Body and Spirit are Revived at Resort and Destination Spas
by Karen Misuraca

You exercise, you meditate, you lay off the sweets and fats and carbs. Now, more often than ever, you retreat to a spa to nourish your mind and body. Regular treatments at day spas, and getaways to resort and destination spas, are becoming as popular as joining a health club or a gym.

Providing antidotes to everyday stress at work and home, spas have tripled in number over the last five years, catering to the leisure traveler and the harried city dweller. In San Francisco, a plethora of luxurious new day spas have opened.

No longer just a once or twice a year "treat," the frequent spa experience in this millennium is as important for good health and peace of mind as taking vitamins and getting regular exercise. Providing antidotes to the physical demands and the stresses of our work and home environments, spas offer multi-layered wellness therapies that nourish the body, refresh the mind and lift the spirit.

Tripled in number over the last five years, elaborate resort and destination spas in the West are a primary focus of leisure travelers planning their vacations. And, throughout San Francisco, a plethora of luxurious new day spas have opened recently, catering to the harried city dweller.

Beyond the traditional Swedish massage of previous decades, today's signature spa treatments are complex, magic recipes of human touch, aroma, sound and even colored light. At a five-star resort or your neighborhood day spa, from misty rainforest-theme hydrotherapies to heart-pounding Shiatsu, from calming Ayurveda to a bracing salt glow, it's not your grandpa's back rub.

Weekenders seeking respite and rejuvenation run away to the rocky coastline of Big Sur, to Ventana Inn and Spa, a rustic hideaway for more than thirty years on a hillside between the sea and the brooding shoulders of the Santa Lucia Mountains. In the Allegria Spa, the nourishing elements of forest and sea come together with an Asian twist. By the time you indulge in a stimulating Organic Sea Enzyme Wrap and the Ocean Salt Exfoliation, your body will have been balanced with green tea and ginger root, scrubbed with sea salt, cleansed, massaged and re-mineralized ($270), whereupon you may retire to the open-air Japanese hot baths or to one of two ocean-view pools--one is clothing optional. Or, sneak back to your suite for a soak in a 110-gallon soaking tub and a nap by your wood-burning fireplace. (Highway 1, Big Sur 93920, 800-678-6500, www.ventanainn.com)

Another coastside sanctuary awaits just a half-hour from San Francisco at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay. The sounds of the waves crashing below sixty-foot-tall cliffs and the trickle of fountains in the Roman mineral bath prepare the mind for a blissful interlude. A tribute to the town--the "Pumpkin Capital of the World"--the signature Pumpkin Experience offered by the Ritz-Carlton Spa is a sumptuous experience. The Pumpkin Body Peel banishes dead cells and nourishes skin with vitamins and enzymes, before a Vichy shower and a swathing with shea butter. This is followed by a facial with face, neck, shoulder and foot massage, and pumpkin manicure and pedicure ($550). After the half-day peak pumpkin extravaganza, stagger back to one of the new "Patio Fireplace" rooms and settle into an Adirondack chair by the outdoor fireplace, and just gaze at the swaying ocean (1 Miramontes Point Road, Half Moon Bay 94019, 650-712-7040, www.ritzcarlton.com/resorts/half_moon_bay).

Far from the soothing sounds of the Pacific, the Canyon Ranch SpaClub is a 69,000-square-foot citadel of body enhancement at The Venetian in Las Vegas. The largest spa on the strip, it bustles with high rollers, conference attendees, wedding parties, beautiful bodies, and mere mortals looking for a rest from the sensory overload of Sin City. Take a room on the fourth floor so you can sneak to and from the spa in your robe. Think of it as your royal robe, in preparation for the Rasul Ceremony, a Middle East-inspired mud, steam and hydrotherapy treatment where you perch on a heated seat in an elaborate tiled chamber under a fiber optic starlit sky--only in Vegas; then, oils are applied to your noodle-limp body before you recline in an "enveloping" bed ($165-$175). The lengthy spa menu offers every traditional and exotic therapy imaginable, along with nutrition and physical therapy consulting (3355 Las Vegas Boulevard S, Las Vegas, NV 89109, 877-220-2688, 702-414-3600, www.venetian.com).

With nary a neon light or a trace of gold lamé, the spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn in Sonoma County's Valley of the Moon manages to make the lists of "Top Destination Spas" worldwide. The posh pink palace--1920s luxe on the outside, rich European elegance within--sits above underground, 135-degree mineral water springs that flow into the swimming pools and the spa tubs. Allow an hour or so in advance of spa treatments to enjoy the Bathing Ritual: an exfoliating self-scrub, a warm mineral water soak, a dip in the hot Jacuzzi pool and visits to the cool mega-shower, and the eucalyptus steam room and sauna. A hundred minutes of body and beauty enhancement, the Harvest Kur comprises a whole-body buffing with wine-related products, hydration in a fragrant, grapeseed oil-infused bubble bath and, finally, a sensual mud body wrap ($209). Still feeling frazzled? Check in for Chakra balancing or a stress management consultation. (100 Boyes Boulevard, Sonoma 95476, www.fairmont.com/sonoma).

