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Retreat to affordable luxury at the spa

SmarterTravel

Jump out of the frenetic world we call everyday life, and walk softly into a universe of eternal calm. In this alternate reality, cashmere-soft bathrobes are so plush they envelop you, while sensuous aromas, refreshing air, and ethereal music re-ignite your senses. You’re at the spa, the ultimate experience in personal luxury.

There are many types of spas; some you can visit for just a day, while others encourage a week’s stay. Those seeking to maximize solace will likely find the most offerings at a destination spa, where the emphasis on health and well being are evident not only in the treatments but also the accommodations, cuisine, and activities.

But does all this come at a price? Stay at famous destination spas like Canyon Ranch, Cal-a-Vie, or Golden Door, and you’ll be spending from $5,000 to $7,000 and up per person for a week. True, the services are top-of-the-line and the prices cover everything—from accommodations and meals to treatments and fitness classes—but bring your significant other along, and you could have put a good down payment on a nice new car instead.

Luckily, several spas located in the U.S., and just across its borders, offer similar services for a much smaller price tag. Some guests attest that they would prefer these more affordable properties over the big names, even if they had all the money in the world.

Here’s a spotlight on four destination spas in North America that epitomize affordable luxury. (Listed prices do not include taxes or additional fees.)

NEXT >> Spa Eastman (Eastman, Quebec)

Spa Eastman (Eastman, Quebec)

Spa Eastman, tucked into the woods behind Mt. Orford in Quebec’s countryside, is an ideal retreat for those seeking serenity, rejuvenation, and a healthier lifestyle.

I had the pleasure of visiting this past January. Although cold and snowy outside, the resort exuded warmth inside from the moment I walked through the door. I was greeted in a serene foyer accented with cushy couches and a glowing fireplace, where I was immediately handed my spa robe and slippers. In a whisper, the receptionist said to me, “After you’ve settled in, put these on and we can help you get you ready for your first treatment.”

The resort has 44 rooms spread out in multiple pavilions, each focused on tranquility. Mine was located in the main spa building and had simple decor with muted tones and soft white linens. There were two extra rooms within my space, one for a private whirlpool bath and the other, loaded with luscious skin-care products, for the toilet and sink. Some of the rooms also come with fireplaces.

Resort facilities include fitness studios, indoor and outdoor pools, and a Hammam (steam room), where guests heat up for awhile then cool off in the snow or pool outside. Guests can also participate in activities like tai chi, guided nature walks, workshops and lectures, and cross-country skiing (in the winter).

The spa menu treats guests to different styles of massage therapy, body treatments such as wraps and pressotherapy, and a vast array of beauty services. In the new Hair Spa, I received a complete makeover. It started with a thorough hair and scalp analysis, which led to a head massage with essential oils, and ended with an overnight conditioning treatment and complete restyling in the morning.

As one would expect in a French-influenced area, the dining experience is nothing short of a fine gastronomic adventure. Many diners arrive at the refined dining room clad in their bathrobes. Because of my earlier hair treatment, I had no choice but to order my braised duck entree and glass of 2004 Chateau La Lieue (a red from Provence) in full-on terry cloth turban. However, as it was my first day, I opted to dress more conservatively by donning a pair of yoga pants and a comfortable cotton tee.

Dishes incorporate the most wholesome and natural products, which are seasonally grown on the premise or at local farms. I was most impressed with the chef’s ability to make flavorful concoctions without the overuse of sugar, butter, or even wheat flour. I sampled a hardy bread made with spelt flour and a just-sweet-enough lemon poppy seed dessert that came topped with a simple orange icing. Fully acknowledging the anti-oxidant benefit and therapeutic effects of wine—which I certainly endorse—the spa offers a sizable list with many organic selections.

Value package

A five-night Relaxation package costs $1,610 CAD/$1,439 USD ($322 CAD/$287 USD per night) per person, based on double occupancy. You’ll get:

  • Accomodations
  • Three meals per day
  • Nine spa treatments: massage, underwater jet massage, stone massage, pressotherapy, chair massage, body polish and wrap, reflexology, Aromaplasty facial (with products made from multi-vitamin plant powder), and pedicure
  • Three guided walks per day
  • Full use of resort facilities (pools, Hammam, fitness equipment, etc.)
  • Fitness classes
  • Workshops and evening activities

Perhaps Spa Eastman’s best value is its recurring Spoil a Friend package, where you reserve a minimum five-night stay (like above), and can bring a friend for free (excluding treatments) when staying in the same room.

