In a survey you received a couple weeks ago, a large percentage of respondents said they were interested in spa and wellness coverage. To that end, in this Special Report I am taking a look at three very different wellness resorts.
But first, what’s the difference between a spa resort and a wellness resort or retreat?
While there may not be a formal boundary, there are significant differences. The spa experience as part of a resort vacation generally means you go to a great resort and enjoy a variety of treatments at the spa as part of the vacation experience, which might include golf, dining out, lounging by the pool, exploring local sites. On the other hand, you go to a wellness resort to achieve a particular objective, which can be anything from weight loss to improving fitness, recalibrating your lifestyle or adapting a healthier routine, including addressing medical conditions.
The Ranch at Malibu
It wouldn’t be wrong to call The Ranch Malibu (formerly The Ranch at Live Oak) a boot camp, as that’s how some of its most ardent fans describe it. In fact, the resort’s own literature calls it a “luxury boot camp.” The key focus is weight loss, but a strong side benefit many say is that you are essentially disconnected from your smartphone as well, something that they said is equally helpful if you want to recalibrate your lifestyle. The program is also applicable for people who want to increase their fitness, while maintaining their weight.
Jack Ezon, the President of Ovation Vacations, a leading luxury focused travel agency who is another good person to talk to if you are interested in figuring out which type of wellness retreat is right for you, says, ” I am a big fan because they personally changed my life. They helped me lose 50 pounds of which I’ve kept 40 off.” He adds, “The ranch is not for everyone. It’s not a spa. It’s more of a boot camp with five to six hours of hiking a day and several hours of cardio and strength work.”
Ezon continues, “It’s very unique. It’s not a Canyon Ranch. Everyone does everything together. Everyone eats together. If you don’t show up for 6 am stretching, they come knocking on your door. If you can’t do the hike, it’s not, ‘Okay.’ It’s let’s take it slower.”
The program, Ezon notes, is not just about the week or the four days. It’s about a process that starts 30 days before. “You start getting off meat, wine, caffeine,” Ezon says. “I didn’t realize the effect of Wifi detox,” Ezon says. While the program is open to couples, he thinks it is better suited to individuals as it is very goal oriented.
Noted editor Kate Betts went to The Ranch on behalf of Travel + Leisure , and below is what she reported as a typical day’s schedule, although there is now an afternoon snack.
The Ranch’s Daily Regimen
5:30 a.m.: Wake-up call with chimes
6 a.m.: Stretch class with foam roller
7 a.m.: Breakfast of granola and almond milk in the ranch house
8 a.m.: Begin hike
10:30 a.m.: Snack of three almonds and one dried apricot
1 p.m.: Return to the ranch for lunch: black-bean-and-quinoa chili
1:45 p.m.: Nap/free time
2:30 p.m.: TRX class or ab/crunch class
3:30 p.m.: Yoga class or calisthenics by the pool
4:30 p.m.: Massage
5:30 p.m.: Aqua aerobics in the pool
7 p.m.: Dinner of roasted cauliflower with tomatoes and mushrooms
8:30 p.m.: Bed
The Ranch lists key objectives as “mental clarity” and “to purely cleanse and detoxify or stimulate your metabolism, contributing to ” a healthy loss of fat.
There are two options, a seven-day program at the ranch and a four-day program based at the Four Seasons Westlake Village. You can stay for multiple weeks at the Ranch, particularly if you have a large weight loss objective. Keep in mind you are likely to find folks with high fitness who are coming to push themselves to a greater level, so the clients are diverse physically. Both programs are limited to 18 guests per week. For multi-week stays, your seventh night is at a hotel, and then you come back to the ranch for the next six nights. The Ranch describes what you are in for as, “We hike between 8 to 12 miles a day depending on your ability and the set route for the day. All of our trails vary. Some are single track lanes, others are wide Fire Trails that a car can drive down. Some have shade, others have no coverage. As we are in the mountains, we have uphills, downhills and flats. The steepest climbs are almost 18% grade, but those last for about 1 mile. Some inclines last longer, but aren’t as steep. We typically gain between 1,500-2,400 feet in elevation over the entire hike.”
