With so many great spas in the West, it’s tough to pick a handful of favorites. But paradise has to start somewhere.

The best spas? That’s a little like picking the best mountains or best sunsets. The American West is unusually abundant in memorable destination spas, and trying to narrow them to a shortlist could leave you aching for an aromatherapy massage. So we’re just starting with five we love and sussing out why we think you’ll love them, too. It’s far from a frivolous undertaking: Spa-going is one of the best antidotes we know to the stresses of modern life. In the same way getting boots in stirrups puts the mind and spirit right, staying at one of these special spas will align you with your true north — and with the wonderful West.

OJAI VALLEY INN & SPA

Location: Ojai, California, 35 miles east of Santa Barbara, 13 miles north of Ventura, 15 miles inland.

Setting: Nestled on 220 tree-shaded acres, surrounded by the Topa Topa Mountains and historic orange groves bounded by dry-stack rock walls, with views of the idyllic east-west valley that was portrayed as Shangri-La in Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon.

Décor: White stucco, red-tile roofs, Mediterranean tilework — call it “Moroccan modern” or California Spanish colonial. Cool colors, water features, artwork, potted orchids, a coed loggia, and several fireplaces make for tasteful and comfortable spa lounging.

Vibe: On the surface plane, the casually elegant SoCal country estate where Hollywood notables Clark Gable, Irene Dunne, Lana Turner, Loretta Young, Hoagy Carmichael, Walt Disney, Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Judy Garland, Paul Newman, and others have gone before. On the spiritual plane, the mystical valley revered by the Chumash Indians for its healing powers.

Philosophy: It takes a holistic village devoted to diverse aspects of wellness to really rejuvenate and balance mind and body.

Experience: Ojai Valley is both magical and elemental, and a spa stay makes it all the more so. The 33,000-square-foot Spa Ojai facility is the anchor of the Spa Village, which includes the Artist’s Cottage, where you can paint your way to a new awareness under the guidance of a professional, and the Apothecary, where you can develop a unique scent for yourself with an expert showing you the aroma ropes. Fill your days with spa treatments and classes that include everything from a four-hand massage to a Chi Gong session and a seasonal body scrub to a silk scarf painting class. At day’s end, immerse yourself in Ojai’s famed “pink moment” in the mountains, when just after sunset the unusually oriented east-west valley floods with ethereal soft pink light.

Signature treatment(s): The only one of its kind in the country, Ojai’s therapeutic communal sauna treatment is called Kuyam. “It means ‘a place to rest together’ from the Chumash language of the American Indians who originally inhabited the Ojai Valley,” says spa director Gloria Ah Sam. Here, the place to rest together — as a couple or in small groups of men or women (seating for eight, and portions of nudity) — is a breathtakingly tiled room in which you experience a dry-heat sauna and slather yourself (with knowledgeable direction) with a series of three therapeutic kuyam clays infused with essential oils. “The warmth slows breathing and promotes relaxation and release; the clays and oils — lemon grass, peppermint, lavender, sweet orange, ginger, frankincense, chamomile — draw out toxins and reduce inflammation,” Ah Sam says. Cool cloths, cool glasses of water, and cool misting accompany the increasing heat, while a story narrated by a Chumash elder to Native music provides an introspective soundtrack. Showered, slippered, and robed, you’re escorted afterward to the kuyam loggia area, where herbal tea, water, fruit, and serenity await. 

Essence in Balance is an aromatic journey that begins in the Apothecary, where an expert helps you custom blend your own personal fragrance from essential oils. You name your aroma; then it’s infused with an unscented massage oil and you’re anointed with it for a full-body massage. Heaven.

Spa food: Café Verde offers “healthy indulgence” food; you can go fresh and organic, but you can also get a burger. Start with one of the fresh-pressed juices: “Clean” is made with celery, watermelon, and ginger, and “Wellness” is made with apple, pomegranate, and mango. Then try the open-faced organic salmon sandwich, a favorite.

Après spa: Golfing at the on-site award-winning course, beach combing at Emma Wood State Beach in Ventura, a scenic drive and hike to Rose Valley Falls in Los Padres National Forest, horseback riding at the resort’s Ranch & Stables (arranged through the resort concierge).

