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Mind and Body Spas and Retreats

Body+Soul, 2007

Whether you have a couple of days or a couple of weeks, spas and retreats around the world aim to make every vacation minute count by offering safe havens for rejuvenation and spiritual enlightenment. In these places, the only blackberries you'll see are plump, juicy, and edible. The best part? You don't need a gaggle of friends or family to have a good time -- although you can certainly bring them along. Solo or not, these venues provide ample opportunity for self-renewal, allowing you to return to your daily routine recharged and ready to tackle whatever comes your way.

To get the proverbial vacation ball rolling, we chose a few of our favorites based on different themes: natural attractions whose environs invigorate; retreats offering an all-around restorative experience; up-and-comers that elicit a sense of excitement; mind/body boot camps that challenge every essence of your being; and recently reawakened classics. The only question left to ask is -- what are you waiting for?

Stimulating getaways where nature takes center stage

Way South of the Border
Paradise with a conscience -- that's the allure of Morgan's Rock Hacienda and Eco-Lodge, on a wedge of Pacific sand in Nicaragua. The hacienda is home to one of Latin America's finest agro-tourism operations, which teaches guests about reforestation and sustainable agriculture. The 15 enviro-conscious bungalows don't sacrifice on style. And the on-site nature reserve and farm, which supply most of the resort's food, ensure that this wild outpost will stay that way.

Yoga With an Edge
A solar-powered, off-the-grid nature retreat, Northern Edge is set on the shores of Kawawaymog Lake in Ontario. While lodging in one of the dry wood-and-canvas cabins is in itself an experience, you can ramp things up by joining one of its four-day excursions. "Yoga & the Zen of Sea Kayaking" includes yoga, paddling, and sleeping under the stars. All of the outdoor adventures highlight the principles of self-empowerment and healing the earth through learning and nature play.

Cliff Hanger
Each of the 30 redwood guesthouses (equipped with fireplace, deck, and massage table) and seven stilted Tree Houses at Big Sur's cliff-side Post Ranch Inn reflects efficiency and architectural creativity. Bill Post, the great-grandson of the original homesteaders, leads morning nature walks, while a shaman is on hand to help create lasting changes for your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. After a dinner of locally sourced ingredients, join one of the resident astronomers for an impromptu lesson on the stars and planets above.

Bali Bound
Located on a jungle-covered riverbank, surrounded by a spring known for its healing properties, the Como Shambhala Estate at Begawan Giri is a 23-acre luxury refuge in Bali. The minimal aesthetic provides a perfect backdrop for tai chi and qi-gong. The authenticity goes beyond the impeccable design, which makes use of local stone and wood and traditional ylang-ylang roofing. To create the estate's programs, hotelier Christina Ong consulted with world-class holistic practitioners -- Robert Thurman, Rodney Yee, and Robert Svoboda among them -- to create a philosophy that focuses not just on pampering, but nurturing as well.

A River Runs Through It
Yoga at Bio Bio Expeditions's 10-day Patagonia retreat is all about going with the flow. Hovering 50 feet above Chile's Futaleufu River, the open-air yoga platform at this adventure base camp offers spectacular views of turquoise rapids backed by glaciated peaks. Twice-daily hatha flow classes prep you for the next day's rafting or fly-fishing trip, while savasanas allow time for listening to the river rush by and feeling the sub-equatorial sun on your face.

Camping in Luxury
The Bedwell River Outpost, an eco-safari in Vancouver Island's Clayoquot Sound Biosphere, mixes the Wild West with cut crystal. Stay in one of the 20 "tents" -- more like canvas suites with Adirondack furnishings and down comforters -- lined up along the Bedwell River or deep in the forest. Among the favored activities: kayaking through fairy-talelike fjords and midnight soaks in the outdoor hot tubs. Guests can also join one of the resort's five stewardship programs, from salmon habitat restoration to raptor rehab and release.

Garden of Eden
A yoga retreat overlooking Costa Rica's volcanic central valley, Pura Vida promotes, as its name suggests, the "pure life." The week-long "Mind-Body-Spirit" program includes open-air yoga sessions, guided meditations, and excursions such as hiking along the La Paz River. Surrounded by gardens and coffee plantations, the guest accommodations range from rustic "tent-a-lows" to personal pagodas complete with an outdoor shower.

