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The Best Spas in America

As the late, great Jimmy Durante used to say, everybody wants to get into the act: suddenly, every hotel worth its five diamonds is opening a spa. In-room massage plus a vest-pocket gym with two treadmills just doesn't cut it anymore. By the end of the year, multimillion-dollar facilities will have been added to the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, the Breakers in Palm Beach, La Quinta Resort, Marriott's Rancho Las Palmas in the Palm Springs area, and Las Casitas Village in Puerto Rico. Other resorts—Hyatt Regency Beaver Creek, the Boulders in Arizona, Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea—are expanding existing spas. More significant still, both the Golden Door and Canyon Ranch, two of the best-known spa brands, will open new outposts. The next Ranch will be part of the new Venetian complex in Las Vegas; the Door's CitySpa branches, with abbreviated or simultaneous services geared to the busy traveler, will debut in Toronto, Miami, Chicago, and Philadelphia as part of the new Grand Bay hotel group.

Why all the action on the spa front?Peace of mind has become a precious commodity, and those who market it successfully turn a pretty profit—and help people in the process, let's not forget. Many stressed-out Americans urgently need to escape their work schedules and address such life issues as aging, dietary habits, and sexuality. What better place to do this than a haven where that willful child called the Inner Me is given center stage?

Destination spas have shed their reputation for attracting idle women who lounge around the pool trading stories about serial husbands. Now, guests—both men and women—are more likely to be trading stock tips during a kickboxing class. These stand-alone spas are best suited for those who desire a sense of community, have specific goals, and need encouragement to meet them. Everyone eats, exercises, and explores new spiritual pathways together. Destination spas are also champions of emerging techniques for self-improvement, which can be as trendy as color therapy, as gritty as rock climbing, or as spiritually minded as labyrinth walking—a meditation method for impatient Westerners who don't get the sitting still thing. Resort spas, on the other hand, represent choice. Guests might schedule an hour or two per day in the spa, sampling new treatments and classes, then pursue more traditional forms of leisure: golf, tennis, skiing, beachcombing. And if they don't feel like sticking to a strict diet, nobody gives them grief when room service delivers a cheeseburger and a side of fries.

The following spas, whether they embrace tough love or tender mercy, are the best America has to offer right now. One of them will have the right sensibility and services for your next retreat.

star treatment

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa Country Club Rd., Ojai, Calif.; 800/422-6524 or 805/646-5511, fax 805/646-7969; doubles from $210, day-spa packages $130-$300. This classic California resort opened its Spanish-style spa last December—too late to garner enough votes to register on our World's Best survey. But Hollywood hotshots like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett have been coming here to hide out in the penthouse. There they can schedule treatments in a cloistered room with its own sauna, or ride a private elevator down to the stucco-and-Moroccan-tile Mind/Body Center for a dip in the lap pool and a session in the weight room. The spa can arrange horseback riding, tennis, golf, and art classes as well. Best workout: The gym is a bit small and crammed with equipment, but the Tectrix virtual-reality bikes are fabulous. Latest craze: The Kuyam ($50), an updated Chumash Indian sweat lodge where you inhale lemongrass-infused steam after being coated with cleansing mud and herbs. Top treatment: Petals ($80), a rubdown with powdered roses followed by a rose-gel shower and rose-oil massage.

Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa Hwy. 12 at Boyes Blvd., Sonoma, Calif.; 800/862-4945 or 707/938-9000, fax 707/996-5358; doubles from $185, spa packages $250-$365 per person, double. Smack in the middle of the Sonoma Valley, this California Mission-style spa is favored by wine-country habitués such as Robin Williams. Staff members—called providers rather than therapists—offer such thoughtful touches as heated robes and herb-filled neck pillows in the waiting lounge. The great outdoors: A 11/2-hour wine-country walk and tasting ($18) with Pat, who knows every plant and animal in Bartholomew Park, a winery that showcases Sonoma County viticulture. Water therapy: Natural hot artesian mineral whirlpools. What's new: The two-hour Rejuvenator ($179)—an herbal facial, hot-oil hair mask, and scalp massage.

Spa Internazionale at Fisher Island Fisher Island Club, 1 Fisher Island Dr., Fisher Island, Fla.; 800/537-3708 or 305/535-6020, fax 305/535-6032; doubles from $330, three-night spa package from $1,575 per person, including meals. The South Beach crowd clamors for this spa, on a private island that's a seven-minute ferry ride across Biscayne Bay. Once a Vanderbilt retreat, Fisher Island houses its star clientele in cottages and villas; on a morning jog you're likely to bump into Pete Sampras, or Andre Agassi and Brooke Shields. Even D.C.'s leading ladies—Hillary Clinton, Tipper Gore, and Madeleine Albright—come south and reserve the spa day suite, which has a fireplace, treatment room, ballet bar, steam room, and sauna. What's new: The Cryotonic Leg Recovery ($65), which improves circulation with products from the Phytomer line. Jet-lag detox: A soak in the Thermal Mineral Kur ($125), followed by an Island Salt Glow ($55).

