Belmond El Encanto has a partnership with Nora Tobin, a local fitness trainer. // © 2015 Jessica Dalene Weber Photography
Feature image (above): Cal-A-Vie features numerous antiques and even a chapel flown in from Dijon, France. // © 2015 Cal-a-Vie Health Spa
It seems that hardly a day goes by without a hotel announcing its new “wellness program,” “wellness menu” or “wellness suite.” Wellness is the word these days. And travel agents agree.
The majority of agents (86 percent) expect growth in the well-being category, according to the “2015 State of Wellness Travel Report” by Spafinder Wellness 365.
Agents surveyed identified 16 different components that make up a wellness trip, including classics such as beach access and swimming, but also healthy and organic cuisine; fitness facilities and guided exercise classes; and access to scenic nature. These are components that most luxury resorts in Southern California offer, so it’s no surprise the survey also found that the West Coast is the fastest-growing wellness destination in the U.S. for spa and wellness bookings.
In an effort to gauge what wellness means in this area, I tested out several properties in Southern California that claim to have next-level offerings in health and wellness. And from my research, it’s clear: The hotels that align themselves with wellness don’t share one agreed-upon definition of what a wellness vacation entails. Forget those lists of the top 10 wellness spas in the world — they don’t mean much if you don’t know what your client wants.
The truth is there’s a lot to decipher before booking your client’s wellness getaway. Don’t simply ask your client if they are seeking a “wellness” trip that might “enhance or maintain health and well-being.” Instead, ask your clients specific questions about their desired outcomes. Are they trying to maintain their own, well-established fitness and healthy-eating routine while vacationing with the family, or is this an opportunity to take some long-overdue “me time” in an exotic locale? Do they want to eat to lose weight, learn new wellness practices, be immersed in nature, chat with a nutritionist, gain strength, try energy-healing or have a one-on-one with a behavioral psychologist? Once you can gauge your clients’ idea of wellness, it will be easy to match them to the following offerings.
The Incognito Wellness Warrior: Belmond El Encanto in Santa Barbara
The ocean views at Belmond El Encanto are enough to incite relaxation. The classic infinity pool seemingly spills into the Pacific, and even the spin bicycles at the gym are placed outside so guests can wheel away in wonderland. But there’s more: El Encanto offers guests a wellness package that includes special meals, a spa treatment, a nutrition consultation and fitness classes designed by Nora Tobin. A Santa Barbara local and personal trainer, Tobin was recently named one of the top women to watch in wellness by Athleta fitness clothing and wellness authority MindBodyGreen.com.
Tobin and her hand-selected trainers are equal parts tough and bubbly, so guests can take their wellness regime to the next level while feeling like they’re hanging out with a friend. Based on a client’s needs, the package is tailored to follow one of the four earth elements, from water (think paddleboarding, hydrating spa treatments and water aerobics) to wind (oxygen treatments plus yoga and meditation).
Ideal For: Folks who want to enjoy Santa Barbara’s sunshine, beaches and trails, as well as the hotel’s amenities, through active pursuits.
Typical Day: Guests who purchase the “Spring Into Fitness” package receive a healthy breakfast, a $170 spa treatment credit, access to two on-site fitness classes and one off-site fitness class or nutrition consultation.
Standout Wellness Offering: Don’t miss a chance to head to the beach — even if that means crawling your way through Tobin’s bootcamp workout in the sand. Clients can also learn the ropes of beach volleyball with a former competitive beach volleyball player.
The High-End, High-Touch Destination Spa: Cal-a-Vie Health Spa in Vista
No matter a client’s priority — relaxation, losing weight or just getting away from it all — it can happen at Cal-a-Vie. Prioritizing wellness since its opening in 1986, Cal-a-Vie is tucked inland in a valley that disconnects the retreat from greater San Diego county. Thirty-two spacious Mediterranean villas, European antiques, several pools, a French Provencal-themed spa, more than 30 fruit trees and even a 400-year-old Chapel and L’Orangerie reception venue — flown in from Dijon, France — makes a visit here seem like an exotic getaway. Indeed, if you wanted to lay by the pool exclusively (and order wine from the resort’s own vineyards), you could. But you would be in the minority because working out at Cal-a-Vie is a dream (yes, working out can be a dream!).
On arrival, guests meet with a staff member to discuss goals for the stay, which results in suggested daily fitness schedules as well as customized meals and portion sizes. Each day, there are five separate 50-minute workout sessions featuring about 36 class choices. That’s seven or eight options each hour, ranging from the new and trendy (such as the Melt Method chronic pain treatment) to favorites such as spinning, water aerobics, barre, Zumba, yoga and CrossFit.