How to get there

Montreal is the closest major airport (about a one-and-a-half-hour drive), with Burlington, Vermont, a close second (about a two-hour drive). The best way to get to the spa is to rent a car at the airport and then drive.

NEXT >> Red Mountain Spa (Ivins, UT)

Red Mountain Spa (Ivins, UT)

With southern Utah’s red rock cliffs as a backdrop, Red Mountain Spa focuses on wellness indoors and adventurous activities outdoors, while offering all the services of a high-end spa resort. Barbara Campbell of Stamford, Connecticut, who visited Red Mountain in August, says, “It was better than anything I could have hoped for, with far more activities than I thought and an extremely knowledgeable staff. I got a lot of personal attention that I never thought I’d get at such a reasonable cost.”

The resort has 82 deluxe rooms and 12 villa suites, which Campbell describes as “very high-end and well appointed.” Resort facilities include indoor and outdoor pools, two whirlpools, a tennis court, fitness center, and full-menu spa. Special programs feature guided hikes, activities like rock climbing, health and lifestyle workshops, and cooking demonstrations.

The spa’s Southwest-inspired cuisine focuses on organic items, and dishes are specially designed to optimize nutrition without sacrificing taste. Guests can choose from four categories: vegetarian, sports nutrition, anti-inflammatory, and what the resort refers to as “palate expanding.” Campbell claims “the food could not have been better.” Red Mountain also offers courses on nutrition, which help guests understand the benefits of nourishing their bodies for the long term.

The Sagestone Spa at Red Mountain, renovated in January 2006, has multiple treatment rooms; two outdoor, temperature-controlled cabanas; and a relaxation room with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out at the mountain vistas. Specialties include many variations of massage, body treatments that incorporate massage with herbal extracts, and beauty treatments like facials and hair services.

Value package

A five-day/four-night stay with the Ultimate Spa Pampering Package (available through the end of the year) costs $1,366 ($342 per night) per person, based on double occupancy. You’ll get:

  • Deluxe accommodations
  • Three gourmet meals per day
  • Six spa treatments: facial, body treatment, Swedish massage, Aromasoul (a restorative experience that combines massage with aromatherapy), manicure, and pedicure
  • Daily guided hikes
  • Fitness classes
  • Full use of resort facilities (pools, whirlpool, gym equipment, etc.)
  • Heath classes and events

How to get there

Las Vegas is the closest major airport (about a two-hour drive), and St. George shuttle offers transportation to and from the resort for $80 round-trip.

NEXT >> Rancho La Puerta (Baja California, Mexico)

Rancho La Puerta (Baja California, Mexico)

Rancho La Puerta’s location across the border in Mexico makes it a great value compared to similarly priced spa resorts stateside. Valerie Imhof of Laguna Beach, California, has visited the spa 11 times and notes some of the special details you’d expect from a more expensive property: “Products like little turn-down facial stuff, tea and coffee, and fresh fruit are waiting when you arrive. You feel like you are being very well taken care of.” She also believes the spa goes above and beyond as it “teaches you how to rethink and live your life, revaluating where you are.” She adds, “I’m always amazed the price is so reasonable for what they offer here.”

There are three basic kinds of accommodations—rancheras, haciendas, and studios—and according to nine-time visitor Rosemary Straley of Santa Rosa, California, “on a scale of zero to five, all are a five.” Each is individually appointed with folk art elements like decorative tiles and paintings. “Rooms are spacious and the interior design is the most luxurious,” says Straley. “Everything is just right within this Mexican setting.”

The grounds feature tennis courts and other athletic facilities; 10 gyms; several pools, whirlpools, and saunas; and a spa with high-end Golden Door skin-care products. Spa services include hot stone and other forms of massage, body wraps, reflexology, and facials. All guests receive a free beauty consultation during their stay.