The shorter program also has fans. Instyle Magazine reported Rebel Wilson posted on social media, “OMG just finished 4 fantastic days at #TheRanch4.0…so challenging but very rewarding! Not to mention I lost 8 pounds from marathon hiking over the 4 days!”
If you take the seven-day programs, you stay in one of 18 cottages at the ranch. The shorter four-day program uses the Four Seasons Westlake Village for accommodations. At the ranch you will find no television or phones in your room, and a walky-talky, which is your primary communications channel. However, with an intensive 5:30 am to 8:30 pm daily program, you will only be in your cottage to sleep. “You’re not going for the room. You’re going for the program. All the rooms are the same on the ranch, not fancy but comfortable. It’s a bit on the rustic side (with) slate floors, and beautiful gardens,” Ezon told me.
The dietary program at The Ranch excludes alcohol, caffeine and processed sugars, aiding in your detoxification and revitalization process. The vegetarian cuisine draws from French and American takes, with a nod to global accents spotlighting the on-premise organic farm. Vegetables and fruits grown on the ranch and all food features sustainable, organic and naturally raised ingredients. A typical dinner would be Red Quinoa Stuffed Yellow Bell Pepper or Portobello Steak, Swiss Chard and Garlic Celeraic Root Mash.
“While you’re never full, you’re never starving,” says Ezon, who says he smuggled in nutribars just in case, but never had to tap into his supply. He does say, it takes a couple days to get used to the caloric cutback.
The Ranch can offer dairy and gluten-free options.
Camarillo Airport (CMA) is the closest private airport with a 6,013 ft. runway, however, it is neither 24 hours nor a port of entry. It is about 20 miles away. Van Nuys Airport is about 35 miles as is Santa Monica Airport.
The Ranch allows guests to reserve the entire week and bring their friends. In this instance, we can tailor a program to handle the group’s fitness level. This can include corporate executives, YPO Forums, seniors, mother/daughter groups, friends, college groups, large families, etc.
The minimum stay at The Ranch is one week.
Per person rates are:Four days (at the Four Seasons Westlake Village) is $4,100Combine Four and Six Night programs: $10,100One week (6 nights) rate: $6,800
Two week (12 nights) rate: $12,920
Three week (18 nights) rate: $19,040
Four Week (24 nights) Total Transformation: $25,160
VeraVia, Carlsbad, California
VeraVia is located within the grounds of the Park Hyatt Aviara, although you are mainly disconnected from other guests, you do stay in the hotel. If you are looking for weight loss, the approach is different, perhaps a “kinder, gentler” way to whip you into shape than The Ranch Malibu. VeraVia also offers programs targeting a variety of medical ailments (see Objectives below). This of course underscores why choosing the wellness resort and program that’s right for you is critical.
VeraVia says its “goal is to mimic normal life conditions so guests can practice life balance skills while they are there.”
Body Mind Spirit’s Sallie Fraenkel says, “Vera Via is a very small customized program. They take under 10 guests a week. It’s a very tailored program. You may do some groups, but you have a lot of one on ones, including with nutritionists. Before you get there, you fill out a very detailed questionnaire.”
She says, “VeraVia is a tremendous amount of fitness, but it’s not just hiking. There is circuit training, yoga, consulting with a nutritionist. The program is tailored to you. If you’re not somebody used to hiking, you can modify your program with more weights.”
She adds, “Anyone can go to VeraVia, because they can meet you where you are (from a fitness perspective).”
It’s approach to fitness includes understanding your current lifestyle and exercise preferences; fitness testing including strength, posture, balance, and flexibility; one-on-one training to address physical injuries, weight loss, and other fitness goals ; pre and post-stay tests to measure results of fitness regimen and crafting a long-term fitness plan.
For Medical, there is an individual consultation with a naturopathic doctor (for Comprehensive Stays); vital signs and complete blood laboratory tests with result interpretations from the facility’s doctors; educational workshops from naturopathic doctors, and long-term healthy living action planning.
In terms of Nutrition, the focus includes individual meetings with holistic nutritionists to review current diet and lifestyle; mapping of your daily meals and snacks during your stay; post-stay meal plans; grocery store trips with the Director of Nutrition to learn how to shop for healthy food, cooking demonstrations, and educational workshops from the Director of Nutrition.