Two Bunch Palms 67-425 Two Bunch Palms Trail, Desert Hot Springs, Calif.; 800/472-4334 or 760/329-8791; doubles $175. Remember the scene in The Player where Tim Robbins lounges in a mud bath at Two Bunch?It's true, L.A. movers and shakers really do use this Coachella Valley spa as a desert hideout. See if you can spot the celebrity under a coating of green clay—Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Meryl Streep, and Madonna have all soaked in the geothermal spring pools here. Two Bunch keeps coming up with innovative treatments to please the jaded L.A. crowd, such as craniosacral bodywork ($85) and Ayurvedic massage ($220). Latest craze: Color therapy ($125), guided meditation and massage meant to release stress and balance your chakras (energy lines)—you're massaged in a stained-glass-windowed gazebo while different-colored lights beam down on corresponding body parts. Top treatment: Aqua Soma ($90), which incorporates sensual Watsu (water shiatsu) and underwater music in a body-temperature pool. You return to solid ground feeling like close kin of dolphins. Take home: Two Bunch Palms Mineral Water Green Clay ($28), a fantastic exfoliation mask.

escape hatches

Cal-a-Vie Spa 2249 Somerset Rd., Vista, Calif.; 760/945-2055, fax 760/630-0074; seven-night packages $4,150-$4,550 per person. Cal-a-Vie hit the spotlight several years ago when Oprah Winfrey stole the spa's chef Rosie Daley, who subsequently wrote a best-seller about her low-fat cooking for the talk-show host. While Cal-a-Vie isn't exactly a clone of the Golden Door (see -minute scalp massage, then full-body massage. Spa food: The terrific rice-paper-wrapped baked salmon—and, to top off the week, a behind-the-scenes kitchen demo.

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai 100 Kaupulehu Dr., Kaupulehu-Kona, Big Island, Hawaii; 888/340-5662 or 808/325-8000, fax 808/325-8100; doubles from $450, day-spa packages $265-$835.If a workout in the open-air gym, which has a surreal view of the 13,789-foot volcano Mauna Kea, isn't mind-altering enough, the Four Seasons Hualalai's gentle therapists will do their best to induce a near-trance state. Hawaiian-style treatments are the main attraction here. The perfect calm: A lomilomi massage ($90-$135) in one of the spa's thatched-roof hales (Hawaiian for house). Jet-lag detox: The herbal wrap ($55) by Darrell, who is studying laau lapaau (ancient Hawaiian medicine). Take home: A vial of limited-edition Hana Nai'a mango perfume ($160).

Golden Door 777 Deer Springs Rd., Escondido, Calif.; 800/424-0777 or 760/744-5777, fax 760/471-2393; $5,000 for seven nights. This nurturing southern California retreat accommodates only 39 guests. The schedule is tailored to their individual fitness and health needs, including classes, beauty treatments, and evening lectures. The decoration favors a Japanese theme: shoji screens, a koi pond, sand gardens, and torii gates; the serene atmosphere also reflects the staff's attitude—it's almost scary how much they care about you. Top treatment: The new Ambrosia Masque, with pineapple scrub. Zen yen: Learn the Labyrinth in the Door's stand-up meditation class. Take home: The 200-recipe Golden Cookbook ($30), by spa chef Michel Stroot.

 

Sea Island Spa at the Cloister Sea Island, Ga.; 800/732-4752 or 912/638-3611, fax 912/638-5159; doubles $318, spa packages $510-$850, including meals. The spa at this venerable Southern resort ranked number one in the 1998 Travel & Leisure World's Best survey on American spas. It's easy to understand why—personal attention is a specialty here. In recent years, the Cloister has added services, such as the spa, to attract visitors from beyond Dixie. Guests can explore the Georgia coast on bird-watching and kayaking expeditions, and ride horses along the beach. Best workout: The OUT (outdoor ultimate training) class ($7), an exercise routine on the beach using natural props. Top treatment: The Soothing Sea Stones massage ($100)—it's the local equivalent of hot-rocks therapy. What's new: Flair of Flavor cooking series created by the spa nutritionist and Cloister chefs. It may counteract such classic Cloister supper offerings as chipped beef on toast.

