The Great Spas of Wine Country

The Great Spas of Wine Country

Spas have evolved far beyond the hot mineral bath. Today there are countless ways to cater to the mind and body, with many spas located just a stone’s throw from world-class vineyards and wineries.

Some 2,000 years ago, Roman soldiers, fatigued from conquest and tramping through the dusty countryside, repaired to the healing waters of a hamlet in southwest Britannia, now called England, to soak aching muscles and soothe creaky joints. Indeed, the mineral springs at Bath have been a popular destination since Celtic tribes first crossed the River Avon around 450 B.C.

The Celts believed the springs were the home of the goddess Sulis. It was later, around 43 A.D., that the Romans arrived and made Aquae Sulis a place of pilgrimage, replete with thermal baths, temples and theaters. The popularity of spas has grown steadily ever since.

As translated from the Latin, Aquae Sulis means “waters of the sun,” and the purifying power of water has always been an essential ingredient of spa treatments. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Romans, who also knew something about the medicinal qualities of wine, would be the ones to popularize “taking the waters” throughout the Empire. And the word “spa” is said to be an abbreviation derived from the axiom Sanitas per Aqua, or “healing through water.”

In the 21st century, wine (in moderation) has also come to be connected with health, as has the antioxidant properties of grape seeds. (Those who use grape-seed-based products swear it turns skin from raisin to plump fruit in no time.) Still, many destination spas have restrictive menus that don’t allow wine. But there are other spas that have a soft spot for wine and grape-related treatments. For this look at spas for the wine lover, we focus on seven resort spas in California that allow for both treatment of mind and body and the reasonable consumption of wine and food, something we believe the fine physical specimens of the Roman legions would surely endorse.

Then we travel to European wine country, where a trio of spas prove that California does not have a monopoly on mixing wine with the ultimate in indulgence and health improvement.


Bacara resort & spa
One of the newest kids on the spa block is also one of the most glamorous. Bacara Resort & Spa, sprawling over 78 acres and two miles of white sand beach just south of Santa Barbara, opened September 1, with all the glitter of a Hollywood premier. Jet-setters and beautiful people seem to be the target market, and the 360 guest rooms as well as the 42,000-square-foot full-service spa offer guests luxury, relaxation and rejuvenation.

The spa has 37 individual treatment rooms and four private spa suites. Bacara has it all: a cardio and weight studio, personal training, a café, a full-service salon, indoor and outdoor massage, Swiss showers, steam baths, saunas, whirlpools, relaxation libraries with fireplaces, and private sun decks. Your lockers are even filled with Frette robes and Evian water.

Signature treatments include a citrus/avocado body scrub, using lemon-lime sea salt, followed by a shower and an application of avocado cream. The oatmeal sage body polish is a gentle exfoliating treatment to cleanse, soften and nourish the skin. The treatment includes a body wrap and shower with loofah, followed by the application of lavender and sage oil to nourish and smooth the skin. Numerous styles of massage are offered, including stone therapy, reflexology with Swedish massage, Shiatsu and Ayurveda. All manner of facial treatments are available for men and women. Yoga, aerobics and daily aqua classes are also offered.

The Spa Café provides healthy Mediterranean cuisine with less than 20 percent fat per meal. Typical luncheon selections include: Ecuadoran snapper, tuna tartare, and a tofu and vegetable wrap in a whole-wheat tortilla. Organic wines are offered by sommelier Gillian Ballance, who oversees a wine cellar with 600 selections. Ballance comes to Bacara from Picholine in New York (see “Secrets of the Sommeliers,” October); also in New York she trained at the Rainbow Room and later, Windows on the World, where she became cellarmaster.

Bacara Resort & Spa, 8301 Hollister Avenue, Santa Barbara, California;
tel. 877/422-4245 or 805/968-0100; www. Rooms $395-$675; suites $950-$5,000. Individual spa treatments start at $25; half-day spa packages from $325;
full-day packages from $590.

Bernardus Lodge
Set in the lovely Carmel Valley, the Bernardus Lodge is an ideal setting for a spa with wine-country overtones. Opened in September 1999 as an addition to the 57-room lodge, the spa is small, but stylish. What the facility lacks in size (5,300 square feet), it makes up for in tasteful decor and calming atmosphere. You might be the only one in the waiting room, sipping the complimentary tea and munching fruit. Set against the Santa Lucia Mountains, the warming pool on the spa patio is a wonderful spot to read
or relax.

