LUXURY TRAVEL. The very sound of these two words is enough to conjure a sense of relaxation.

After overcoming the stresses of our careers and daily life, a getaway to bask in the glory of well-being is like a reset button. One that is not even so much a luxury as it is a right (or mechanism for survival, depending on who you ask). Spas, beauty packages and wellness activities are not new offerings in the world of luxury travel destinations. In fact, given the $15.5 billion dollar industry it’s become, it’s easy to say “everyone’s doing it.” The real question is: who’s doing it well, really well? In the name of research, I took to the road to discover four destinations offering a unique approach to serenity, mindfulness and well-being.

CANYON RANCH
Lenox, Massachusetts / Vibe: rural New England, active, outdoorsy, unintimidating

About 40 years ago, Mel Zuckerman was 40 years old and 40 pounds overweight with high blood pressure. After his doctor told him he had the body of a 65-year-old, he spent 10 days at a “fat farm.” Feeling renewed (though still a bit scarred from being immersed in groups of leotard-women), Zuckerman and his wife Enid set out to launch the first Canyon Ranch in Tucson in 1979, aimed at helping guests learn to live healthier through exercise, nutrition, stress reduction and preventive care. A decade later, the Lenox branch was created 150 miles from New York.

Canyon Ranch Lenox transformed the 120-acre Bellefontaine estate, where the mansion, constructed in 1897 to replicate Louis XIV’s Le Petit Trianon at Versailles, is used for dining rooms, a café, library and Health & Healing Center. Here, the heart of the complex—the 100,000 squarefoot spa and sports facility—houses an array of fitness options in gyms, studios, an indoor swimming pool and squash and basketball courts, with its seemingly day-long pick-up game. Plus, there are the usual spa facilities.

A Climate-controlled, glass-enclosed walkway links the spa with the mansion and the 126-room inn (a 19-room condominium wing is under construction). It offers views of the Berkshire greenery and woodlands and assures all-weather comfort. While some guests concentrate on all the fitness options indoors and out, others are focused on their medical and spiritual health. The staff of 60 wellness professionals—including board-certified physicians with degrees from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and NYU—plus nurses, exercise physiologists, behavioral health professionals, acupuncturists and nutritionists focus on issues like weight loss, smoke cessation, stress reduction and Chinese medicine. All of the lectures and workshops for these programs plus daily Lunch & Learn sessions are complimentary for guests, as are the artistic options and the spiritual ones, such as yoga, tai chi and meditation.

Because food is intrinsic to well-being, executive chef James Massey serves a mix of farm-to-table options on a menu that men—my late husband, for one—find particularly appealing. The generous, comfort-food options—chili, Buffalo chicken salad, chocolate cake—appears anti-spa cuisine but features many organic, as-local-as-possible or sustainably caught ingredients. Recommendations for balancing daily menus educate guests and control-sized portions help them learn the most important adage: how much is enough.

RANCHO LA PUERTA
Tecate, Mexico / Vibe: rustic desert beauty, spiritual, vegetarian

From morning hikes and inner journeys; to fitness, tennis and cooking classes; to pampering body services, evening lectures and dance sessions, the Ranch (as it is affectionately called) is a weeklong escape where the only stress is deciding on which of the 70 daily mind/body/spirit activities to do.

There’s a sense of magic here, walking along the curved, clay-tile paths bordered with geraniums and breathing the scent of sage, rosemary or lavender. Stress diminishes not just because life is slower in Mexico, but because of the beauty of this 3,000-acre property at the foot of Mt. Kuchumaa. Even walking brings mind-body-spirit wellness. Paths wind among authentic casitas (tiny houses), over tiny bridges, around trickling fountains and eventually to the labyrinth, a replica of the one at the medieval Chartres Cathedral in France. Tracing the route to activities at the pools, gyms, tennis courts or dining hall is an experience unto itself.

Activist/philanthropist Deborah Szekely, “The Godmother” of the U.S. wellness industry, co-founded Rancho La Puerta in a rural setting in the 1940s with her late husband, Edmund, to share his philosophy of life and vegetarianism with visitors. Originally, they charged $17.50 a week for each guest who brought a tent south of the border and helped in the garden two hours per day. Now in her 90s, she continues exercising daily, ordering from the appetizer list on the menu, and talking after dinners about living longer and healthier.

The Executive Wellness program partners with Lifewellness Institute in San Diego and provides a 7-day plan designed as a positive life transformation. It starts with a physical evaluation and continues with custom-designed programs from fitness and nutritional experts.

The fresh-from-the-farm cuisine is another welcome aspect. Although meals feature fresh fish options, the mostly vegetarian menu incorporates ingredients raised on the Ranch’s farm and 6-acre organic garden (Tres Estrellas), which produces more than 250 different varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Adjacent to the garden, the 4,500-square foot cooking school—La Cocina Que Canta—offers hands-on cooking classes. “Business trip” bonus perk: I learned to make a healthy pizza with fresh veggies and a sweet balsamic vinegar reduction.

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