boot camp

Canyon Ranch Health Resort 8600 E. Rockcliff Rd., Tucson, Ariz.; 800/726-9900 or 520/749-9000, fax 520/749-7755; 4- to 10-night packages $1,750-$3,820. Hang out in the locker room at this Sonoran Desert spa and you'll notice that everyone already has well-defined muscles. You'll also catch their enthusiasm for hikes through saguaro-studded hills, racket sports, and strength training. The ranch covers all bases, including extensive medical checkups and metaphysical services (tarot card readings, sessions with a clairvoyant). Good gimmick: The underwater treadmills in the L-shaped pool. The great outdoors: Trekking the Santa Catalina Mountains. Low-fat eats: Pick up some great cooking tips during chef Shawn's lunchtime kitchen demos. Take home: Canyon Ranch Cooking ($40), full of recipes for the ranch's Southwest delicacies.

Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires 165 Kemble St., Lenox, Mass.; 800/326-7080 or 413/637-4100, fax 413/637-0057; three- to seven-night packages $1,510-$3,630. Same program, different setting—way different. This branch of the noted spa occupies an 1897 Beaux-Arts mansion that bears a strong resemblance to the Petit Trianon—expect marble mantelpieces, leather club chairs, crystal chandeliers. Not too shabby an environment for working up a sweat. Guests take full advantage of the Berkshires for aggressive outdoor sports: canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing (there's also downhill nearby), and a ropes challenge course. What's new: The Euphoria treatment ($175)—you're wrapped in warm blankets with sage oil-soaked towels on your face, then given a rose geranium scalp massage, a botanical body mask, a dip in a grapefruit-oil hydrotub, and a full-body massage.

The Ashram 2025 N. McKain St., Calabasas, Calif.; 818/222-6900; six-night package $2,500. Know the John Mellencamp song "Hurts So Good"?Those lyrics may help you through the super-strict "improvement week" at this funky enclave near Malibu. The facilities aren't much to rave about: a split-level ranch with bedrooms and baths you share. But even regular guests like Barbra Streisand don't seem to mind, mainly because the simple routine—hikes, yoga, meditation—is so strenuous. Most people experience dramatic weight loss on the minimalist veggie diet: an orange for breakfast, salad for lunch, soup for dinner. The great outdoors: Daily mountain hikes start off at five miles and move up to 15 by the end of the week. Lecture series: After-dinner seminars on spirituality, chakras, and handwriting analysis. Take home: An i survived the ashram T-shirt.

spoiled rotten

The Greenbrier 300 W. Main St., White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.; 800/624-6070 or 304/536-1110, fax 304/536-7854; doubles $202, spa packages $1,300-$2,650 per person. Another perennial resort favorite, the Greenbrier spa tradition dates to the early 19th century, when this Allegheny Mountains retreat was famous for its healing sulfur springs. Guests who have dipped their toes in the mineral baths here include Robert E. Lee, Thomas Edison, Judy Garland, and 26 U.S. presidents. The spa focuses on European hydrotherapies: there are private spring-water soaking tubs, as well as Swiss showers, a Scottish spray, and sauna and steam rooms. The great outdoors: Why bother with weight machines and aerobics when there's golf, croquet, tennis, white-water rafting, skeet shooting, and riding?Even a falconry school. Spa food: Greenbrier Light menu options. But it takes strong resolve to resist the Virginia ham and the peach-and-bread pudding. Take home: The Greenbrier's cotton-cashmere robe ($42).

The Greenhouse Arlington, Tex.; 817/640-4000, fax 817/649-0422; seven-night packages $4,375-$5,200. This women-only spa in a Texas mansion will teach you a thing or two about gracious Southern living. A chauffeur picks you up at the airport, a maid in pink uniform delivers breakfast, and a masseuse tucks you in at night. The candlelight evening meal is served by a white-gloved butler—and in this neck of the woods women still dress for dinner, so don't wear your sweats to the table. The Greenhouse may be old-fashioned when it comes to service, but the exercise program is up-to-date: you'll find boxing, yoga, tai chi, water aerobics, Pilates, and creative dance. Best workout: former Broadway dancer Larry Lane's Yogarobics class ($90). Beauty tip: Each of the 37 guests is assigned a beauty team for the daily round of facials, massages, and makeup sessions. Try the new oxygen facial ($120), and an acupuncture session with Brigham Boles ($165). Spa food: Chef Leopoldo Gonzalez's meals—such as stuffed chicken in phyllo with green-lentil compote—bear no resemblance to low-cal standards.

