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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

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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.


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