Eight treatment rooms are used for massage, body treatments and facials, and a private steam room features a Vichy shower (a multihead horizontal device). The seaweed detox purifier is the ultimate wrap, ending with an aromatherapy massage. The Vineyard room is designed for couples, and the 100-minute treatment features a joint scrub with crushed grape seeds and red wine to exfoliate dull and dry skin. There is also an outdoor aromatherapy bath and private meditation garden. Separate steam and sauna rooms are available in the men’s and women’s locker rooms. There is also a small fitness area.

Spa director Bruce Cavan had experience at the Grand Wailea Resort on Maui before coming to Bernardus to open and run the spa. Maybe that’s why the Hawaiian lomi lomi massage, a traditional method of healing performed on the islands for generations, is so popular at Bernardus.

The cuisine of executive chef Cal Stamenov is more than enough reason to visit Bernardus. When you visit, ask if he’s preparing the grilled shrimp on fresh white-corn polenta. If not, he’ll give you the recipe so that you can make it on your own.

Bernardus Lodge, 415 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, California; tel. 831/656-3400 or 888/648-9463; Room rates from $245 per night. Individual spa services from $125.

Claremont Resort & Spa
The newly renovated 15,000-square-foot Spa Claremont was scheduled to open in late November at this stately resort tucked into the Berkeley hills overlooking San Francisco Bay. The concept is to combine highly trained therapists, and fitness and nutrition experts with the cultural diversity of the San Francisco Bay Area. The treatments are based on practices from Asia, the South Pacific and elsewhere. The signature spa treatment is the grape-seed body polish.

The treatments embrace the five senses—sound, sight, smell, touch and taste. For example, three floor-to-ceiling water walls bring the soothing aspects of nature indoors. Treatment room doors are inset with frosted glass, designed to create the illusion of daybreak. The lounge offers a spritz bar, where guests select the aroma spray of their choice, all the better for relaxing with warmed towels and robe following a treatment. While soaking in the whirlpool, guests enjoy breathtaking views of San Francisco, the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. A hydrotherapy circuit offers a variety of specialty baths, deluge showers, steam room and whirlpool. The spa has 22 massage rooms, a flotation tank room (with two tanks), one co-ed massage room with whirlpool tub for two, five facial rooms, and four wet rooms with Vichy showers for body treatments. For an additional $40 per night, hotel guests can sleep on a magnetic mattress pad designed to relieve pain and increase circulation.

Housed in the 279-room Claremont Resort, which features ten tennis courts, two swimming pools, and both gourmet and spa cuisine, Spa Claremont combines luxury and quiet elegance with fine touches like natural wood floors and marble tubs. Did we mention that the Claremont is less than an hour’s drive from the heart of Napa Valley?

Claremont Resort & Spa, 41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley, California; tel. 510/843-3000 or 800/ 551-7266; Room rates, from $179, include fitness facilities and classes. Spa renewal packages, including all of the above plus one spa service per person, are $348 double, $248 single. A full 4-day/3-night spa package starts at $1,100 per person.

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
Ojai was a Hollywood retreat long before it was chosen as the setting for Shangri-La in the movie Lost Horizon, filmed here in 1937. With the hazy blue Topa Topa Mountains in the distance, it is easy to imagine Gable and Lombard, Bogart and Bacall, and other Hollywood luminaries strolling the grounds of this Spanish Colonial-style inn nestled in a serene valley. Located on 220 tree-shaded acres, the resort is just 73 miles (but five decades) from smoggy Los Angeles.

The idea is to go spiritual at Spa Ojai, a full-service health center featuring treatments reflecting the Chumash Indian tradition of living in harmony with the land. My favorite is the signature Kuyam treatment, offered only here. The treatment can be shared by up to eight participants, with separate sessions for men and women. Kuyam is a soothing application of cleansing mud, dry heat and steam, followed by an inhalation therapy. It comes from the Chumash word meaning “a place to rest together.” A guided meditation with deep-breathing exercises follows. The clay mud is removed in a walk-through Swiss shower, followed by an application of moisturizing lotion, before you are wrapped like a burrito in warm linen and set out to bake on the terrace.