Ihilani Resort & Spa 92-1001 Olani St., Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; 800/626-4446 or 808/679-0079, fax 808/679-3387; doubles $295, spa packages $499-$601 per night. Out at Ko Olina, the din of downtown Honolulu recedes as you enter the Ihilani's cool, white, aquatic-themed spa in a building separate from the resort. Tennis courts and a lap pool are just outside. The attentive staff helps you select suitable treatments, and delivers spa cuisine to the patio for a lunch break. Thalassotherapy is the specialty here—needle showers, a hydrotub with salt water pumped in from the Pacific, seaweed body masks. Best workout: Hip on Hula ($50). Where else can you burn carbs to the tune of "Little Grass Shack"?In good hands: A manicure with Sharnell—she's worked on the mitts of NFL players who've stayed here for the Pro Bowl. (She says the big guys love getting facials.)

Miraval Life in Balance 5000 E. Via Estancia Miraval, Catalina, Ariz.; 800/232-3969 or 520/825-4000, fax 520/825-5163; doubles $375, including meals, spa packages $375-$850 per night. At the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Miraval is set in a fantasy desert landscape of cacti, cool brooks, and wildflower gardens. Adobe guest casitas are clustered in five Mexican-style villages, each with its own courtyard and fountain. Despite a large fitness facility, climbing wall, and equestrian program, Miraval is still spa lite. If you're on a self-denial kick, this is not the place for you; temptations are strewn every step of the way—designated smoking areas, cheese puffs, and a cocktail hour with great microbrews and a major wine list. Guests mellow out around the trilevel pool, where they're kept from broiling in the Arizona heat by hidden mist jets. Reality check: The real Sonoran Desert is just outside the gates, so don't wander too far. Latest craze: Tucson is where hot-stone therapy got its start. Miraval's version is to apply warm basalt rocks to your body's trouble spots. Spa food: The resort's Coyote Moon Restaurant gets healthful cooking right with seasonal fare like roast quail and scallop roulade. Don't miss the flourless chocolate cake. Abstinence is overrated, anyway.

Doral Golf Resort & Spa 8755 N.W. 36th St., Miami, Fla.; 800/331-7768 or 305/593-6030, fax 305/591-9268; spa suites $425, spa packages $585-$2,580. On the grounds of Miami's Doral Golf Resort, the spa is a self-contained universe with its own pools, fitness areas, dining room, and 48 guest suites. Expect classic Floridian style—fountains, garden statuary, grand curving staircases, acres of marble, shady palms. You need never venture to the main hotel, unless you would trade your firstborn to golf the Blue Monster course. The spacious spa lets you choose programs geared toward relaxation or fitness and toning. It's a fun place to experiment: try the Middle Eastern dance class, play in the hydromassage waterfalls, study with the fantastic in-house tai chi master. Top treatment: The Turkish body scrub with Hungarian thermal lake salts. Health tip: The couples nutrition class, Private Cuisine Education for Two, with a spa chef. Take home: The Atrium restaurant's Recipe Card Collection ($30), listing such favorites as curried crab with papaya salad.

Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa 3850 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea, Maui, Hawaii; 800/888-6100 or 808/875-1234, fax 808/874-2442; doubles $380. Grand Wailea's outstanding feature?Acres of H2O in every imaginable form. The 50,000-square-foot Spa Grande favors hydrotherapy, including an international termé circuit: hot and cool plunges, a Japanese goshi-goshi scrub and dip in a furo tub, a Swiss pressure-point shower, a cascading waterfall massage. Specialty baths are filled with limu (seaweed), moor mud, mineral salts, tropical enzymes, and aromatherapy oils. Once your skin is pickled, dry out on the terrace overlooking the ocean until a therapist).

Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort & Spa 1571 Poipu Rd., Koloa, Kauai, Hawaii; 800/554-9288 or 808/747-1234, fax 808/747-1557; doubles $295. On the south coast of Kauai, the Hyatt's 25,000-square-foot Anara Spa puts a Hawaiian spin on New Age treatments. The open-air space has lava-rock showers, lush tropical gardens, and mellow staffers who address you in a perpetual hush. Ancient healing treatments are favored here. The great outdoors: The sunrise power walk along the sea cliffs. Beauty tip: Hawaiian-style treatments, such as the Kauai Gold ($90), a loofah scrub with a coconut-mango concoction, followed by an alae (clay) application, lava-rock shower, and light lomilomi massage.

