachusetts opened in 1989. Look for Miami in 2008! Canyon Ranch is a one-stop shop for all of your health needs. They are fully staffed with board certified physicians, psychologists, fitness instructors, nutritionists, and chefs. If you’re looking to space out and veg on the beach, this isn’t the place for you. Your stay will be more like an example of optimum lifestyle and you’ll learn how to incorporate it after your return home. Corporate retreats are offered for savvy companies looking to build and maintain strong HR foundations. Hiking, golf, and spa and salon services are a perfect way to diversify and enrich your experience at Canyon Ranch. Be sure to take home the Canyon Ranch Cookbook, which is filled with wholesome, interesting, and nutritious recipes.
10. Four Seasons Resort Maldives in Baa Atoll, Republic of Maldives
The Four Seasons Resort Maldives, located off of the southern coast of India, boasts a world-class Ayurvedic center, pool, tennis courts, fitness center, and five-star restaurant. Ayurveda is an ancient Indian wellness ritual that recommends certain dietary and lifestyle practices depending on the predominance of three different doshas: vatta (wind): air; pitta (bile): fire and water; and kapha (mucus): fire and earth. Your dosha (body/spirit type) is determined by a series of questions ranging from your food texture preference (crunchy, chewy, etc.) to the blood circulation in your hands and feet. Enjoy sporadic Ayurvedic treatments or book a three-day program with an Ayurvedic specialist to bring you to optimum health. The Shirodhara, an ancient Ayurvedic ritual of oil dripping on your forehead (or “third eye”), can be a truly transforming experience. The Maldives were hit the hardest by the 2004 tsunami, when nearly 50 percent of the islands were damaged, including the Four Seasons Resort. Tourism comprises most of their GDP, so when you book your Ayurvedic retreat here, just consider it a charitable contribution toward the rebuilding of a small nation.
Lifestyle Specialist Pace Webb is a gourmet diva leading an abundant life filled with her favorite things: food, travel, and wellness.