Just one valley to the east, one of the largest and most elegant spas in Northern California, the Spa at Silverado at the Silverado Resort and Spa was designed with the classic elements of a Roman spa, with several courtyards, gardens, fountains and other water features. Of the array of massages, skin treatments and salon services, the Great Escapes may be the most unique. The Tui-Na Massage, based on ancient Chinese methods of releasing Qi, combines vigorous muscle manipulation with acupressure and stretching of the limbs and joints. This is followed by a warm ginger, cinnamon and tangerine wrap laced with ginseng for energy, and a jasmine oil face massage ($200). In an expansive, leafy kingdom devoted solely to healthy pursuits and solitude, separate from the main resort, garden terraces surround the spa lap pool, the spa café and the solarium. (1600 Atlas Peak Road, Napa 94558, 888-918-4772, www.silveradoresort.com).

In another of California's wine regions, the Carmel Valley, Bernardus Lodge resembles an estate in the south of France, with shady arbors and gardens, thick walls and stone terraces. In the Spa at Bernardus, guests in the warming room wrap up in blankets near the fireplace with cups of tea, awaiting Seasonal Sensations, which are spa packages attuned to the time of year. Sure to chase the winter blahs, the Winter Wellness package involves eucalyptus steam, a reviving eucalyptus, juniper and echinacea salt glow and a well-being aromatherapy massage ($235). High achievers go for the Ultimate Unwind, a muscle-soothing salt scrub with steam therapy and a sports oil massage ($235). Aprés spa, settle into a gold velvet banquette by the massive stone fireplace in the lobby listen to live jazz while sipping some smoky-cherry Bernardus Cabernet (415 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley 93924, 831-3131, (888) 648-9463, www.bernardus.com).

Awash in dormers and eaves, a cross between a Mediterranean villa and a grand Victorian mansion, the Claremont Resort and Spa reigns in the Berkeley hills as it has since 1915. The traditional architecture belies the presence of the 20,000-square-foot, very 21st century Spa Claremont, long regarded as one of the country's top destinations for beautification and body-mind enhancement. Floor-to-ceiling water walls mask the clamor of the world outside while guests surrender to the warm-up hydrotherapy circuit before embarking on two-hour "“journeys" such as the Brazilian Rainforest Journey or the Mayan Temple Journey, which includes a sage and juniper bath and a blue corn buffing, avocado and lime skin hydration and a cactus glaze, topped off by a warm avocado stone massage ($325). Follow this with silent session in a floatation tank or in the bayiew whirlpool, and you may feel inclined to check in for the weekend (41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley, CA 94705, 510-549-8566, www.claremontresort.com).

Nearby another Pacific Coast metropolis, a short ferry ride from Seattle, Rosario Resort and Spa is anchored by a 1906 mansion on the waterfront of evergreen-forested Orcas Island. Named after a mythical Tewa Native American water serpent, representing the restorative powers of water, the Avanyu Spa here specializes in hydrotherapies and treatments using products from the sea. The three-hour Island Refresher envelopes the guest in a warm, purifying seaweed and mineral mud poultice, followed by a massage; a rejuvenating facial with massage, masque and moisturizer using aromatic botanicals; and the "Relief for Tattered Tootsies" buff and slough for weary toes and soles ($295). Tie up your yacht overnight at the Rosario marina, or take a guest room to loll by a roaring fire, soak in the Jacuzzi and drink in the view of Puget Sound, where orcas and dolphins provide the entertainment (1400 Rosario Road, Eastsound, WA 98245, 866-801-ROCK, 360-376-2222, www.rosario.rockresorts.com).

On the waterfront along the Willamette River in downtown Portland, RiverPlace is a dynamic complex of shops, restaurants, hotels, a marina and parks, making it a perfect headquarters for visitors. The state-of-the-art fitness facilities of the private club, the RiverPlace Athletic Club, and the in-house Pointe Spa, are open to guests at major downtown hotels and to members of IHRSA clubs, for a $15 day use fee. The invigorating, body-healing Turning Pointe package includes a sports massage for lengthening and loosening muscles, and for increasing circulation to break down lactic acid build-up after vigorous exercise; plus a "Heart and Soul" wrap of toxin-releasing herbs and a shea butter smoothing; followed by the Spa Pedicure with sea scrub, warm paraffin dip and foot and leg massage ($195). (0150 SW Montgomery, Portland, OR 97201, 503-221-1212, www.thepointespa.com).

Skiers, mountain bikers and vacationers are greeted by the heady scent of flowers from Hawaii at Trilogy Spa, opened this summer in the Village at Squaw Valley USA, a new development of condos, shops and restaurants at the base of KT-22. In a warm, tropical environment, slide up to the Lava Lounge Barefoot Bar for a mini-hand or foot treatment while sipping a glass of wine, or submit to the Alpine Plunge for a drybrush polish, a muscle-relieving salt soak, a scalp massage and full-Monty moisturizer ($140). Get drizzled, wrapped in ti leaves and massaged with Hawaiian kukui nut oil, coconut milk and honey ($210). (1850 Village South Road, Olympic Valley, (530) 584-6125, www.trilogyspa.com).

©Karen Misuraca; all rights reserved.