And with so many fitness experts on the staff, the odds of getting an educational one-on-one workout are extremely high. After a group lunch — featuring produce harvested by the property’s culinary gardener and then cooked by executive chef Curtis Cooke with approval from dietitian May Tom — guests indulge in more one-on-one time with back-to-back spa treatments (included in the price of the stay) as well as restorative classes, nutrition lectures and cooking lessons.
Ideal For: Both the serious wellness warrior and folks who want to kick-start a healthy lifestyle, due to the variety of fitness classes and treatments available. There are specific women-only and mother/daughter weeks, though females generally make up the majority of guests, which averages at about 20 per week. The vibe is positive and sisterly, with many women returning yearly with friends made at Cal-a-Vie. Past high-profile clients include Natalie Portman, Oprah Winfrey and the Bush family.
Typical Day: After a sunrise hike, guests enjoy their choice of breakfast item (from oatmeal and scrambled eggs to seasonal omelets) before heading to morning workouts of their choice. After lunch, guests usually have two to three beauty or spa treatments and possibly some time to squeeze in a yoga, meditation or art class before a group dinner, followed by plenty of time to read a book before bed.
Standout Wellness Offering: Back-to-back spa treatments after workouts result in unequaled bliss. Awaiting my cranial-sacral treatment after reflexology, I turned to one of Cal-a-Vie’s countless repeat clients and asked: “Is it safe to feel this relaxed?”
The Luxury City Hotel: Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills
The rich and famous have always prized looking and feeling good, so it’s no surprise that the Four Seasons brand was the TravelAge West WAVE Award winner for 2015 for “Best Hotel Brand for Wellness,” or that Four Seasons ranked No. 3 for top wellness brand in Spafinder’s survey, following Starwood (No. 2) and Canyon Ranch (No. 1). Even at one of the Four Seasons’ city hotels, such as the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, it’s easy to maintain wellness. There’s an indoor-outdoor gym built to face the pool; plenty of greenery throughout to create a sense of sanctuary; a new Wellness Menu at the outdoor Cabana Restaurant; and a comprehensive fresh juice menu at Culina, Modern Italian. Plus, groups can arrange private yoga classes on the hotel’s 17th-floor helipad.
Ideal For: Folks who already prioritize wellness and have the willpower to work out, choose green juice and superfood salads during mealtimes and love the idea of living the L.A. dream of relaxing poolside as celebs dip in and out of the water.
Typical Day: For the wellness guest, this could include an in-room workout from the property’s library of 200-plus cardio, strength-training and yoga workouts designed by West Hollywood’s Blue Clay Fitness; multigrain pancakes and a fresh green juice at Culina; a morning personal-training session at the gym; pool time; vegan, gluten-free red-bean veggie sliders for lunch; the Manipura massage (which includes reflexology, herbal compressions, Ayurvedic marma massage and lymphatic drainage); and some energy healing before a night out in Beverly Hills.
Standout Wellness Offering: For a wellness experience that is “so L.A.,” try BioMeditation Therapy with energy healer Jeannette von Johnsbach. The New-Agey treatment involves light touch that aims to clear energetic blockages.
The Small Town, Big Value Destination Spa: The Oaks at Ojai in Ojai
Family-owned The Oaks at Ojai captures the small town’s artsy, laid-back vibe in its programming thanks to its location in the middle of Ojai’s arcade. The Oaks is the most affordable of any of the properties listed here, with reasonable a-la-carte massage services (a 50-minute Swedish massage will set clients back $85) and inclusive stays that begin at $250 per person. The property focuses on weight loss through calorie- and portion-control, organized fitness instruction and seminars on learning healthful habits. This is all done in a familial setting that prioritizes socialization through shared mealtimes.
Ideal For: Clients who want to lose weight, focus on themselves, jump-start a healthy lifestyle and reduce stress while getting to know low-key Ojai. Most Oaks guests are women, ages 45 to 65.
Typical Day: A morning hike in the nearby trails or a walk around Ojai is followed by group breakfast, stretching or other fitness class, a healthy snack break, more fitness or reading by the pool, poolside or indoor lunch, more fitness or an a-la-carte spa treatment, dinner and an evening activity, which ranges from Introduction to Meditation to a movie screening with popcorn.