Tranquil retreats that engage and nourish the spirit.

The Hills Are Alive
Situated in a former Jesuit seminary on a hill overlooking the idyllic Berkshires, the 150-acre Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health is North America's largest year-round yoga retreat center. Its mission? To help guests become more integrated, masterful humans through 700 different yoga, wellness, spiritual, healing, and life-enhancing programs. Typically lasting anywhere from two to five nights, retreats include "Build Your Own Yoga Practice" and "Buddha and the Body." The accommodations are modest for now (expect 80 more-luxurious options in 2008), but why spend time in your room when you have this holistic playground within reach?

East Meets West
Now in its second decade, the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California, balances Ayurveda (a 5,000-year-old natural healing system from India) with the best of alternative Western medicine. Here you can join one of the five programs taught by founders Deepak Chopra, M.D., and/or David Simon, M.D. "Perfect Health," for instance, combines yoga, meditation, and massage to nourish the soul and relieve physical and emotional pain, while "Soul of Healing" invites peace into your life by targeting stress, nutrition, and anxiety. If time allows, sign up for a therapeutic treatment like gandharva, a rebalancing massage that makes use of sound therapy and the movement of subtle energy.

Point Taken
At the Omega Institute, a 195-acre lakefront center in New York's Hudson River Valley, a broad curriculum has you kayaking one day and taking a religion or mathematics course the next. The 30-year-old program reflects what French Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin coined "the Omega Point": the place where the inner self and outer world meet. Here, all pursuits -- from learning how to create crafts in "Joy of Making" to "Tangoing With the Buddha" -- line the path to a singular end: greater self-awareness.

Yoga in Paradise
If a big-budget getaway isn't in the cards, escape to the Sivananda yoga ashram, a collection of colorful cabins and palm-tree-shaded practice platforms built around a meditation temple on the sandy white beaches of Paradise Island, Bahamas. A 6 a.m. group meditation kicks off the day, which goes on to include two 90-minute asana or pranayama classes, vegetarian meals, lectures on yoga philosophy, and plenty of time for snorkeling and sunbathing (it is the Bahamas, after all). The center also offers many formal programs, such as a kirtan (devotional chanting) workshop with renowned singer Krishna Das and a meditation immersion.

Out in the Wild
Located in the remote Ventana Wilderness above Big Sur, California, the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is a monastic community founded in the 1960s by Zen master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. From May to September, this serene retreat opens its doors to outsiders, allowing anyone to take part in meditation classes, soak in their hot-spring-filled Japanese-style bathhouse, or simply stretch out under the trees. Meals, like meditations, are announced by the sounding of a gong. The vegetarian feast uses herbs pulled fresh from the center's small organic garden.

Mindful Mecca
At venerated Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village Meditation Center in Thenac, France, the act of meditation weaves its way into just about everything from walking and tea drinking to chores like cleaning. The Buddhist monastery just east of Bordeaux gives visitors the opportunity to share in this contemplative lifestyle as well as participate in seasonal festivals and dharma talks on the principles of Buddhism. Ranging in duration from one week to three months, the six annual retreats teach guests how to find peace of mind in the most mundane of everyday tasks.

Intriguing new destination spas that are worth a closer look

Into the Woods
At the 58-room Lodge at Woodloch, which launched last summer in the lake region of north Pennsylvania (two-plus hours from Manhattan or Philadelphia), days are blissfully spent hiking, mountain biking, eating seasonal organic cuisine, or just relaxing at the spa. Lots of wood and earth-toned fabrics give it a sophisticated mountain-lodge feel, while floor-to-ceiling windows, verandas, and terraces throughout bring the outdoors in. A highlight: In the glass-enclosed Aqua Garden, you can stand under the gush of a powerful eight-foot hydro-massage waterfall that spills into therapeutic soaking pools.