Take-home: The lemon verbena oatmeal soap (the inn’s secret blend).

Photography: Courtesy The Inn and Spa at Loretto
Photography: Courtesy The Inn and Spa at Loretto

THE SPA AT LORETTO

Location: Heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico, near the Palace of Governors.

Setting: A famous architectural re-creation of the Taos Pueblo.

Décor: Honey plank wood floors, stone elements with antique furnishings, hand-carved Mexican cabinetry, beaded sconces, woven textiles, fresh flowers, candles, and a candlelit kiva fireplace.

Vibe: Calming urban East-meets-West-meets-Native sanctuary wrapped in the magic feeling of Santa Fe.

Philosophy: The power to heal begins within. “The whole philosophy begins with the people,” says spa director Suzanne Chavez, a trained seminarian and longtime spa director and practitioner of healing arts. “I’m careful to hire people who have a genuine heart of service, who are very intentional about their work, and who truly want to help people heal. The whole experience of the spa proceeds out of a healing intention.”

Experience: Cross the threshold from the inn to the spa and the universe shifts immediately to healing: drifting aromatherapy scents envelop, soft lighting bathes, ethereal music soothes, colors and accouterments calm. Treatments take place inside spacious suites, and almost all products are blended by hand on-site. “I want a genuine healing intention to go into everything that goes onto a guest’s body,” Chavez says. The result? We’ve been massaged, oiled, and hot-rocked from Dallas to New Delhi, but this spa is tops on our itinerary. The reason? It’s not the music, though lovely, or the comforting décor, though perfect in adobe-like hues. It’s the intention — as in the power of. It’s in the sage smudge stick waved in smoking blessing around your body before you enter a ritual bath to soak amid a sprinkling of rose petals. It’s in the hands and gentle, perceptive conversation of the therapist who coaxes every drop of stress out of you for 80 glorious minutes. Is there something in your life that you need to make a decision about that you’ve been putting off? You’ll get to it as the marble-size knots are worked out of your shoulder blades with the chamomile, geranium, and neroli oils said to promote emotional balance. If there’s a more intuitive unwinding of the connections between the physical and the psychic and a more intuitive town to do it in, we don’t know about it. 

Signature treatment(s): Native Reflections, in which you first surrender to the smoke of burning sage and accompanying blessing. Long used by Native Americans as an herb for cleansing and clearing, sage is often burned in a dried bundle called a smudge stick. Go with the belief that it clears negative energies and elevates your prayers as the smoke drifts heavenward. Surrender to the warmth of the waiting bath. Let the rose petals float and the infused sage oil absorb, lifting spirits, clearing lungs, and boosting the respiratory system. Surrender to the Sacred Stone Massage that uses the inn’s own “spirit blend” (oils of frankincense, white sage, and sandalwood to enhance reflection and meditation). Then tell us if you didn’t find yourself transported to an ancient, timeless plane.

Spa food: There’s no spa restaurant, but the Inn and Spa at Loretto has a modern Southwestern-style restaurant, Luminaria, and the Living Room lounge, where you can eat with health and harmony in mind.

Après spa: Santa Fe sunset. The bells of the basilica. A glass of New Mexico wine in front of the outdoor kiva fireplace. A visit to the Loretto Chapel and contemplation of the Miraculous Staircase.

Take-home: Sage smudge stick.

Photography: Courtesy Lake Austin Spa Resort
Photography: Courtesy Lake Austin Spa Resort

LAKE AUSTIN SPA RESORT

Location: Austin, Texas, about 20 minutes from downtown Austin on the shores of Lake Austin in the Texas Hill Country.

Setting: Like a secret garden in the country, 19 landscaped acres with rooms and spa facilities perched on a hill overlooking the lake.

Décor: Your stylish wealthy friend’s comfy lake house with lots of art, antiques, slipcovered furnishings, and custom furniture.

Vibe: Intimate and private, laid-back yet luxurious. In this Hill Country culture, it’s hair down, makeup off, terry robe on.

