If you haven’t already noticed, some of your favorite hotel spas have received a major facelift. They’re now bigger, providing more amenities (cucumber and chlorophyll water), more interesting spa treatments (biomeditation massage, anyone?), and offering services that extend outside the spa parameters (rooftop yoga). But you shouldn’t be surprised. Hotels and resorts are putting a lot of money into their spas, which have been emerging as the biggest trend in hospitality infrastructure. In fact, according to SpaFinder, the largest marketing company for the well- ness industry, wellness tourism is a $2 trillion industry, already representing a $439 billion US market. With this growing demand, many experts predicts a nine percent growth through 2017, 50 percent faster than “regular” tourism.
Needless to say, health and wellness is a priority for vacationers. “The spa experience is now much more accessible to consumers than ever before,” says Michael Tompkins, openly gay spa enthusiast and chairman of ISPA, the International Spa Association, a global company that is recog- nized as the professional organization and voice of the spa industry. “In 1999, there were 1.5 spas for every 100,000 people living in the US com- pared to 6.4 spas per 100,000 people at the end of 2013. We love that trend—imagine the stats in 2015!”
And imagine a spa experience that takes the vacation to a whole new level, where a hotel or resort is fully dedicated to providing health, well-being, and fitness across all platforms of their property, from holistic achievement and personal exercise goals to sensible dieting and wholeness navigation. Welcome to the luxurious, transformative world of wellness resorts.
A wellness resort is like a spa, health club, life coach office, and vaca- tion all wrapped in one beautiful environment that also provides all the amenities a traveler would want for their getaway: a swimming pool, recre- ations, well-appointed guest rooms, excellent dining, and, above all, memories. It’s the three-birds, one-stone concept for health and fitness travel, but don’t expect drill sergeants. Most wellness resorts allow the guest to be as active as they like, or treat the entire experience like one long spa vaca- tion. Best of all, it’s still all about luxury.
But not all wellness resorts are created equal. Thanks to myriad servic- es, attentive staff, and unforgettable locations, many properties stand out in the competitive wellness-resort landscape, where guests are known to return time and time again. We checked into some of the best wellness resorts in the world, feeling completely rejuvenated from incredible pro- grams that gave us a reboot in well-being, and we have every intention to return when we need a fix for an all-encompassing, wellness vacation.
Hua Hin, Thailand
The first thing you’re told when you arrive at Chiva Som International Health Resort in Hua Hin, Thailand is that there are no cell phones allowed outside your room. In fact, you’re presented with a harrowing truth: people check their cell phones 200 times a day. Yet, that’s not the only reason why you need to surrender your pocket ‘puter: Chiva Som is regarded as one of the top wellness resorts in the world and many familiar faces (from celebri- ties to models) check in. Ensuring your cell phone can’t be used to take photos to honor their privacy. It works as a double enforcement: privacy is established and digital detox ensues (laptops are also barred from public places). And therein lies the beauty of Chiva Som: the focus on wellness is at the forefront, and at the end of the visit, you foster an appreciation for one’s personal space, and you’re less prone to cell phone abuse.
For 20 years, Chiva Som has been the go-to place for detoxifying, fitness, weight loss, and stress relief. It feels like a small village, with lily ponds and Thai-style pavilions, but with the amenities of a resort: a gorgeous outdoor and indoor pool, two restaurants, concierge desk, and terrific boutique shop. Guests check in for three, five, or seven day retreats, choosing a specific area to focus on, including optimal performance in fitness, spa pampering, weight management, and more. The all-inclusive retreats also include three spa cui- sine meals per day, comprehensive health and wellness consultation, daily spa treatment (from Thai massage to foot massage), access to the water ther- apy suite that includes steam, sauna, Jacuzzi, and access to daily fitness and leisure classes, from yoga to meditation. The experience is all-encompassing, from personalized nutrition counseling to in-depth body-weight and skin analysis for total awareness of your temple.
