Best spa treatment of 2015 Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Dorado Beach

 

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My best spa treatment in 2015 was also the most decadent of the year. The Montasanto Apothecary Ritual at the Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Dorado Beach, in Puerto Rico. This spa has been on my bucket list since it opened in 2012. I had the pleasure of taking in all that the Ritz-Carlton, Dorado Beach has to offer with my husband for our 10th wedding anniversary in February. It is the most beautiful spa I have visited to date.

 

Living on the east coast of the United States, Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico is just a quick three-hour flight from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, requires no passport, and is an exotic beach get away. Coconut palm trees, secluded beaches, four world-class golf courses on the property, and every amenity that you would expect at a Ritz-Carlton, taken to a new level. This is a Ritz-Carlton Reserve property. What makes this an ultra-destination spa is the five-acre rain forest in the center of this resort and the exceptional staff. The world-class therapists make full use of the the flowers and herbs grown within the organic spa garden. The botanicals are used in all of the spa treatments and even some of the resort meals. The extensive treatment menu, with exotic settings tucked away in private casitas bring all the elements together for an otherworldly experience.

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A treehouse pavilion in the center of this rainforest is used for treatments. It was set up for a hammock massage.

Guests can arrive to the spa several ways. Your personal ambassador makes all of your arrangements for you, be it dining, tours, golf, spa treatments, packing or unpacking your luggage, or even transportation to the spa. Each guest is given a bicycle to explore the property, delivered to your room at your request. For my first treatment, a Dorado diamond facial, I arrived by golf cart, but by the end of the week, I was exploring the property and arriving at the spa on my bike.

Entering the spa though the Spanish gates, I pass under a gorgeous ancient banyan tree. I realize I am about to enter a very special place. On each spa visit I take my time to take in the scale of this gorgeous tree. I can see why the design team chose this site for the welcome center. At 30 yards from the front door, one can actually smell all the organic herbs and flowers coming from the huge open air pavilion where they harvest, dry, and store the botanicals for treatments. This pathway really sets the tone for what is the most spectacular spa I have ever visited.

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I booked for the signature three-hour Montasantos Apothecary Ritual treatment with Giselle. She is my therapist and esthetician, and has been all week. Since Giselle has gotten to know me over the course of the week, it would be easy for her to rush through my consultation, but that is not the case. We again discuss my desired goals, health conditions, and personal preferences specifically for the botanicals preparations she will me making by hand for me. The goal is to help me achieve my optimum state of wellbeing. Personally, I was already feeling amazing. I had been eating extremely well, I was drinking the best Puerto Rican rum at the pool daily, strolling the beach during the evening, and getting plenty of sleep. My husband and I were feeling connected and happy. He was in great spirits and very relaxed. I was missing a second winter storm back home, so no real complaints here. Any treatment issues to be addressed were just some lingering dry patches of winter skin, and the typical desire to address aging on my face and decolletage.

Dorado Beach Apothocary Spa treatment

We begin our consultation in a special pavilion also used for couples therapies, to allow for more room and access to the special stone-carved tub where I will take my rainforest bath. But first, Giselle prepares the room by burning some fresh sage, and sets an intention for the treatment. She presents this gorgeous box that reminds me of a fancy tea presentation. In that box are dozens of dry herbs and flowers. Several other bowls containing fresh botanicals and oils are set out and ready to pick and choose for my custom-blended treatments. We continue to talk as she carefully chooses the flowers and herbs to make two poultices for me. In a special deep mortar, she places a bag and begins to fill it with my blend. She is able to do this fairly quickly as she has been on property since the opening, and has decades of experience. Once she is satisfied with the combination, she begins to muddle and blend the delicate petals and leaves with the pestle. She makes quick work of wrapping my poultice. The next step is to prepare the infused oil that will be used in my massage. Again, we continue to discuss my skin and select the flowers and herbs to be used, muddled, and added to the bottles and topped off with the oil we selected based on my needs. Salts are also prepared with the same attention to detail for my scrub and placed in a bowl. This process, while it was involved, did not take long as Giselle knows her apothecary, the benefits and uses of each botanical, and how to make effective blends, from using them daily. I was in awe during this process. I just took in the gorgeous treatment room, the smells coming from her emulsions, and continued to ask her questions about the various flowers and treatments. She was a wealth of information.