On the Wellness side, you will have individual meetings with behavioral health therapists to address underlying mental challenges; learn tools to create life balance, mind-body integration, build a better quality of life; learn stress management tools through guided meditation and biofeedback sessions, and educational workshops for positive life management skills.
While there isn’t a no mobile phone policy and in fact, VeraVia promotes on property Wifi, Fraenkel says, “You’re kept so occupied, I didn’t see people on their phones.” Perhaps most importantly, she says, “You paid a lot of money to focus on yourself, so I don’t see people getting distracted.”
While lifestyle and weight loss are principal goals, Fraenkel says, during her program she was with “a woman beyond fit and totally trim, and she just wanted to have a healthy vacation.”
There aren’t a high volume of Trip Advisor reviews, but the program has only been around for 2.5 years, and all 29 rated the program Excellent. Praise also comes from a variety of media. “VeraVia gets at underlying issues to help guests change behavior and think about wellness in ways meant to stick,” wrote The New York Times. “VeraVia’s programs are customized to help clients achieve specific goals, often involving weight loss, executive health, stress management or a particular medical issue,” reports The Los Angeles Times. DaySpa magazine wrote, “One thing that stands out about VeraVia is it’s all-inclusive ‘wrap-around’ approach. Their detailed naturopathic medical module sets it apart from other retreats.”
VeraVia offers programs focused on weight loss, executive health, medical challenges (high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, insulin dependency, smoking cessation, sleep deprivation, chronic pain, hormonal imbalances, gut and digestive issues, etc.) and stress management. Fraenkel praises “very strong post-stay follow up.” She says, for executives, the program is helpful for anyone who “wants to make ongoing change, (particularly) stress management.”
There are four programs, starting with a “3-Night Reboot Express.” The other programs are each at least one-week but can be extended. Some guests have stayed up to eight weeks. Beyond the “Basic” program, the “Foundational” offer includes a personalized health plan, daily individual sessions with nutritionists, conditioning coaches and behavioral therapists. It also includes an individualized “take home” health and wellness plan. The “Comprehensive” plan adds a full medical assessment, consultation with a naturopathic doctor with weekly follow-up consultations, plus blood work and analysis. For stays over three weeks, there is also a hormone stress panel and follow-up blood work to track improvements.
You stay in a block of rooms VeraVia has within the Park Hyatt. You can upgrade to a suite or different room type for an extra fee.
Meals are designed to be healthy, but are personalized to your tastes and dietary restrictions. Fraenkel says, “I don’t eat cucumbers, cauliflower or cilantro, so they made all my meals without them. Meals are individual for each person. There is a very high level of customization.”
McClellan-Palomar Airport is four miles from VeraVia. Runway length is 4,897 feet long, but it is not 24 hours and is not an international port. If you are flying in from overseas Lindberg Field is just over 30 miles away.
For group buy outs there are two options. The first is a group of up to 10 can reserve the program for themselves. This would be for one of the standard packages (Reboot Express, or the 1+ week stays). The second option is that they can custom design a program for larger groups up to 40 guests. The program would be tailored to the group’s desired goals, and they can also coordinate a schedule to allow for their own separate activities (for example, strategic planning, board meetings, offsite activities, etc.). VeraVia recently hosted an event planning group that requested a customized 3-day Meditation Retreat designed for executives to teach them the benefits of mindfulness and meditation for stress management and improved productivity.
Rates start at $3,450 per person for the four-day “Reboot;” $4,800 for the “Basic Stay” one-week program, $6,200 for the “Foundational” program, and $7,800 for the “Comprehensive” stay program.
Ananda in the Himalayas
Ananda in the Himalayas represents the destination resort side of the destination spa or wellness experience, overlooking the spiritual town of Rishikesh and the Ganges River in Northern India. It offers lots of local cultural interest, but with the same focus of achieving a wellness objective during your visit.