What makes Chiva Som extra special is that it’s right on the sprawling beach, so guests can venture along the scenic coast to explore the natural beauty of Hua Hin. Three-night, all-inclusive stays in an ocean room (double): $1,927. 73/4 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Thailand. Tel: 66-32-511- 154. www.chivasom.com
Rancho La Puerta
Founded in 1940, Rancho La Puerta in Mexico, just a 15-minute drive from the San Diego border, was one of the first wellness resorts in the world, having lured vacationers to the beautiful landscapes of Baja, California for decades. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the resort transformed into a luxurious sanctuary, but one thing remained the same: the leftist, bohemian “hip- pie” sensibility is clearly evident with the types of visitors, the beatnik- minded staff, and the holistic and spirituality-focused treatments. Here, it’s more about discovering your self-identity in the purest form of the free spirit, with emphasis on well-being, gratitude, and nature, taking mind, body, and spirit to the next level. In fact, visitors may even ponder deep thoughts like “why do we exist,” and “what’s the meaning of the universe,” considering the vibes and tons of “me” time.
In fact, with the resort’s sprawling a 3,000 acres, it’s easy to immerse in the beautifully landscaped gardens and connect with nature without seeing another soul (83 rooms allows only 140 guests at a time). Transformative experiences are within the number of activities, from wellness classes and lectures to the spa and several outdoor saltwater pools, hiking through unspoiled landscape, attending workshop or fitness classes, or relishing in the home-cooked, health-minded meals with ingredients plucked straight from their on-site garden. Rancho La Puerta even tailors to men with male- specific spa treatments, classes like circuit training, trail running, and park- our fitness and ropes courses.
“The magic of the Ranch is that no matter who you are or why you choose to come, you seem to find what you are looking for,” says openly gay Barry Shingle, director of guest activities and fitness. “There is a sense of acceptance and support no matter what your life circumstances may be. I meet gay and lesbian guests almost weekly at the Ranch. So many gay and lesbian guests have come from places that they don’t feel accepted, so it’s important for them to feel that they are included just as all other guests are…their sexuality is a non-issue.”
Rates in a Ranchera (double) from $3,250 for seven-nights program (shorter stays are available). Carretera Tecate-Tijuana, Tecate, BC Mexico. Tel: 800-443-7565. www.rancholapuerta.com
When Cal-A-Vie noticed more men were booking stays at their five-star getaway, they opened a golf course. Turns out, the men just loved the spa program so much they almost never golfed. If there’s anything close to a “fantasy” wellness resort, it’s Cal-A-Vie. It’s so unreal; you’d think it was made out of dreams. Thankfully, for us, it’s not, and the services prove it’s rather exceptional. Like spa attendants massaging expensive lotion onto your skin while you wait for your spa treatment. Or ordering meals direct- ly to your room that are delivered by a young staff that could easily pass for Calvin Klein models. Or the fact that the 200-acre resort is in a very seclud- ed valley and has only 32 villas, ensuring a five-to-one staff ratio that makes guests feel ultra VIP.
While Cal-A-Vie is rather boutique, it packs a big punch. The resort is Mediterranean inspired within lush grounds and enormous views of the canyons, so guests already feel worlds away. As soon as guests arrive, they have a personal consultation regarding their goals, and then are given a daily itinerary of classes that match their desires. Men love it because the trainers are no joke and the more than 100 classes include some serious workouts, like CrossFit and TRX classes. All stays include three meals per day (most ingredients come from their own greenhouse and gardens), an average of two spa treatments per day, all fitness classes, nutritional lectures and a cooking demonstration, as well as round-trip airport transportation from San Diego International Airport.
Cal-A-Vie has its own Vinotherapie skincare line and, unlike other well- ness resorts, a vineyard producing it’s own label of wines. Three night pack- age in villa starts at $4,395. 29402 Spa Havens Way, Vista, California. Tel: 888-373-8773. www.calavie.com
Since launching in 1979, Canyon Ranch has evolved as a world-renowned leader in destination spa experiences, offering its signature healthy living in luxurious settings and amassing such a cult following that it’s now a house- hold name in the industry. In fact, success is an understatement: Canyon Ranch is the only wellness resort that offers two locations (Tucson, Arizona and Lenox Hill, Massachusetts), a Canyon Ranch day spa at The Venetian and The Palazzo in Las Vegas, and even Canyon Ranch SpaClub on cruise lines including Celebrity Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, and Oceania Cruises.
The most notable property is the Tucson location, having served as the stomping ground for CEOs, celebrities, and millionaires who have trans- formed it into a social hot spot, making friends with other holistically- minded spa enthusiasts. In a beautifully landscaped setting, Canyon Ranch Tucson allows guests to be as interactive as they desire or as private as they want. There are more than 50 activities a day, three pools and an aquatic center, award-winning healthy gourmet cuisine, complimentary fitness classes, a 80,000-square-foot spa, and miles of trails for hiking and biking. What makes Canyon Ranch Tucson unique is it’s spiritual wellness pro- gram, where guests can book services like birth-chart readings with an astrologer or a private lesson on developing intuition that helps you reach a higher state of consciousness and awareness.