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Walking over to still another private, open-air pavilion, she seated me for a foot soak and scrub. I am now soaking my feet in a beautiful bowl of water with fresh flowers and the salts she just prepared. Giselle gives me a special passion fruit drink. I enjoy the architecture, the design and decoration of the room, and just enjoy her company as I soak. We are alone. I can just hear water and tropical birds. I can see beautiful palm trees and exotic plants. The setting is tranquil and I feel completely relaxed and we are just getting started. What separates a good spa therapy from a great spa therapy is the therapist. At this point, I feel connected to her as if we were old friends, yet I don’t feel the need to be chatty.

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Feet botanically, salt soaked, cleaned and buffed, Giselle helps me walk out into my own private rainforest garden. This is where I will take in the next few steps of the treatment. She has personally arranged a special treat for me of house-made passion fruit candies, along with a chilled bottle of champagne, to enjoy while I take my rainforest bath. It was the perfect example of a Ritz-Carlton staff member going above the regular service to make a guest feel special. She did this on her own, knowing what a spa enthusiast I am based on our treatments earlier in the week and she went out of her way to really make my tub time special. Bravo! I adored my soak! The granite carved tub outside in the open air rain forest, surrounded by all the exotic foliage, was breathtaking. I was left alone for a while to just soak it all in and enjoy the solitude of bathing in nature in the most luxurious way imaginable. I sipped champagne, ate the passion fruit candies, and I think I teared up a little. It was so beautiful and sweet!

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Later, Giselle returned to help assist me from the tub to the thick granite table within the garden for my full body exfoliation. Once I toweled off discreetly, and was helped to the table, I was draped for modestly and my exfoliation began using the botanical salts she made earlier. Giselle has an excellent touch and was able to thoroughly address my dry winter skin issues with out being abrasive to the point of aggravation. I smelled lavender, rose hips and rosemary. It was divine.

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Giselle helps me off the table and over to the outdoor shower so that I could rinse off the salt preparation. Again, she is respectful of my modesty and gives me time alone to thoroughly rinse off and enjoy this beautiful outdoor rain shower in the center of this rain forest. All wrapped up in a soft and sleek robe, she helps me make my way back to the pavilion for my massage.

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Giselle remembered I like a therapeutic massage that is somewhat deep but not quite a deep tissue massage. Her touch and knowledge of anatomy is undeniable. She knows her techniques, how and where to apply them, and because she is a good listener, she knows exactly where I need a little more attention from our consultation. As the massage progressed I could smell the flowers open up even more from the steaming poultice she applies to my body. I am just amazed how sweet and delicate but not overpowering this fresh preparation is. I am completely silent at this point, if I wanted to talk, I couldn’t. I am just speechless.

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Leaving the treatment room, I ask her what jengibre means. She tells me Ginger. How perfect for me!?!

I am given a big hug post treatment and delivered back to the women’s relaxation room. I just sit and take in the beautiful garden and art work in the spa. I can’t possibly consider doing anything but meditation at this point. I spend some quality time in the spa enjoying the amenities: steam room, walking in the miniature pineapple meditation garden, and lounging in the ladies-only hot and cold rain forest plunge pools. I took my time.

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When I finialy feel like I want to leave this dreamy state and rejoin my husband who is happily waiting for me at the pool, I find him in a similar state. Armando, our exceptional pool attendant, has set him up in an amazing hammock under palm trees with a cold rum punch by his side. Our chaise lounges and umbrella are all ready for our relaxation. Before I can even ask, Armando brings me my favorite cocktail. Yeah, its like that.

 

What to know before you go:
This treatment respectfully requests 24-hour notice to pick and prepare the botanicals for the treatment.
I would recommend booking this treatment at the beginning of your stay at the Reserve as the staff will customize your treatments for the rest of your stay based on this in-depth consultation.
I did not spend a lot of time talking about specific flowers and herbs as so many were used and it will absolutely be tailored to you individually. No two experiences will be alike.
Shorter versions of this treatment are also available.
Booking times on the weekends can be difficult last minute. To insure your preferred times and treatments I would strongly recommend making these spa appointments prior to arrival.
If you find another treatment in the Caribbean or anywhere 🙂 more impressive than this, by all means, please let me know. I have been to many destination spas and have had hundreds of treatments in many countries over the last twenty years (my complete list is on Pinterest). Please share.
Namaste.

 

 

No special consideration was given to me other than being a paying guest at this property. This is my life.