Marriott's Desert Springs Resort & Spa 74855 Country Club Dr., Palm Desert, Calif.; 800/331-3112 or 760/341-2211, fax 760/341-1872; doubles $239, spa packages $309-$409 per night. Godzilla lives in the Coachella Valley. Southeast of Palm Springs, the Marriott's Desert Springs spa is a bona fide monster. The 30,000-square-foot space houses a 54-station cardio gym, hot and cold plunge pools, jogging paths, a pool, a whirlpool, and a full-service salon operated by Beverly Hills stylist José Eber. Best workout: The Reebok aerobic walking class. Believe it or not, there's a technique. Beauty tip: The Kräuter Bath ($45), an old German herbal remedy. Steep in a tub filled with scented botanicals such as pine or melissa. Spa food: The shrimp-stuffed artichoke from the Spa Bistro is a must.

life enhancement

Peaks Resort & Spa 136 Country Club Dr., Telluride, Colo.; 800/789-2220 or 970/728-6800, fax 970/728-6567; doubles $150. Telluride has become the boomtown it never wanted to be, and the Peaks Resort is certainly attracting its fair share of visitors, all determined to break their necks on the black-diamond ski runs that made this Rocky Mountain hideaway famous. Recently, the hotel introduced its Next Level Spa program, set in a separate block of 16 suites with a private concierge, meditation lounge and deck, and 24-hour access to spa facilities. You can unwind in mineral-water Jacuzzi pools and steam rooms, or venture into the wilderness for snowshoeing, fly-fishing, riding, or rock climbing, depending on the season. Beauty tip: The Deep Forest Exfoliation massage ($95) with pine, corn, clay, and oats. News flash: By December, the spa will incorporate Golden Door treatments and services. Take home: The Peaks alpine strawberry scrub ($18) and Next Level forest-green microfiber robe with terry lining ($149).

The Phoenician 6000 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, Ariz.; 800/888-8234 or 602/941-8200, fax 602/947-4311; doubles $355-$405, spa packages $2,400-$6,235 per couple. The Phoenician's Centre for Well-Being is outgrowing its space, but because of its nurturing staff and up-to-date techniques, this is still a great place to either vegetate or reinvigorate. Best workout: The Biomechanics session with exercise therapist Beth Perry. She'll tell you what's wrong with your body, then how to fix it. (You can also try this as part of the resort's popular golf training program.) Alternative medicine: A chat with a herbologist who will offer dietary advice based on your fitness profile and eating habits. Take home: Christina Drozda's CD, Journey into the Land of Meditation ($24). It may offset the stress of the plane ride home.

south of the border

Rancho La Puerta, owned by the Golden Door's Deborah Szekely, is popular with New Yorkers and so close to the United States (only three miles away), you'll barely know you're in Mexico. All week long, guests anticipate chef Bill Wavrin's farewell basket of chocolate-chip cookies. But it's a long uphill battle before that final treat—though the gorgeous setting, friendly staff, attractive Spanish colonial casitas, and pampering treatments soften the blow. After a rigorous early-morning hike up Mount Kuchumaa, guests can float in a secluded hot tub. Come evening, visiting lecturers speak on topics ranging from stress to sexuality. By the end of the week, chocolate cravings seem trivial. Best workout: A yoga class with fitness director Phyllis Pilgrim, who really knows her stuff and is supremely patient with novices. Take home: The Rancho La Puerta Cookbook ($20), with 175 vegetarian recipes. Tecate, Baja California, Mexico; 800/443-7565 or 760/744-4222, fax 760/744-5007; seven-night packages $1,590-$1,985.

the door swings wide

Before Deborah Szekely agreed to sell the Golden Door to Grand Bay Hotels, she demanded that Grand Bay president Richard Holtzman attend one of the spa's Men's Weeks. Eager to seal the deal, he acquiesced, but wanted to know why. Szekely replied: "I'm not about to turn my life's work over to a seventy-billion-dollar corporation without having the person in charge know what we're about. Also, I think you could use it."

Once Holtzman started sweating with the rest of the boys, he caught Golden Door fever. He was impressed by guests' and staffers' candid, even blunt, expression of distaste for aggressive changes and decided to leave everything as it was.

When Grand Bay hotels open in Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Miami next year, each will have a Golden Door CitySpa, with the same philosophy as the original spa. They will also have special Golden Door guest rooms, with exercise equipment, foot massagers, and workout clothes. At Grand Bay resorts—Las Casitas, the Boulders, Carmel Valley Ranch, the Peaks, and Las Ventanas—Golden Door spin-offs will open as independent facilities.

And back in Escondido?Szekely's legacy will remain unaltered. Okay, Grand Bay is planning to replace guest-room carpets. But that's all, folks.

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