12 Amazing Spa Escapes for Winter 2014

It’s not too late to get away from Chicago. No matter what your budget is, here are a dozen places you’d rather be.

A pool overlooking the Indian Ocean at Velassaru Maldives   Photo: Courtesy of Velassaru Maldives

You want out. Out of the extra pounds that crept on over the holidays. Out of your dry skin and your nonstop stress. And, most of all, out of the bleeping deep freeze. Which is why there are spas—in warm, sunny places such as Texas, Arizona, Hawaii, and Baja California—offering healthy food, hiking, yoga, and pampering galore.

My goal: to identify the best “destination spas”—those where guests typically stay for a full week—in three price categories: less than $2,000 a week, $2,000 to $4,000, and more than $4,000. (Prices are generally per person, double occupancy, and vary by season; in many cases, transportation, airport transfers, meals, spa treatments, taxes, and gratuities are extra.)

To narrow down the huge range of offerings, I focused only on warm-weather spas, tossing out places that failed to receive good marks from trusted sources such as Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure. I then interviewed industry experts and veteran spagoers from the Chicago area about which places they love most, which fall a bit short, and which deliver terrific value. Finally, because even long-established spas can change—for example, upgrading rooms, beefing up an existing hiking program, or hiring an amazing new chef—I quizzed reps from the spas themselves.

The result: the 12 winners that follow. Here comes the sun!

 

Less Than $2,000 a Week
 

El Encanto
A private balcony at El Encanto Photo: Adrian Houston
Best for Oenephiles

El Encanto

Where: Santa Barbara, California (seven-hour two-leg flight)
Price: About $1,575 a week per person, double occupancy (more info at elencanto.com)

Lots of destination spas appeal mainly to women, who drag their husbands along kicking and screaming (if they drag them at all). Not so at this 96-year-old resort—which reopened last spring following a seven-year renovation—in one of California’s loveliest towns.

El Encanto has a historic feel in the best sense of the word. The spa is intimate (only seven treatment rooms), and pampering tends to incorporate ingredients from the area, namely the nearby wine country (try the Pinot and Cabernet Crush Sugar Scrub, made with local grape seeds). Small touches matter here: When you check into one of the inn’s 92 bungalows, you’ll find a pillow monogrammed with your initial.
 

Montelucia Resort & Spa
Where guests dine Photo: Courtesy of Montelucia Resort & Spa
Best for Sun Worshipers

Montelucia Resort & Spa

Where: Scottsdale, Arizona (four-hour nonstop flight to Phoenix)
Price: About $1,050 a week per person, double occupancy (more info at montelucia.com)

The state with the most sunny days per year, Arizona may well be the spa capital of the world. But among dozens of local competitors, Montelucia stands out. Its location at the base of Camelback Mountain is ideal, for one thing. Claim a lounge chair next to the rooftop pool; views of the peak offer a perfect photo op to induce envy in friends still battling winter winds off Lake Michigan.

You’ll indulge in spa treatments in a 31,000-square-foot building that features a Moroccan-inspired steam room. For Montelucia’s many guests from Chicago, spa director Erin Stewart recommends the new Citrus Drench body treatment ($229; 80 minutes), an exfoliation, wrap, and application of cream to hydrate formerly bone-dry skin.
 

Best for Arty Types

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

Where: Ojai, California (four-hour nonstop flight to Los Angeles, plus 90-minute drive)
Price: About $1,957 a week per person, double occupancy, including lunch and one spa treatment per day (more info at ojairesort.com)

This 90-year-old resort in a sleepy artistic community once attracted Hollywood stars but now draws a more eclectic clientele. It stands apart mainly for its quiet charm and for such quirky features as its Artist Cottage & Apothecary. The latter custom-blends spa products and offers art classes (tile painting, anyone?).

If you have limited tolerance for woo-woo spirituality, this may not be the place for you. (Some believe the area to have “energy centers,” hence a class called Full Moon Yoga.) But the spa’s 28 treatment rooms never fail to impress.
 