Philosophy: Nature nurtures. In addition to the beauty around you, everything you might need to rejuvenate, celebrate, or just chill is at your disposal, including a lakeside library. “We give our guests as much or as little attention as they need and want,” says spa director Lynne Vertrees.

Experience: How amazing — a spa where the food (included in the rate) is as delightfully healthy and alluring as the treatments, and where even your meals can be enjoyed in your spa robe. Chef Terry Conlan is a master of spa cuisine, and his “no foods are forbidden” mantra lets you indulge in moderation and even enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. It’s all low-cal; even so, with up to 20 fitness classes offered every day (yoga, hiking, Pilates, ballet body, Zumba, BOSU, BODYPUMP, kayaking, and hydro-biking are all part of the weekly curriculum), it’s easy to stay active and work the few calories off.

As glorious as the meals are, it’s equally about treatment time here. Walking the footpath to the 25,000-square-foot LakeHouse Spa is like wending through an enchanted garden. Simply lounging inside the spa or around the spa pool is soul-feeding. And the services — more than 100 that run the gamut from massage to East Asian therapies to body and beauty treatments — are icing on the cake.

Signature treatment(s): Tour of Texas is almost two hours of body-mind renewal: an exfoliating scrub with prickly pear (a plant native to Texas and rich in skin-replenishing benefits), an aloe vera wrap accompanied by a face and scalp massage, then a full-body massage using a cream blended with warm essential oils. Gifts of Our Garden starts with exfoliation (concocted from an herb you choose from the Healing Gardens) and proceeds to scintillating shower, massage, body wrap (who doesn’t love linen swaddles and an herbal eye pillow!), chased with an herbal elixir. In the LakeHouse Lavender treatment it’s all about the healing loveliness of lavender, from the invigorating sugar scrub to the replenishing lotion rub — olfactory bliss.

Spa food: “No doubt, Coffee-Crusted Sirloin with Jalapeño Red-Eye Gravy,” says Vertrees. We’re partial to the watermelon gazpacho in the summer — a reason in itself to visit — and the Limoncello tiramisu.

Après spa: Cooking classes, especially during a Culinary Experience week, when celebrity chefs teach two-hour (packed) classes each day. Early morning sculling and boat trips on the lake, tai chi on the dock, stargazing.

Take-home: The lavender amenities, especially the lotion.

Photography: Courtesy Three Forks Ranch
Photography: Courtesy Three Forks Ranch

THE ROARING FORK SPA, THREE FORKS RANCH

Location: Forty miles north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, right on the Colorado-Wyoming border.

Setting: This is cattle country, dotted with old homesteading cabins, aspen and cottonwood groves, and pine-beetle infested fir trees. A river runs through it — the Snake River — and the north, middle, and south forks converge here, hence the name. The 6,000-square-foot spa is secreted away on the ground level of the Three Forks Lodge, overlooking the surrounding rocky crags of the Routt National Forest.

Décor: Upstairs in the lodge it’s Charles Russell meets Ming Dynasty, with an impeccable mix of Western and Chinese art, as well as an impressive collection of vintage firearms. Down below in the spa the tranquil Asian theme continues, with raw rock walls and an indoor/outdoor infinity pool reflecting the mountains and sky above.

Vibe: High adventure in high-mountain backcountry.

Philosophy: To help guests experience the serenity of the Three Forks lifestyle.

Experience: Your wish is their command. You don’t so much schedule services at Three Forks as utter thoughts like, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a Swedish massage after my cross-country ski outing?” Next thing you know you’re being fitted for a pair of skis by Jess, a former member of the Dartmouth ski team, and an appointment with the masseuse has been arranged for your return. Three Forks developed a reputation as one of the top big game hunting lodges in the world, and they have applied their same concept of one-on-one field guides and personal attention to the recently added spa.

Signature treatment(s): The Roaring Fork Signature Massage (a blend of Swedish and deep tissue techniques using signature scents like Piney Mountain or Alpine Wildflower) is a guest favorite, but staff members swear by the Holistic Mountain Retreat, which combines Thai massage with marine immersion and ocean sounds for total body restoration.