Pinch me, I’m at Peter Island Resort and Spa in the British Virgin Islands

Private beach for use of spa  guests at Peter Island Resort
Private beach for use of spa guests at Peter Island Resort

For those of you that are not familiar with Peter Island, it is a small, but extremely luxurious, island in the British Virgin Islands. For those of us that live on the east coast of the United States, it is a very easy, exotic destination to jet off to in a relatively short amount of time. I however, arrived by yacht. That’s right, I moored overnight at this amazing island resort on a luxury catamaran with a group of friends. Technically, I did fly through Charlotte, North Carolina, and  landed in Tortola, St. Thomas. My friend Valeta and I took a ferry to our yacht, and after a couple of days sailing around other islands stopping to snorkel and explore, we had made it to my island, the one I picked for “Erin Day.” Ok, so the yacht was chartered and the group of friends I was sailing with allowed me to pick one day as “Erin Day” so…On Thursday January 22nd, while it was super cold back home in Virginia, I had my day in the sun!

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What does “Erin Day” look like? Well, I would like to think I picked an activity that my friends would also enjoy. It is of course a spa day. And I had done my homework. The best spa to visit while cruising B.V.I. is at Peter Island Resort.  For those that did not join me in the spa, the fellas, they spent the day hiking the many trails on this gorgeous island, taking photographs, and enjoying frozen cocktails at one of several bars.

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I had e-mailed my girlfriends and the spa a couple of weeks ahead of time and made arrangements for our treatments so that when we arrived we were all set with the treatments we each desired. Since I was the one e-mailing and coordinating, it wasn’t until that morning that I broke the news that I would be getting a 3 1/2 hour treatment while they were getting one hour facials. This was not an issue at all and we arrived early for our treatments on a dingy from our yacht…sorry…I still can’t believe this really happened. My treatment started a bit ahead of theirs so they could spend some time using the spa facilities, and post-treatment they spent time at the gorgeous infinity-edge pool.

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I booked the Drift Away treatment. It began in one of their largest spa suites, which all happen to have patios that overlook the ocean. It was breathtaking. My therapist, Latoya, was such a kind and gentle soul. She started my treatment on a couch facing the ocean with a soothing foot exfoliation, soak and aromatherapy session. While seated, I gazed at one of the most spectacular beaches I have ever seen. I really did not want to close my eyes! Ok, but I had to because she started to give me the most incredible scalp massage, which is a favorite treatment of mine. Once Latoya got her hands on my head, in my hair, and started working deep on my scalp, I knew I had an excellent therapist.

My excellent massage therapist and esthetician, Latoya.  I just loved her!
My excellent massage therapist and esthetician, Latoya, I just loved her!

The next part of the session was on one of the two heated massage tables in the suite. With a beautifully arranged assortment of local flowers and herbs in a bowl beneath the face cradle, I could inhale the island’s essence. Latoya spent a lot of time working on my different areas that we had talked about earlier. This visit I was really feeling great. The signature drink for B.V.I. is the Pain Killer, a delightful combination of pineapple juice, rum, coconut milk, and nutmeg. I was not feeling anything but awesome, really, but I did have some dry skin issues from the wintry conditions back home. Latoya used a combination of oils she blended just for me, to get me back to a softer, smoother version of myself.

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Just when I thought I could not be more relaxed, it got better! Latoya used very warm, wet, bundles of sand sewn into fabric to knead, roll, and compress my muscles into submission. It took this treatment to another level. Wow, just think excellent massage, then add hot stone massage or poultice massage, but instead she added the sand bundles instead. It gives the treatment flexibility, softness, yet firmness and weight. It was really quite ingenious how well the sand retained heat, yet the sand was in a flexible sheath to contour to my body to provide better compression and warmth. I was totally impressed!

Warm sand bundles, part of the Drift Away treatment at Peter Island.
Warm sand bundles, part of the drift away treatment at Peter Island.

Well, for most people that would be enough, but this was “Erin Day” and I had booked the Drift Away package which means I still have a facial to round out this experience! I had checked the esthetic cart earlier and found some of my favorite products on it. Latoya and I were able chat a bit once I came out of my dream-like state and was positioned face up. We chose a June Jacobs enzyme peel that I really like, in an island vibe I had not tried. Again, many steps of hot wet towels and steam to clean my skin. Latoya had to get a better look, and make some recommendations for products, and we were again off to the land of bliss. Latoya again made adjustments to pressure and touch that reminded me that I was with a seasoned esthetician. More massage to my arms, hands, legs, and feet while my enzyme mask did its magic. More warm wet towels remove each step, until Latoya begins to apply several different moisturizers. Of course, she finished by applying a light but effective sunblock, as I will soon be joining my friends at the pool.

