October 23, 2008

My Lake Michigan ~ Spa Amira, The Homestead Resort

Often times, good things come in small packages. Rarer still, however, is when amazing, unexpected things come in small packages. Such is the case of Spa Amira, Northern Michigan’s newest spa retreat, planted bluffside and overlooking the grand, blue expanse of Lake Michigan.

The spa, recently opened as a part of The Homestead Resort, is an escape within an escape—lingering at the top of a modest climb, and presenting visitors, upon arrival, with what may be the best view on the 435–acre property.

Small in size, the actual spa building offers a mere three treatment rooms, but the space itself is comprised of a relaxation garden, stone labyrinth, soaking pool and chaise-laden overlook, all tucked neatly behind a wrought-iron gate. On the winding drive upward, guests pass through wooded hills while catching glimpses of the resort’s sprawling golf course. It is, in a single word, idyllic.

Once in the spa building and wrapped in a cotton robe, I padded softly out the door of a changing room sized for one and into a dimly lit treatment room, where soft music drowned out most everyday noises. There, my spa therapist met me, going through the rituals of situation and preparing for the spa’s exclusive treatment: The Amira Well-Being Massage.

Consisting of a full-body dry brushing and Swedish massage, the treatment is the perfect complement to a weekend getaway, allowing a blend of pure relaxation to accompany any adventures offered across the sprawling grounds. Lasting a leisurely 90 minutes, “The Amira” allows guests to slowly recuperate from any of the resort activities that drain the body: swimming, skiing, or hiking, while incorporating broad strokes with thorough kneading of each muscle—toes to scalp.

The treatment, which is priced at $125, is one of many offered at the spa, in addition to Ayurvedic body treatments, scrubs, Reiki hand rejuvenation, and soon, manicure and pedicure services.

In pure, post-treatment bliss, I ventured outdoors, where the true sense of spa living gently seeps into every one of my open pores. Guests who don’t take advantage of this stunning space will not gain the full Amira experience. It’s here, looking out over the stretch of sapphire blue waters that a treatment-induced relaxation grows even deeper.

This newly founded gem, granting views of The Homestead’s mile-long stretch of sandy beach, creates for visitors a perfectly rounded escape. Paired with a stay in Little Belle—one of the resort’s five elegant accommodation options—and bayside fine dining at CafĂ© Manitou, Spa Amira serves as what may have once been a missing ingredient at The Homestead.

Worry no more. Whether planning a family vacation, a romantic getaway or a weekend outdoors, The Homestead and Spa Amira promise a favorable freshwater destination, guaranteed to pamper and please the finest palate.

Spa Amira, The Homestead Resort

~ Jessica Howell, Spas of America
When not experiencing new spas, Jessica is an account executive with Eisbrenner PR.

October 22, 2008

Art of the Spa - Desert Style

As we slip into soft, fluffy robes and rubber sandals, one of my two spa companions whispers that this will be her first massage. Ever.

Oh my . . . what?!

We are at the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, one of the top resort spas in Arizona, if not the United States. Given the location, she is probably about to have the best spa treatment of her life.

"OK, I need to know," she leans in. "Will they see me naked?"

I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing - on the one hand, it will be a great "first time."

On the other hand, she is setting the bar pretty high.

She may leave here believing that all massages come with an optional sage "smudging" ceremony to purify the space for healing, complimentary fresh-squeezed juices, change rooms outfitted with everything from plush towels to high-end toiletries, and treatment rooms that could be on the cover of Architectural Digest - not to mention some of the best practitioners in the industry.

There is a reason so many people come to Arizona for spa treatments. There is a sense of wellness here, a sense of calm, that is worth seeking out.

And Scottsdale has honed the spa treatment to a fine art.

We make our way to the elegant waiting area, where three masseuses await. Two women, one man. His hands look like they could pound the knots out of a waterlogged rope. He steps forward for my friend.

Oh, this is going to be good.

We whisper hushed farewells as we are ushered into separate treatment rooms - my "virgin" friend for a Desert Aromatherapy massage, my experienced friend (who makes regular pilgrimages to Arizona and this spa, in particular) for a Jet-Lag Recovery massage, and myself for the Desert Purification body treatment.

I'm ready to relax and detoxify.

My masseuse has the skilled hands of a much larger person, and quickly sets to putting my body into a state of relaxation.

She applies a body mask of "native grains", a sticky mixture of cornmeal, oats, and clays (in keeping with the organic theme of these treatments, the mix is free of preservatives, artificial colourings or synthetic fragrances).

The mask sits on my skin like a poultice, soothing and warm.

The next step, having it exfoliated off with a natural-fibre cloth made from the Ayate cactus plant, feels wonderful. Almost as wonderful as the aromatherapy oil massage, featuring organic juniper, sage and rosemary essential oils, that follows.
As my treatment winds up, I'm given the gift of my very own cactus loofah for exfoliation at home. Somehow, I know the ritual just won't be the same.

Every element of this treatment is derived from the desert and Native American traditions.

It's the kind of thing you would, quite literally, only find in the southwest, and one of the reasons so many people continue to flock to the desert for treatment.

You could say that Scottsdale is known as something of a mecca for spa-goers.
It's not just the use of adobe clay, pure aloe vera, ground jojoba seeds, sage and juniper, or Sonoran desert honey, though that is what gives Arizona spas their desert flavour.

It's also the impeccable service and the spectacular settings - many of the best spas are destinations in themselves, from their desert oasis locations to their architecture and decor.

There is also the matter of sheer volume. Scottsdale has more spas per capita than any U.S. city. With roughly 130 spas here, and a population of 232,000, it's clear this is an industry geared toward servicing those who flock to the desert for both body and soul.

At the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, the setting is spectacular; a 44,000 square-foot luxury spa that occupies its own wing of the elegant Fairmont resort, with many of the rooms open to nature - the sunny rooftop pool flanked by elegant cabanas, the glass-walled restaurant, the waterfall that connects all three levels of the facility.

It's apparent from the many hushed, blissed-out patrons padding softly around, that the setting works to put you into a state of relaxation before desert-inspired treatments even begin.

But desert-inspired means more than just using a cactus loofah. You can take it one step further - there's a spiritual element to the spa treatments here in Arizona.

The Centre for Well-Being at The Phoenician, for example, offers private sessions in astrology, hypnotherapy and guided meditation.

Eurasia Spa at Scottsdale Resort and Athletic Club starts every spa session with a Cosanti Bell ritual.

At the Boulders Resort, the Golden Door Spa offers an experience called equilibrium bottle interpretation, designed to give you a picture of your true self.
You can have your toes read at the Mandala Tea Room and Apothecary.

There's something to all this good-for-the-soul stuff. When I finally emerge from my treatment, scrubbed, massaged, exfoliated and little lightheaded, clutching my very own cactus loofah, I wander out to the spa plunge pools.

There lie my traveling companions, limp and smiling, one of them weeping quietly under a cool, cucumber-scented face cloth.

"I am having a moment," comes her muffled voice. "I am just so, so happy right now."

Now that's a spa experience.

For more information:

Desert Spas
Spas of Arizona

Pamela Fieber, Calgary Herald

October 16, 2008

Spas of California

With a size and economy that exceeds many countries, it's no wonder the Golden State can offer so much. California encompasses ocean, mountains and desert and plays home to celebrities, laid-back beach lovers and nearly everyone in-between. Come for the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hollywood sign or even the weather. The Gold Rush may long be over, but California will always beckon you west. California is a spa lover's paradise, with more hotel and resort spas found here than in any other state.

California Spas