Spa food: Roaring Fork does not have a separate spa menu, but they do have an on-site chef team of Marc LeDuc (who worked with Thomas Keller at the French Laundry) and Meghan Wertman, the lodge’s resident pastry chef. Dishes range from fresh-baked croissants and Danishes with morning coffee to perfectly tender elk steaks and grilled salmon for dinner.

Après spa: In the winter there are 75 miles of groomed cross-country and snowshoe trails, snowmobiling, sledding, and private powder cat skiing all on the property, as well as concierge skiing in Steamboat Springs. In the summer you can fly-fish for rainbow trout (with no more than one guest per mile of river) or try your hand at the sporting clays course, while in the fall you can hunt for bugling bull elk.

Take-home: If you can finally manage to shrug out of your robe, you’ll want a Three Forks edition men’s button-down to relax in.

Photography: Courtesy The Broadmoor
Photography: Courtesy The Broadmoor

SPA AT THE BROADMOOR

Location: On the shores of Cheyenne Lake in Colorado Springs, Colorado, just 15 minutes from the Colorado Springs Airport and 90 minutes from the Denver International Airport. 
Setting: As you sit on the resort patio looking west toward Pike National Forest and watch the sun set behind Pikes Peak, you’ll understand why Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write “America the Beautiful” while standing atop this purple mountain majesty.

Décor: European opulence. James Pourtales, a Prussian count, originally bought the acreage to build The Broadmoor Casino and Hotel in 1890. The property was later bought in 1916 by Spencer Penrose, a Philadelphia entrepreneur, who began construction of the luxury resort and golf course that would become known as the Grande Dame of the Rockies. The spa (recently renovated in 2002) is no exception to The Broadmoor’s long history of providing award-winning service in an awe-inspiring setting. With sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and cozy nooks complete with roaring fireplaces, there’s no better place to relax after a long day on the links.

Vibe: Luxury loves company.

Philosophy: To create lasting memories through extraordinary experiences.

Experience: Talk to someone who has been to the Broadmoor and chances are they’ve been more than once — and they can’t wait to get back. With a cabana-style pool at the north end of Cheyenne Lake, three golf courses, and one of the top-rated tennis resorts in the country — in addition to the spa, fitness center, and indoor pool — you feel healthier just being here and inhaling the juniper-scented mountain air. There is something for everyone in the family, and with so many activities and dining options on site, you’ll never want to leave.
Signature treatment(s): The Broadmoor Bliss Massage features the spa’s signature body care line and offers your choice of four decadent scents sure to relax mind, body, and soul. But if you really want to try something memorable, don’t miss the spa’s Signature Shower. The name doesn’t do it justice: It should be called The 18 Shower Heads of Pure Joy. Which may be why they’re keeping it understated — this fully automated agua fiesta could start putting The Broadmoor’s skilled masseuses out of business.

Spa food: With 18 restaurants and cafes on site, you won’t go hungry. But be sure to make reservations for the extravagant Sunday brunch in the Lake Terrace Dining Room complete with live piano, ice sculpture, and more than 100 items on the decadent buffet spread. And set aside at least one night for dinner at the newly opened Summit restaurant. Order the sweet corn soup with vanilla if it’s on the seasonal menu (don’t let the vanilla dissuade you — this soup is the pure essence of summer corn), as well as the Angry Trout (so named because this local fish is served whole with the tail artfully pulled through the mouth), served with a smoky, bacon-infused braised Swiss chard.

Après spa: The hiking and biking trails of Cheyenne Canyon are within walking distance, and just down the street are the red rock spires of the Garden of the Gods. Feeling more ambitious? Hike Pikes Peak, one of the state’s 14ers, or ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the top. And for ’cue junkies and wannabes, there’s Barbecue University with PBS star and chef Steven Raichlen, offered in two 3-day sessions in June (go here to reserve a spot at the grill).

Take-home: The Supracor bath, body, and facial mitt. Supracor’s flexible honeycomb is an engineered marvel produced as a byproduct of the aerospace industry, an appropriate tribute to the local Air Force Academy.


From the January 2011 issue.

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