The design of the 31,000-square-foot spa, which opened in late 1999, is Andalusian Spanish—whitewashed walls with red-tile roofs. The complex has the cozy feeling of a Mediterranean village, with trickling fountains, terraces, and even a bell tower that rises above the courtyard. Moorish touches in tile floors, mosaics, and wrought iron flavor the interior. All 28 treatment areas, many with wood-burning fireplaces, feature decorative tile and hand-stenciled walls. Perfect for a large family or small group, the spa penthouse is a 3,500-square-foot retreat with four private guest rooms, two living areas, and a meditation loft. With access by private elevator, the penthouse features its own treatment room, sauna, and two terraces—one for sunset, one for sunrise.

The spa has a weight room, a cardiovascular workout area and a lap pool. Many of the treatments use items from Ojai’s local farms, orchards and ranches: Organic honey from local orange blossoms makes a sweet scrub, masque and hot bath, while an elderberry herbal wrap draws its inspiration from the Chumash tradition of using the local fruit to hydrate the skin.

At the spa’s poolside café, fresh vegetables, local fruits and Pacific seafood are offered. The resort’s two other restaurants offer a special spa menu with nutritional analysis for each item. The wine list features excellent Central Coast selections. There is also a championship golf course, tennis, horseback riding, and 206 handsome guest rooms and suites.

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, Country Club Road, Ojai, California; tel. 805/640-0200 or 800/
422-6524 (Spa Ojai: 888/SPA-OJAI); www. Rooms $245-$320; suites $390-$2,000; cottages $750-$900. Individual spa treatments $25-$190 (packages available).

The Spa At Pebble Beach
As resorts with natural beauty go, it just does not get better than Pebble Beach. And the new 22,000-square-foot spa that opened last February in Casa Palmero next to the famous ocean-front golf links has become an instant classic. Surrounded by gardens, trellised walkways and fountains, the Mediterranean-style retreat engages the natural healing properties of the ocean and Monterey Peninsula forests in a variety of therapeutic treatments.

The spa features 21 treatment rooms, including 12 massage rooms (two with fireplaces), four wet rooms with Vichy showers, and a hydrotherapy room with an individual hydrotherapy tub for sports-injury therapy. The baths are personalized with the spa’s own line of therapeutic sea salts, seaweed powder, and aromatherapy salts to soothe the skin and aid in the healing process. There is a double wet room where couples can enjoy exfoliation and body treatments. Four rooms provide a variety of skin-care services, including facials, make-up and waxing. Other services include an ionization room with a negative ionization pump and infused aromatherapy, where one can relax and rejuvenate without the intense heat of a sauna or steam room. The men’s and women’s locker rooms offer sauna and steam rooms, and individual soaking tubs. A glass-enclosed conservatory serves light snacks.

Signature spa treatments include a huckleberry herbal wrap, which uses a blend of herbs native to the Del Monte Forest. Seaweed from the waters of Stillwater Cove, just behind the 17th green, is used in a wrap designed to purify the body.

The tiled artwork in the spa showers was created by Carmel artists. The spa’s Skin Institute is a medical center with services including laser hair removal, laser vascular treatments, cosmetic peels and botox injections. The salon offers manicures, pedicures and hair styling.

Spa cuisine is available at each dining outlet at Pebble Beach (including The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay and the new Casa Palmero, where the spa itself is located). So if you’re counting calories you don’t have to go to any one particular restaurant. The wine list throughout the Pebble Beach complex is noteworthy, with many excellent California selections.

The Spa at Pebble Beach, 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, California; tel. 831/649-7615 or 800/654-9300; Rooms $425-$575; suites $750-$2,125. Individual spa treatments from $100; one-day to five-day packages $300-$1,425.

Silverado Country Club & Resort
As wine-country health retreats go, the spa at Silverado is unmatched. Napa Valley’s largest (16,000 square feet) and most luxurious spa facility opened in the spring of 1999. The whitewashed Romanesque building is spacious, and the spa offers a complete fitness facility, body treatments and facials, a beauty salon and a 25-meter pool.