Country Calm
The brainchild of mother-daughter team Adriana Mnuchin and Lisa Hedley, The Mayflower Inn and Spa in Washington, Connecticut, feels like a relaxed women's country club for body and soul: Guests wear robes at mealtimes, inspirational art adorns the walls, and personal spa consultants help maximize your stay. A three-pronged lifestyle program combines standard fitness classes, outdoor adventures (hiking in Steeprock Reserve), and mind/spirit rituals such as music therapy. At the hub lies the 20,000-square-foot spa, where you can rest in the sun-drenched Garden Room.

Sacred Waters
Aspira means "infused with spirit" in Latin, and this new destination spa at the Osthoff Resort on the banks of the crystal-clear Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin certainly lives up to its name. Crackling fireplaces, intensive water-based treatments (try the Sacred Waters Massage or Balneotherapy Bath), and a meditation sanctuary with a trickling waterfall make for a truly spiritual escape.

Not Your Average Bath
For the past 150 years, the spa town of South Tyrol, Italy, has attracted visitors as distinguished as the Empress Sisi of Austria-Hungary and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Recently updated for the 21st century by Milan's star architect Matteo Thun, the Steigenberger Hotel Terme Merano and its glass-enclosed merano thermal baths feature treatments like the Emperor's Bath, which is infused with local herbs, apples, grapes, and whey.

As Clear as Mud
From the folks who brought you Napa Valley's Auberge du Soleil comes Solage Calistoga, an 89-room property that puts a fresh spin on Calistoga's historic wellness traditions. The 20,000-square-foot spa has "mud-tenders" who mix essential oils with local volcanic mud in the mud bar; a mud lounge, where guests apply the nutrient-rich goop and relax in sound-wave chairs; and a fleet of hydrotherapy pools fed by the region's famous geothermal springs.

Immersive boot camps that put both mind and body to the test.

Island Workout
An antioxidant-rich acai smoothie, the welcome drink at the Island Lodge on Brazil's Ilha Grande, 100 miles south of Rio de Janeiro, sets the tone for the health-themed weeks held by Body and Soul adventures (no relation to our magazine). Vinyasa-style yoga classes on an oceanfront deck prepare you and 13 other adventurous souls for demanding rain-forest hikes and sea kayaking (great for the upper body and abs). Fortunately, it's not all work: You'll be treated to daily shiatsu massages, capoeira performances (a form of Brazilian martial arts), and Brazilian-inflected vegetarian meals. A similar Irish adventure is on tap for this year.

Sand, Sweat, and Sun
Sanskrit for "peace and water," Amansala is an eco-chic Mexican beachfront resort founded by two friends -- a world traveler and a former Manhattan publicist. Its six-night "Bikini Boot Camp" mixes high-powered vinyasa flow yoga, power-abs exercises, and salsa lessons. In addition to quiet pursuits like journaling (which they encourage everyone to do for 15 minutes each morning, right before the 8 a.m. silent beach walk), the retreat makes use of local resources -- a temazcal (sweat lodge) or jungle cenote (freshwater swimming hole) -- to further enhance the outdoor holistic experience. New this year: "Warrior Week," a more adventure-packed retreat designed specifically with men in mind (though women are always welcome). And thankfully, bikinis are not required.

Move It in Marrakech
British outfitter In:Spa takes an exotic approach to its seven-day retreats. In far-flung locales like Morocco, the Intense program (as opposed to its more pampering spa version) balances rigorous exercise with regular massages, sunbathing, and sightseeing. An energizing breakfast of fresh fruit, homemade muesli, and just-squeezed juices follows rooftop yoga classes; then the group heads off to either a demanding hike in the Atlas Mountains or an 18-mile bike ride through the lush countryside. After a detoxifying lunch (all dishes omit sugar, salt, carbs, and wine), you can opt for a one-on-one personal training session, an intimate yoga class, or a culturally enriching tour of Medina, Marrakech's old walled town.

Canadian Workout
Don't expect to sleep late during the seven-day retreat at the Coastal Trek health & fitness Resort, a health spa on British Columbia's pristine Vancouver Island. From the time the wake-up call sounds at 6 a.m., guests are on the go, weight training, kayaking, and mountain biking. But it's the six hours of hiking daily that's the main attraction (the lodge is located within a 10-mile radius of primal wilderness). Since the retreats accommodate no more than 24 go-getters, there's plenty of staff on hand to work with guests of all fitness and skill levels, not to mention enough elbow room to relax over a well-earned, though strictly portioned, healthy dinner at the communal table.