Best for Devoted Hikers

Red Mountain Resort and Spa

Where: Ivins, Utah (four-hour nonstop flight to Las Vegas, plus two-hour drive)
Price: About $1,490 a week per person for the Essential Retreat package, which includes meals (more info at redmountainresort.com)

Red Mountain isn’t just a good value. It also boasts a stunningly dramatic natural setting. The fire-hued rocks that surround the resort will be the centerpiece of your stay, whether you crave a meditative environment or long to tackle the terrain by foot or by bike.

Despite the many serious hikers who flock here, the vibe is laid-back; if you spend most of your time at the Sagestone Spa, no one will mind. Try the 75-minute Native American–inspired Four Directions treatment ($165), a full-body exfoliation and herbal wrap.
 

Best for Tropics Seekers

Travaasa Hana

Where: Hana, Maui, Hawaii (12-hour two-leg flight to Kahului, plus two-hour drive)
Price: About $1,200 a week per person, double occupancy (more info at travaasa.com/hana)

How does 78 degrees in January sound? That’s the average high temperature at this lush, idyllic retreat tucked into Maui’s far eastern edge. (The drive from Kahului Airport, along the impossibly serpentine Hana Highway, is half the fun.)

At Travaasa Hana you can try everything from traditional throw-net Hawaiian fishing to coconut husking. Or forget all that and book a Hawaiian Lomilomi massage ($130; 60 minutes) or a Pohaku Wela (hot stone) treatment ($140; 60 minutes) to relax city-tense muscles. Don’t look for a TV, clock, or radio in your room: This place is all about unplugging.

 

$2,000 to $4,000 a Week
 

Best for Elegant Minimalists

Amangiri

Where: Canyon Point, Utah (seven-hour two-leg flight to Page, Arizona, plus complimentary 25-minute ride)
Price: About $3,850 a week per person, double occupancy, including meals, fitness classes, and one spa treatment (more info at amanresorts.com/amangiri/home.aspx)

There’s something clarifying and deeply peaceful about a landscape that resembles nothing so much as the surface of the moon. Welcome to the elegant, minimalist, utterly anti-urban Amangiri and its 25,000-square-foot spa.

Here you’ll find a fully immersive experience in relaxation. In the Floatation Pavilion you’ll float in water that matches your body temperature, a highly meditative experience that quiets sensory stimulation. When you crave activity, scale the steep faces of the surrounding towering mesas with the aid of fixed cables and ladder rungs bored into rock.
 

Lake Austin Spa Resort
Yoga at Lake Austin Photo: Courtesy of Lake Austin Spa Resort
Best for Spa Treatment Fans

Lake Austin Spa Resort

Where: Austin, Texas (three-hour nonstop flight, plus 45-minute drive)
Price: About $3,640 a week per person, double occupancy, including meals, fitness classes, a $500 personal consultation allowance, and a $1,000 spa allowance (more info at lakeaustin.com/spa-resort)

Everything may be bigger in Texas. But with just 40 rooms, this destination spa—the only one in the world to be named to Condé Nast Traveler’s Platinum Circle—prefers a more intimate approach.

As its name implies, the resort lies on a placid lake (an update of lake view rooms will be finished this year). Spa treatments here are anything but afterthoughts: You can choose from 26 types of massage, 15 facials, and 17 body treatments. The decor is homey and comfortable, as if you were staying at your best friend’s place—if your BFF offered world-class massages and delicious, healthy meals.
 

Hiking Mount Kuchumaa at Rancho La Puerta
Hiking Mount Kuchumaa Photo: Courtesy of Rancho La Puerta
Best for Digital Detoxers

Rancho La Puerta

Where: Tecate, Baja California, Mexico (four-and-a-half-hour nonstop flight to San Diego, plus one-hour ride over the border to Tecate on a complimentary spa bus)
Price: About $3,250 a week per person, double occupancy, including meals and fitness classes (more info at rancholapuerta.com)

If you’ve ever wanted to run away to Mexico, this may be your chance. Routinely ranked as one of the planet’s top spas, Rancho La Puerta opens a world of options, from dozens of exercise classes, healthy-cooking classes, and lectures to spa treatments and private consultations for virtually every aspect of your well-being.