Treatment specialties include a grape-seed body polish, followed by a jasmine-ginger-green clay mask and a massage. Two championship golf courses attract golfers, so Silverado offers the Golf Widow spa package, which includes a manicure, pedicure, massage and facial, and takes about the same amount of time as a round of golf.

The spa is only minutes away from scores of Napa’s finest wineries, and the food at Silverado’s three restaurants is described as “quietly spa-friendly.” The Spa Café serves up Hawaiian pesto chicken salad. In the Royal Oak restaurant, the star is the macrobiotic-inspired “tuna, tuna, tuna,” which features the freshest fish three ways—sushi-style over seasoned rice, seared Cajun-style with avocado salad, and minced fresh tuna salad with a miso vinaigrette. The resort’s award-winning wine list showcases over 300 Napa Valley selections.

The stately mansion at Silverado was built during the 1870s, and is reminiscent of a Southern plantation. Today, the updated Silverado has 280 condominium units and cottage suites in addition to the main building and clubhouse. Besides the spa and two 18-hole golf courses, there are 17 tennis courts, nine swimming pools, volleyball and basketball courts, jogging trails and mountain bikes for rent.

Silverado Country Club & Resort, 1600 Atlas Peak Road, Napa, California; tel. 707/257-0200 or 800/532-0500; Room rates $165- $535. Individual spa treatment $25-$160; packages $135-$310.

Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
Like the natural springs the Romans so enjoyed at Bath, the unique element of the spa at Sonoma Mission Inn is that treatments are based around the natural thermal mineral waters, which bubble up at a temperature of 135 degrees from 1,100 feet directly beneath the spa complex. The spa is in an area known as Boyes Hot Springs, a destination for rejuvenation since the 1920s.

Located just minutes from Jack London’s beloved Valley of the Moon, Sonoma Mission Inn was built in 1927, in the California Mission style. Multiple restorations and additions have only enhanced the rose-colored structure, which is surrounded by 80-year-old eucalyptus trees. The 40,000-square-foot spa opened in January 2000, and is one of the most comprehensive resort spas in California. The new $20 million multilevel layout offers an outdoor mineral water pool, weight and exercise rooms, and daily classes in aerobics, yoga, stretching and body sculpting.

The underground mineral waters are used for various bath treatments. The signature treatment is the spa’s 60-minute, co-ed Bathing Ritual, which recaptures the bathing traditions of the ancients. You begin with a shower rinse, then dip into a 92-degree Roman bath (tepiderium), and then tiptoe into a 102-degree hot pool (caldarium), followed by a cooling shower under oversized shower heads. A visit to the herbal steam room and a sauna complete the cycle. The spa also offers 50 different types of massages, facials, wraps and salon services, plus individual fitness training and consultations on nutrition and stress management. Unusual treatments include a dedicated Watsu pool where body movements and Zen Shiatsu massage release tension. The spa staff numbers over 100.

Rest and light snacks are regularly taken on the terrace or near the pool. The wine list at Sonoma Mission Inn features 400 selections. Within each category, wines are subdivided by flavor components. The menu features mostly Sonoma-grown farm-fresh ingredients and organic produce.

Thirty new suites bring the number of guest rooms to 228, many with wood-burning fireplaces and private terraces. The resort, which has invested $50 million in expansion and upgrades in the past three years, also owns the championship Sonoma Golf Club, set amid vineyards that butt up against the Mayacamas Mountains.

Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, 18300 Highway 12, Boyes Hot Springs, California; tel. 707/938-9000 or 800/862-4945; Rooms $249-$449; suites $429-$1,200. Spa and room packages from $700; bath house access complimentary with individual spa treatment of $95
or more.

European Spas

Les Sources de Caudalie
This elegant spa in Martillac, half an hour from central Bordeaux, sits on the grounds of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte and offers visitors the chance to cleanse body and spirit with some of the world’s first and finest “vinotherapy” treatments.

Vinotherapy is rooted in the use of the polyphenols pressed out of grape seeds, and like wine, it has been proven to help increase blood circulation and keep one’s skin and internal organs healthier.