Standout Wellness Offering: Even if you don’t come for one of the immersive Into the Wild Hiking weeks, be sure to hit the trails with staffer Carol Janelle. A Wilderness First Responder, homeopath and yoga therapist with a passion for the Native American history of Ojai, Janelle treats guests to soulful Native American rituals while exploring beautiful settings.
The Good Vibes Luxury Family Getaway: Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes
Terranea is a sizable luxury resort rich in oceanfront views, restaurants, pools and amenities, so multigenerational families, wedding parties, romancing couples and wellness warriors can each have their own space — even if they’re all part of the same traveling group. And for guests who want to kick their wellness routine into high gear, the property offers The Bungalows at Terranea, oceanside rooms that include in-room fitness gear; a personal fitness consultation and evaluation; and included breakfast and lunch from the Spa Cafe.
All guests have access to the fitness classes offered at Terranea’s gym as well as access to a variety of treatments in Terranea’s 50,000-square-foot spa, which features 25 treatment rooms, including oceanfront suites. There’s also a footpath along the hotel’s coastline that is the perfect healing mixture of sun, water and walking.
Ideal For: Healthy folks on vacation with their families. Parents can drop kids off at Tide Pools Kids Club while they get a massage or go for a workout. Terranea is also a perfect no-fuss staycation option for California clients.
Typical Day: For the wellness-seeker, this can include a healthy acai bowl or chicken scramble breakfast at the Spa Cafe, followed by a free hatha yoga class or an outdoor cardio routine around Terranea’s 102-acre property. After lunch, relax at the quiet spa pool before a waterfront massage. Catch the sunset along the Discovery Trail and check in with your travel companions at Mar’sel for fine wine and decadent dining — because, for some, wellness also means enjoying food, wine and a sunset over the ocean in the company of loved ones.
Standout Wellness Offering: Let water heal you with Terranea’s signature Tranquility treatment in one of the spa’s oceanfront rooms. The session begins with a soak in a copper tub, followed by a cocoon wrap and then a face, neck and scalp massage, all complemented by the sound of crashing waves.
The Life-Changing Good Time: VeraVia at Park Hyatt Aviara Resort in Carlsbad
To be clear, you certainly don’t need to have serious health problems to attain life-changing results at VeraVia, the two-year-old, all-inclusive wellness concept conceived by Wyatt and Melissa Chapman. Nonetheless, folks on their path to recovering from eating disorders, addictions and even debilitating diabetes thrive at VeraVia, which is unique from all the aforementioned programs due to the fact that it is capped at about five guests per week and features a behavioral psychologist.
Though each team member is impressive, the whole is even greater than its parts when it comes to creating a holistic plan for clients. There’s Dr. Megan Lewis, the director of behavioral health; Dr. Derek Lawrence, director of naturopathic medicine; Erkan Gunes, director of fitness and a Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) practitioner; Cat Dillon, director of nutrition, a health coach and a professional chef; as well as at least one specialist in hiking, Pilates, yoga, meditation and tennis.
Another unique attribute is that this program lives at Park Hyatt Aviara, meaning that guests can put their wellness practices to the test in a real-life setting, as well as arrange for discounted spa and beauty treatments. Client coordinator Adrienne Penney acts as a personal concierge to clients, answering her phone after-hours and booking all outings and treatments requested by guests.
Ideal For: Clients who have been failed by other wellness programs, who seek a holistic approach to wellness and who desire regular one-on-one sessions and cultivated relationships with wellness experts. Though VeraVia has created programs for a disparate range of clients (from anorexic college-aged girls to an overweight 12-year-old boy), most VeraVia guests are women in their 50s to 60s seeking weight loss as well as high-level executives aiming to add more balance to their lives. Since the program takes place at Park Hyatt Aviara, families, friends and even dogs can join the guest without having to participate.
Typical Day: Though this will vary based on the client’s goals and length of stay (which averages at two weeks), a typical first day begins at 7:30 a.m. with an InBody body composition analysis and blood work; introduction to the team over a green smoothie; an omelet breakfast; a VO2 max and fitness assessment at the Park Hyatt Aviara gym; a workshop on overcoming sugar; an outdoor Pilates High Intensity Interval Training class; personal time; and a protein-rich salad lunch. Then there’s time for workshops and one-on-one sessions with the staff before dinner, which coincides nicely with the sunset at around 6 p.m.
Standout Wellness Offering: In addition to the bonus of having a psychologist on staff, VeraVia also offers MAT sessions. Through the MAT process, Gunes is able to identify and treat muscular imbalances so that guests can get the most from their customized workouts and avoid injury.