Pure and Simple in Hawaii
Some people go to Hawaii to veg on the alabaster beaches for hours on end, while others (Jennifer Garner among them) go to get in shape. The "Adventure Boot Camp" from Pure Kauai lets you do both from the privacy of your own oceanfront villa on the breathtaking and untamed North Shore. A team of personal chefs, yoga instructors, masseuses, island healers, and adventure guides are at your service for five days of surfing, weight training, yoga, Pilates, and waterfall hiking. There's even a life coach available to work out your mind when your body needs a rest.

Classic destination spas that continue to reinvent the wheel

Cool California
Fresh from a $90-million renovation, the Spanish-inflected 31,000-square-foot Spa Ojai at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Southern California has made personal and spiritual enrichment a priority. The new Artist's Cottage teaches the finer points of journaling and batik printing while the Apothecary allows would-be chemists to whip up batches of essential oils. The spa keeps rejuvenation at the top of its agenda: Lavender fields heighten the senses while the Kuyam (a Native American treatment that combines dry heat, mud, and meditation) cleanses the body.

Desert Chic
From its commitment to eco-sensitive design (solar panels, geothermal heating) to its setting between the alpine peaks and desert sage-flats of Taos, New Mexico, El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa is an exercise in harmony. The 36 (soon to be 84) suites and casitas sit around the Sacred Circle, a green space of waterfalls and cottonwood trees. The recently expanded Living Spa, with its retractable roof, offers an elaborate menu of alternative healing therapies such as Native American spiritual cleansings, Ayurvedic health consultations, and Egyptian anointing treatments designed to connect you to your deepest self.

Mountain High
The "it" wellness-meets-adventure oasis in the middle of the Mojave Desert, Red Mountain Spa in St. George, Utah, operates one of the country's best hiking programs (30 hikes for all levels). The three-story geodesic dome-shaped spa features desert-inspired treatments using mineral-rich muds and essential oils. Don't miss the anti-aging Adobe Lavender Hydrating Cocoon.

Balancing Act
Miraval Life in Balance, situated on 400 acres of southern Arizona desert, doesn't want you to just feel better. The famed resort wants you to feel stronger and more mindful about yourself and the environment, too. Face fear without flinching in the "Equine Experience" or refine your mental and physical mastery of golf with the "Golf Connection." Also new to the resort: a full-time director of sustainability who initiates reforms such as reducing water consumption and utilizing organics whenever possible.

South Beach Style
With resorts already in Tucson, Arizona, and Lenox, Massachusetts, Canyon Ranch is expanding southward to Miami. When it opens this summer, Canyon Ranch Living -- a full-service oceanfront hotel, restaurant, and spa plus a luxury condominium complex -- will dedicate itself to healthy living every day. The David Rockwell-designed restaurant focuses on nutritious gourmet meals, and the 70,000-square-foot spa and wellness facility boasts a Finnish sauna, crystal steam room, ice igloo, and rock-climbing wall.

Prayers Answered
In honor of its 20th anniversary, Cal-a-Vie, located just outside of San Diego, completed a $10-million renovation. Among the enhancements was the addition of a 400-year-old French chapel, plucked from the town of Dijon in France's Bourgogne region and reconstructed on the spa's lush 200-acre property. Now, after experiencing treatments such as an Ayurvedic mud scrub, you can retreat to the candlelit chapel to meditate and connect with your inner beauty.

Rock On
Reinvigorated by the arrival of a new chef and spa director, The Boulders Resort & Golden Door Spa in Carefree, Arizona, is transforming itself. This means exclusively organic food in two of its five restaurants, organic-cooking classes using produce and herbs collected from the spa's large-scale gardens, and organic and biodynamic wine selections. Backed by 12-million-year-old boulder piles in the Sonoran Desert, the resort will also undergo a redesign by innovative architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

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