Published: May 2009
By Christine Lennon Shea
Innovative resorts in unexpected places are redefining pampering. A relaxing massage is only the beginning.
For wellness-seekers, the goal isn't just the outward journey, but the inward one as well: travel as one part recreation, one part re-creation. Higher-minded resorts from Hong Kong to Brazil are answering the call, providing an escape from life's everyday stresses. Whether it's a pocket of peace in a city center or a surprisingly avant-garde ayurvedic emporium with golf-course views, these self-discovery sanctuaries—don't call them spas—are popping up in the most appealing places.
MOUNTAIN REFUGE Vigilius Mountain Resort, Italy Accessible only by cable car, the Vigilius Mountain Resort in Lana, Italy, is about as remote as you can get in Europe. A few hours' drive from Milan or Zurich, the 41-room resort combines Swiss austerity with Italian indulgence. You can take an outdoor herbal bath, then have a glass of wine and a Tyrolean meal of venison goulash and dumplings on the garden terrace. There isn't much else to do other than get a massage, read a book, or walk through the nearby apple orchards.
Architect Matteo Thun attempted to mimic the look of fallen trees, with horizontal wooden beams, glass, and stone, at this escape where, he says, "the distinction between nature and architecture has become extremely faint." Inside, the benefits of mountain air are enhanced by purifying spa services using Thalgo and Shiseido products. The distant clink of a cowbell is often the lone sound heard on the sundeck.
Besides contemplating views of the Dolomites from the environmentally sensitive suites and restaurant (made of wood recovered from a 300-year-old Austrian granary), guests are encouraged to participate in meditative hikes in summer and cross-country skiing in winter. Twice a year, nutrition and fitness experts run intensive Focus Weeks, with private medical consultations, an optional low-fat menu, and a rigorous schedule of classes, massages, and body wraps—plus all the free time you can fit into seven days. Lana, Italy; 39-0473/556-600; www.vigilius.it; doubles from $327.
URBAN OASIS Plateau at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong Occupying the entire 11th floor of the 556-room hotel on Victoria Harbour, Plateau at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong is like a destination spa hidden in a high-tech business hotel. But unlike typical retreats, where guests must participate in rigid programming and dining schedules, Plateau lets spa-goers come and go as they please—and even have a cocktail between appointments.
The serene, 80,000-square-foot environment is dimly lit, with fine-art photography, Asian pottery, and calming waterfalls. There's a heated outdoor pool that is open year-round and a quarter-mile outdoor jogging track. Guests can overnight—Plateau has 14 rooms and suites with oversized tubs and rain showers. They can pop into the Western-influenced spa (facials from Carita and Decléor) for an Eastern-inspired treatment (Swedish massages with Thai and shiatsu elements). The two restaurants have menus that are healthful, though not restrictive (warm apple tarts rather than calorie-free kale salads). People don't usually come to Hong Kong to get away from it all, but once they arrive at Plateau, they already have. 1 Harbour Rd.; 800/233-1234; hongkong.grand.hyatt.com/hyatt/pure/spas/; doubles from $335.
GOLF SANCTUARY La Costa Resort & Spa, California "We like to think of this as a 'vertical vacation,' " says Dr. David Simon, the co-founder and medical director of the Chopra Center for Well-Being at its new headquarters in the La Costa Resort & Spa, near San Diego. "We take our guests to a deep place."
It's hard to tell whether nurturing your third eye will really help your golf game. But the grande dame of resort spas—La Costa was the first of its kind when it was built in 1965—is willing to give it a shot. Deepak Chopra's center has its own on-site facility offering ayurvedic therapies as well as laughing meditation and morning yoga classes. There, Simon leads participants on a path of guided self-discovery.
While the La Costa property caters largely to a golf and corporate-retreat crowd, the life-balancing centeris attracting a clientele that needs more than a 9-iron to unwind. "It doesn't take that long to let go," Simon says. "I've seen it happen in just one day." 2100 Costa del Mar Rd., Carlsbad, Calif.; 800/854-5000; www.lacosta.com; doubles from $350.
ISLAND HIDEOUT Pousada Maravilha, Brazil Coming to Pousada Maravilha, in the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, takes work: to protect the ecology and the marine park waters, the government allows only 420 tourists at a time on this tiny island chain an hour off the coast of Brazil. Visitors from the United States need to take at least two flights to get there. When they arrive, they can stay in one of only eight bungalows and suites, crafted of local brazilwood. "There's a little effort required," says Felipe Alencar, the remote resort's manager. "But once you get to the island, it's worth it."
Massages aren't mandatory in a place as isolated as Maravilha, where intense privacy and stellar company (Naomi Campbell was a recent guest) are expected. In case those details aren't enough to relax patrons, though, a therapist is on call 24-7. Need more convincing?The staff-to-guest ratio is 2-to-1, it never rains, and the beaches are perfect.Dune buggies are available for the 200-yard trip to a shoreline bordered by a lush forest, or for jaunts to nearby coves with outstanding surf breaks—but that's as much contact as habitués of this tropical respite have with civilized society. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil; 55-81/3619-0028; www.pousadamaravilha.com.br; doubles from $450.
CHRISTINE LENNON SHEA lives in Los Angeles and contributes frequently to Elle and InStyle.