Guests describe the feeling as easy and casual: Do everything or nothing at all. (Do take the four-mile Organic Garden Breakfast Hike across parts of the ranch’s 3,000-acre property, concluding with breakfast at the resort’s organic farm.) If untethering from your digital self is one of your resolutions, you’ve come to the right place. Expect no in-room TVs, no cell phone service, and very limited Wi-Fi access.
 

Best for Those Who Want to Go Far, Far Away

Velassaru Maldives

Where: Male, Maldives (24-hour two- or three-leg flight, plus 25-minute speedboat ride)
Price: About $2,331 a week per person, double occupancy, including breakfast (more info at velassaru.com)

You know that popular screen saver showing images of impossibly blue, crystal clear water edged by silky white sand? That’s the Maldives, a tiny island republic floating in the Indian Ocean.

Sure, it’s expensive and time-consuming to get there from Chicago. (At presstime, a mid-January roundtrip economy-class ticket on Qatar Airways cost $2,000, and travel took a full day, including a six-hour stopover in Doha.) But you’ll find wonderful spa services at Velassaru, which takes pampering seriously. (Many treatments incorporate locally sourced virgin coconut oil.) And be honest: You’re really here for a beach that puts Lake Michigan to shame. You won’t be disappointed.

 

More Than $4,000 a Week
 

Best for Wellness Junkies

Canyon Ranch

Where: Tucson, Arizona (four-hour nonstop flight, plus complimentary 40-minute ride)
Price: About $7,160 a week per person, double occupancy, including meals, many classes and workshops, taxes, and a $1,200 spa allowance (more info at canyonranch.com)

More than any other destination spa, this 35-year-old 150-acre retreat in the Sonoran Desert has a firm footing in medicine. Staff physicians, exercise physiologists, and nutritionists offer consultations, evaluations, and customized programs that can help jump-start your path to wellness.

What’s more, you can choose from dozens of classes (more than 40 daily activities alone), services, and treatments. Restore your prewinter body with an Ayurvedic massage, learn primitive fire making, or have a night-vision-goggle experience. You’ll leave with a personalized plan to keep you healthy once you’re back in the Windy City.
 

Room service at Golden Door
Room service at Golden Door Photo: Courtesy of Golden Door
Best for Luxury Seekers

Golden Door

Where: San Marcos, California (four-and-a-half-hour nonstop flight to San Diego, plus complimentary 40-minute ride)
Price: About $8,250 a week per person, single occupancy, including meals, a daily massage, other spa services, classes, fitness activities, and airport transfers (more info at goldendoor.com)

You’ve had the lottery daydream: What would life be like if they called my Powerball numbers? Winning might be something like experiencing a week at Golden Door. Which is to say, pure luxury. You can show up with little more than the clothes on your back: The spa supplies workout apparel, skin and grooming products, and a customized program to suit your fitness, nutrition, relaxation, and beauty goals. Expect to rub elbows with Hollywood celebrities and Fortune 500 CEOs, all drawn here by the soothing Japanese-style grounds and the chance to cede control to experts who will cater to you from dawn till dusk (there’s a 4-to-1 staff-to-guest ratio).
 

Miraval Resort & Spa
Pushing past limits at Miraval Photo: Courtesy of Miraval Resort & Spa
Best for “I’ll Try Anything Once” Types

Miraval Resort & Spa

Where: Tucson, Arizona (four-hour nonstop flight, plus complimentary 50-minute ride)
Price: About $4,750 a week per person, double occupancy, for the Anything Goes package, which includes meals, unlimited spa treatments, classes, airport transfers, and private wellness consultations (more info at miravalresorts.com)

Miraval has pampering down cold: It offers dozens of spa treatments and just opened a new nail salon designed by Deborah Lippmann, the manicurist to the stars. But the guests who flock to this 400-acre desert oasis tend to want a little more. “It’s ideal for someone looking for inspiration,” says Simon Marxer, the spa’s director. Translation: Miraval challenges you to push past your comfort zone, from climbing a dizzying rock wall to gentling a horse. Maybe that’s why Oprah Winfrey loves this place. You’ll return to Chicago not just renewed, but with a deeper sense of your personal power. How many vacations can promise that?

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