The spa opened in 1999 and instantly became a stop on the celebrity circuit. Here you are as likely to be padding around in a robe with Princess Caroline of Monaco as with a chatelaine from one of the great chateaus of the Médoc. The spa is a lesson in zen-like calm mixed with French hedonism. With architecture of wood, glass and stone, it approaches the California aesthetic of simple elegance.

Treatments are a mix of massage techniques and the application of grape-seed-based skin cleansers and moisturizers, which are sold worldwide under the Caudalie label. The most popular treatments are the Barrel Soak, for which grape musts and other oils and scents are placed in a huge barrel-like tub that looks out on the vineyards. Other treaments include the Merlot wrap, which is a plastic wrap with oils and essences for deep cleansing, and the crushed Cabernet body scrub, to soften the skin. Facials are popular and can include a complete regimen including polyphenol capsules to be swallowed during the month after the initial session. One of the best and most invigorating treatments is the hydromassage, where shower jets pummel your body while an attendant massages the kinks out. It has nothing to do with wine, but after a hard day on the wine trail, it is heavenly.

The bistro serves high-quality, low-calorie food, while the more elegant restaurant, with a view of the lake, approaches haute cuisine. And to get the benefit of wine from the inside out, there are always a few surprises waiting in the 10,000-bottle wine cellar.

Les Sources de Caudalie, Chemin de Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Martillac, France; tel. (011-33) 5-57-83-82-82; Weekend spa packages from 2,890 FF (about $400 U.S). Single treatments and longer stays available.

Szidónia Manor House
It’s easy to combine a spa vacation in Sopron, on the Hungarian side of the Austria-Hungary border, with a wine tour that includes several Austrian regions, including Vienna and Neusiedlersee. While there are spas in and around Budapest, they are a couple of hours from the vineyards of Tokaj, and an urban environment is not nearly as relaxing as is this ancient city located at the intersection of the continental plains and the Alps.

Beyond offering tantalizing cuisine with trade-route origins, Sopron has wines, particularly the Kékfrankos (Blaufränkisch) and Siller reds, that are worth exploring. But best of all, it’s here where you find the most up-to-date spa treatments available in Transdanubia (about two hours from Vienna). The 18th-century Szidónia Manor House has been transformed into an elegant 39-room hotel with spa treatments available in the pool, sauna and gym. Facilities and services include electro-acupuncture, aromatherapy, steam baths, facials and a wide range of massage techniques ranging from Shiatsu to simply relaxing rubs.

Szidónia has seven suites for longer stays, and the hotel offers tennis, golf, horseback riding and biking. Something you will notice immediately is that prices in Hungary are much lower than for the same types of treatments in the West, with a full Szidónia Vital day-spa package consisting of a sauna, body and Shiatsu massage, an aroma bath and a four-course lunch or dinner for less than $65. A seven-night Oxygen Therapy package including lodging, half board, oxygen treatments, yoga and various massages goes for less than $600 per person. The manor can also arrange wine tours to nearby vineyards.

Szidónia Manor House, 9451 Rojtokmuzsaj, Sopron, Hungary; tel. (011-35) 99-544-810;

Acqui Terme
There are several spas along the wine trail through Piedmont, but it would be almost sinful not to take a pause from your tasting and travel schedule for a massage and soak at Acqui Terme.

The spa town of Acqui Terme is situated 75 miles from Milan and only 30 miles from Genoa. As with many of the region’s natural sulfur baths, Acqui Terme was on the ancient Via Emilia road to Rome, and there are still plenty of Roman ruins to look at and photograph while taking healthy walks in and around town. For visiting and tasting, the Acqui Brachetto wine cellar in the Palazzo Robellini is within close distance of all the baths and offers free tastings of the nine appellations of Acqui and Ovada.

Most of the spas here focus on the healing properties of the sulfur-rich waters, not on pampered luxury, and the prices reflect this. For the brave of heart, there is even a free hot-water spring that gushes out from a Cerruti marble fountain in Acqui Terme’s Piazza Bollente. Coming soon will be a world-class full-service spa, Le Terme de III Millennio, which is now under construction.

Acqui Terme Spa Information, 15011 Acqui Terme Piazza, Acqui Terme, Italy; tel. (011-39) 0144/324390; e-mail: Spa treatments from $30.

European spa section by Kathleen Buckley

Published on December 1, 2000
Topics: Spas, Wine Country Travel

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