A three night, all-inclusive package starts at $2,540 in deluxe accom- modations (double). 8600 East Rockliff Road, Tucson, Arizona. Tel: 520- 749-9000. www.canyonranch.com
For decades, Hotel Hana Maui was considered the most decompressing resort in Maui. Not only was it truly off the radar in the small village of Hana, the destination was a time warp, authentically Hawaiian with little develop- ment and few tourists in sight. Travaasa took over ownership in 2011 and, well, not much has changed. Instead of transforming the hotel into a flashy, modern getaway, they preserved the retro-cool allure of the property, kept the staff that had worked there 20-plus years, added fitness and wellness classes, and unveiled a successful “experiential” wellness retreat.
The seaside location in a magical, unspoiled setting makes Travaasa Hana unforgettable, and the lack of radios, clocks, and TVs enhance the “old school” experience. A typical day is unlike anything else in Hawaii: guests can catch the sunrise from their spacious ranch cottage, lounge by two uncrowded pools, take a yoga class while humpback whales back flip in the distance before their eyes, feast on unique, contemporary “Hana- fusion” cuisine, and stargaze in some of the clearest skies in the world. Unlike most spa resorts, Travaasa Hana offers experiences in addition to fitness, with classes including a variety of options, whether its lei making and ukulele lessons to bamboo pole fishing and horseback riding.
All-inclusive packages include breakfast, lunch, and dinner, snacks and non-alcohol beverages and a $125 resort credit per person per day (good toward the spa and private classes) for $925 per night (double). À la carte (double) is $400. There’s no minimum stay. 5031 Hana Highway. Hana, Hawaii. Tel: 888-820-1043. www.travaasa.com/hana
Golden Door Spa was the ultimate retreat for Hollywood celebrities when it opened in 1958 (everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Natalie Wood decompressed here) and since its complete, $15 million revival in 2012, high-profile celebs (like Oprah and Nicole Kidman) continue to keep the legacy alive with their visits. The 600-acre wellness resort was restored to its original grandeur, now owned by a billionaire phil- anthropist’s wife who ensures 100 percent of the proceeds (yes, all the profit) goes to charity.
Thanks to the Japanese-inspired design (sand gardens, antique stone structures, waterfalls, and koi ponds), visitors get Zen’ed out just by arriv- ing, which helps them focus on clear intentions and their fitness goals.
The experience starts even before you arrive: a staff member calls you a week before for a consultation, determining your aspirations, from phys- icality (weight loss or weight training) to spirituality (mindfulness/medita- tion, to getting over a major life event like divorce or medical issue). There’s only 40 guests maximum per week, so all guests receive plenty of personal attention from the staff that includes life coaches, fitness gurus, and class instructors (workout classes like yoga, spinning, and cardio). Each guest is also assigned a private trainer four times during the week.
Most visitors agree Golden Door is life changing. While it’s predomi- nantly focused on female visitors, Golden Door offers five men’s weeks and four co-ed weeks throughout the year, where guys find a wellness play- ground with high-energy challenges like Extreme Boot Camp (using the two pools, rope swings, and 15 stations set up like a circuit) as well as Men’s Golden Door Triathlon, essentially a half triathlon. One of the most popular activities is Men’s Outdoor Adventure. Guys hike up to a camp spot around the lake at the top of the mountain for a Golden Door boot camp. Because the guest designs his own stay, he can take all courses daily, or simply lounge by the pool under that famous California sun.
All meals are prepared by Greg Frey, Jr. who utilizes the property’s, bio- intensive garden for farm-fresh meals, while on-site chickens produce fresh eggs exclusively for the guests).
A seven-day, all-inclusive stay includes a private room with your own garden deck or patio, daily in-room massage, workout clothes, Golden Door skincare products, round-trip transfer from San Diego or LA airport, four sessions with private trainer, access to all classes and lectures, five skincare sessions in the spa, and all meals for $8,850. Shorter stays are also available. 777 Deer Springs Road, San Marcos, California. Tel: 760-744- 5777. www.goldendoor.com