Other activities center around Pilates, hiking programs, lectures on health and lifestyle topics, and arts and crafts. Straley says, “It’s a place where you can be totally programmed with all sorts of activities, with the most excellent fitness instructors and the best products. It’s well-rounded, and the outdoors makes it conducive to a lot of walking around.”

Rancho La Puerta prides itself on its food offerings and claims that it will be the first spa to have an onsite cooking school (coming in May 2007). With a fervent belief in sustaining local agriculture, the school is set on an organic farm, where students will be able to pick out their own fruits and vegetables for class and then eat what they prepare right at the school. Daily meals at the spa feature international cuisine with local Mexican flavors. Straley describes the food as “very creative and imaginative, where the chefs do delicious things with fewer calories.” Her favorite culinary experience is the garden breakfast hike, where guests pluck organic produce right from the ground. The spa also offers classes taught by an onsite nutritionist.

Value package

A seven-night stay starts at $2,535 ($362 per night) per person, based on double occupancy. You’ll get:

  • Accommodations in a ranchera (standard room)
  • Three meals, plus snacks and beverages
  • Programs and classes (fitness, arts and crafts, lectures, etc.)
  • Full use of the resort facilities
  • Beauty consultation

Spa treatments are offered a la carte but none cost more than $100. A 90-minute massage, for instance, is priced at $90.

How to get there

San Diego is the closest airport (about an hour drive), and Racho La Puerta provides complimentary transportation to and from the airport for weeklong guests.

NEXT >> Sundara Inn & Spa (Wisconsin Dells, WI)

Sundara Inn & Spa (Wisconsin Dells, WI)

Although a little more expensive than the other spas mentioned, Sundara Inn & Spa in southern Wisconsin is a worthy contender simply for all the luxurious extras it brings to the spa experience. Franny Van Nevel of Madison, Wisconsin, has visited the spa six times since it opened in 2003 and describes her stays as “the closest I have come to total serenity.”

“I’ve never been in a better quality environment, even in a hotel,” says Van Nevel. “The rooms and design have a nod toward Feng Shui, with great shampoos, lotions, and towels, and robes that make you feel like you’re being embraced. The king-sized beds have down mattresses and these incredibly high-count linens. Everything is just very peaceful without being over the top.”

The resort offers golf, an infinity-edge pool, a fitness studio, and hiking. Spa services include the Purifying Bath Ritual (a five-step guided spa treatment), massage, body treatments like exfoliating sandstone polish and detoxifying mud wrap, and salon services. Van Nevel loves their facials, which she describes as “almost a full-body massage,” where you get treated on more than your face and “get to pick your own aroma therapy scents.” She also enjoys the shea butter body massage, which she claims is “probably as close to bliss as you can come.”

The spa cuisine incorporates fresh organic produce from local farms in the Midwest. Signature dishes include breakfasts of homemade granola and organic yogurt, healthy salads and fresh vegetable dishes for lunch, and dinners featuring delicate meat entrees and whole-food sides like quinoa. The spa also serves wine and other alcoholic beverages with “moderation and enjoyment in mind.” Guests can either dine poolside, in a more formal dining room, or privately in their own suites with loaned bistro tables and chairs.

Value package

A three-night Sundara Revival package starts at $1,554 ($518 per night) per person, based on double occupancy. You’ll get:

  • Three nights accommodations in a Niva suite
  • Eight meals (three breakfasts, two lunches, and three dinners)
  • Six spa treatments: aromatherapy massage, Champissage (a head, shoulder, and neck massage based on Eastern practices), Vedic facial, manicure, pedicure, and Sundara Body Boost (a treatment made from local ingredients)
  • Full use of resort facilities (Purifying Bath Ritual, fitness studio, heated outdoor pool, etc.)
  • One gift from the Sundara Spa Signature Collection

How to get there

Madison is the closest major airport (about a one-hour drive), while Milwaukee is a second option (about a two-hour drive). The best way to get to the spa is to rent a car at the airport and then drive.

Sundara’s town car will take those opting to eat out to area restaurants at no extra charge.

How to find more spas

Spa Finder has a search feature that sorts by “affordable” and “destination spa.” Spas of America is another good resource, as well as the Destination Spa Group, a unifying force in the spa industry that represents three of the spas mentioned in this article.

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