Spa Holidays: Relax, Reboot

Rather than hitting the spa during your next vacation, make it your primary destination.

Rather than hitting the spa during your next vacation, make it your primary destination.

First the purview of new-age hippies, then of flip-flopped Real Housewives in velour tracksuits, spas are now as commonplace as gyms. Even if you don’t consider yourself a spa-goer, statistics suggest you’ll become one: by 2017, wellness and spa tourism will grow from $439 billion to a crazy $679 billion a year. That’s a lot of massages to navigate. But ubiquitous doesn’t always mean good, and finding a spa that gets everything right will always be tricky. Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered…with terry-towel robes and fair-trade botanicals at three of our fave wellness getaways.

Rancho Valencia (San Diego, California)

From San Diego, zip 40 kilometres up the coast through the swanky hilltop homes of Rancho Santa Fe (this zip code lays claim to America’s highest percentage of million-dollar homes) straight to Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa ( from $420; 800-548-3664, There’s all the luxe you’d expect from SoCal’s only Relais & Châteaux property but none of the pomp, thanks to its original 1989 iteration as a John Gardiner tennis ranch. Fresh off a $30 million face-lift, the sprawling Mediterranean-inspired property set on 45 lush acres is still a dynamite tennis destination 25 years later (in 2010, Tennis Magazine ranked it No. 1 in the country), but brand-new and revamped outbuildings include 49 plush casitas and a palm-shaded Serenity Yoga Pavilion set on a pond-like water feature. If Architectural Digest and the Dalai Lama got married and incarnated a baby, this is what it would look like.After fresh O.J. (delivered to your room) head to the new  Veladora restaurant, where Damien Hirst’s Imploration butterfly painting lords over the rustic elegance of the room. A kind of coastal ranch cuisine prevails here that, come breakfast, looks like the San Danielle prosciutto/egg flatbread ($18) and the trifecta of goodness that is a Valencia protein smoothie (chocolate, banana, and peanut butter, $10). When dinner rolls around, the menu leans heavily on fare like braised Texas wild boar ragout ($28) and chilled wild octopus carpaccio ($11).One cannot live by (gluten-free) bread alone. After thoughtful contemplation with the Gentle Fig Facial (organic desert-fig-seed oil, argan oil, and Moroccan chamomile) and Double Deuce Delight Match (bath soak, jade-and-ginseng sugar scrub, and couple’s massage), it’s easy to forget that Rancho Valencia is just as much tennis mecca as spa retreat. You’ve got excellent options: three-hour morning tennis clinics with either two-time U.S. Open champion Robin White or head pro Eduardo Sanchez, a fixture on the resort’s 18 courts since they opened — or you and the mean ball machine.As tempting as it is to avoid leaving these sweet confines, your 911 Carrera calls. The resort’s new Porsche test-drive program means a key and a John Hancock are all that stand between you and the open road (all in the name of guest service). Park that sweet ride before hiking at Torrey Pines State Reserve, one of Southern California’s wildest stretches of land, with 13 kilometres of trails, then cap it with a meandering barefoot beach walk back to your wheels.There’s just one more stop. It’s true that racing has lost a little glam since Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, and friends opened the Del Mar racetrack in 1937, but as the sun sets over the Pacific it’s pretty easy to imagine yourself back in a time of guys and dolls, when pushing the envelope meant dropping 20 on the ponies. Who knows? You might just get lucky. 

Field Notes

Getting There: United Airlines flies to San Diego through San Francisco (or drive to Bellingham for Allegiant’s nonstop), then it’s a half-hour drive to Rancho V.From Soil to Skin: Sourced from plants like hyssop, blue lotus, myrtle, and juniper, the spa’s Amala line comes to life through a global network of fair-trade organic farmersAvg. temp, April: 20º/ 13º C 

Canyon Ranch (Tucson, Arizona)

Iconic brands don’t always mean staying power (think Lehman Brothers, Oldsmobile), but Canyon Ranch sends your synapses (and likely your mother’s, too) into spa-and-wellness-firing overdrive. Stretching from East Coast to West (and cruise ships everywhere), the brand’s Tucson, Arizona, outpost is the birthplace of the destination health spa. Opened in 1979, the property straddles more than 150 acres in the Sonoran Desert and attracts wellness pilgrims keen on preventive health and integrative medicine (nutrition, exercise physiology, and movement therapy) — all in a tight holistic package far from the madding crowd.American Airlines through Phoenix or L.A. Three-night all-inclusive stay (airport transfers, meals, taxes, fitness classes): $3,310/person, includes $420 in spa treatments. 

Red Mountain Resort (St. George, Utah)

Don’t take your spa vacations lying down. At Red Mountain outdoor adventure is the ticket, and the dramatic red rock cliffs and canyons of southern Utah lend a cool moonscape backdrop. There are all the requisite spa-destination components (insanely good, healthy food; restorative treatments), but they’ve got rugged cornered with customized trips to Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.  Guided hiking, three healthy  meals daily, fitness classes, and  one of four treatment options each day: from $295/person.