In addition to a multitude of awards (Favorite Destination Spa from the readers of Conde Nast Traveller India last year and the same from Travel + Leisure India in 2014), it has received worldwide coverage from an adoring press. The Wall Street Journal put it this way, ” Housed in (and on the grounds of) an early 20th century palace in the Himalayan foothills, Ananda oozes spirituality and draws those seeking to restore internal balance. Ayurvedic treatments reign at the 24,000 square foot spa, from a four handed massage with sesame oil to a herbal exfoliant mask and a fleet of consultants waiting to determine your dosha.”
Goop, the website from Gwyneth Paltrow, writes, “Eat, pray, and love your way to wellness at this palatial mountain estate in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. For those curious about yoga, meditation, or Ayurveda, it’s a magical wonderland where you can experience a variety of disciplines and learn from a range of philosophies every day. You’ll be present to the history and tradition that surrounds you with every view of the Ganges, each meal prepared in accordance to the Dosha, and every walk through the palace grounds.”
Sallie Fraenkel calls Ananda “a full immersion wellness experience” covering “mind, body and spirit.” She says, there is a wide range of healthy cuisine, a broad range of fitness options, varied spa treatments and education, to health and wellbeing.”
JoAnn Kurtz Ahlers says, “Ananda is a bit more yoga focused. It’s also a place you can culturally experience India” and says, while an authentic wellness retreat, it leans towards being a resort, with lots of options, including witnessing sunset ceremonies by the monks on the shore of the Ganges. Alcohol is also served. She says it is very popular with executives who are visiting India on business but want to extend their trip, and is popular with friends and couples. All guests wear “super comfortable” white Kurta pajamas, which Fraenkel says takes away the stress of “what to wear.” Fraenkel says, in terms of the pace, “They have fitness, but it’s not fitness oriented.” However, since her visit, the resort tells me they have now added a program called Ananda Active, focused solely on fitness, combined with spa treatments designed to offer a holistic experience.
Holistic wellness, including spirituality, diet and fitness.
The Wellness programs start at seven nights, and there are shorter programs for three-and-five nights for those of you who want to combine a visit with a longer trip to India.
Ananda’s 78 rooms, suites and villas are designed in colonial hill architectural style and blending with the lush surrounding landscapes. The 70 rooms feature panoramic views of the valley or of the Palace. With a serene and natural feel, each room is a haven in itself with luxurious beds, perfectly appointed bathrooms with bathtubs overlooking landscaped gardens or the valley, and private balconies with picture perfect views. Four suites facing either the Valley or the Maharaja’s palace have secluded private gardens. The historic Viceregal Suite has its own private terrace with views of surrounding valleys. Each of the three private luxury villas has 440 sq. ft. private pools, which are surrounded by Sal trees and a deck area with comfortable lounge beds.
The main restaurant features Indian, Asian and Western cuisine. Based on the basic values of traditional cooking, the restaurant focuses on light and healthy meals. There is an a la carte menu. For guests on a wellness program, menus are prepared as per Ayurvedic principles. According to Ayurveda, everything is made out of the five elements of air, space, fire, water and earth, including our bodies. The three body types are a combination of these: Vata constitutes air and space; Pitta is made up of fire and water, and Kapha is water and earth. Vata body types lean towards light and dry foods. In order to balance this, oily, moist and heavy foods, with sweet, sour and salt need to be added to the diet. In contrast, Pitta body types need cool and heavy foods with sweet, bitter and pungent flavours to dowse the fire. Similarly, Kapha body types need light food with bitter, pungent and astringent flavors. There are even private dining experiences that can be arranged, much like a regular resort. Alcohol, including wine, is available on request.
Ananda in the Himalayas can organize helicopter transfers from Delhi and other specific locations to Ananda. The journey from Delhi to Ananda’s private helipad (5 minutes away) takes approximately 2 hours. Please contact Ananda Reservations (email@example.com) for further information. You can also fly into Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun. Flight time is 45 minutes from Delhi, followed by a 40 minute picturesque drive to Ananda. Runway is 7,021 feet, but it does not sell fuel and is not an international port, nor does it keep 24 hour operations.
Rates start at $570 per night single, $760 double based on a minimum of three nights, and then vary widely based on the program and accommodations you choose.