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Outside the spa are a few hot tubs, but one is the most spectacular hot tub I think I have ever seen. I needed to hang out for a little while on a chaise lounge, enjoy some tea and regain consciousness before joining my girls back at the infinity-edge spa pool. All agreed that they had the most delightful day and  amazing facials. I, of course, could relate. Now, back to the big main pool to meet up with the fellas and enjoy some more beverages. You know, the therapists always tell you to hydrate at the spa. I’m not a therapist, but I am an expert spa client and I am certain that if you order your drinks frozen, you are getting even more water than usual 🙂

Tips and tricks

Few moorings are available if you are sailing. Call early and book ahead.
This spa’s specialty is Ayurvedic treatments. I could not, however, pass up the warm bundled sand treatment.
I noticed a day excursion group coming in from a cruise ship, check to see if an excursion is available on your next cruise.
This place was made for honeymooners, destination weddings, special occasions, nature lovers, and for anyone who wants to unplug.
This is a destination spa, why on earth would you pick a one hour service on vacation? Live & learn girlfriends!
Book your treatments ahead of arrival to insure you have the times and treatments when you want them.
The entire island is available for private events, and many of the accommodations are also very private.

Sunset from the back of the  boat…yeah, it was a good day.
Sunset from the back of the boat…yeah, it was a good day.

 

 

I would like to sincerely thank Captain Rudy & Johnsie, Valeta, and my other sailing friends for including me in their family/friend cruise. If you would like more information on sailing B.V. I., comment here or please visit my Enlightened Spa Review boards on Pinterest for more photos and information.

No special treatment was given to me at this spa other than being a paying guest at this resort. This is my life.

Inspired Mountain Magic at Primland

Primland, inspired mountain magic
Primland, rated a top 25 spa in the world.

My Primland obsession began in September of 2010. It has been exactly four years since my first visit to my favorite place. With every returning visit I am inspired by the people who make this magical mountain retreat come to life. My husband I and had heard about this amazing five-star resort, located in Meadows of Dan, Virginia, a 90-minute drive from our Roanoke home. I had not read anything about this resort until a friend of mine, Joey Beck, at Bella Magazine, urged me to “run, not walk” to this place. She knew I would love the spa and she was right!

This part of Virginia is very rural. Getting to the resort was a short trek. What happened after check in was so magical, that we rebooked for the following weekend while we were still on property!!! I vividly remember sitting in our robes on the balcony of #29 (still one of my favorite rooms) enjoying an excellent breakfast, as we watching a huge grounds crew, manicure the gorgeous golf course for hours. We could not believe we did not see a single golfer until almost noon on a Saturday! We spent the better part of the morning alternating between the balcony and the bed. We were enjoying some serious high thread count therapy in this deluxe suite. It baffled us that something so massive, so ultra lux, and so well staffed was not teaming with guests. In short, it was heavenly. Here is the magic– we were not alone! One of the wonders of this property is the feeling of having it all to yourself, even when it is booked.

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My first treatment in the spa was the same body treatment I requested on my latest visit, the Magic Lake Float. This treatment was so unique, it blew my mind! Let me explain. It is not uncommon to have a massage paired with a bath soak. What is unique about this combination is the Soft Pack tub used in the spa at Primland. The water in the tub is sealed and pressurized with a membrane over top of the tub water. On my latest visit, I chose the milk and honey option for my Magic Lake Float. My therapist this visit is Brenda. She is also my same therapist from my very first visit. Brenda lovingly applies milk and honey combined with Montana oil product to my entire body on a massage table in long strokes with her warm hands. Now covered in a thick white slather, Brenda helps me over to the Soft Pack bath tub. While seated on the side of the tub, she finishes applying more luxurious goop to my hard to reach bits and pieces, like the bottoms of my feet. Brenda helps me get settled on the top of the tub while still keeping me partially covered to insure my privacy and comfort. Once lying comfortably on my back, Brenda pushes a button on the soft pack tub. I am slowly lowered into the perfect temperature of bath water. I am warm, but not wet. The heat of the tub water and the nutrient rich ingredients work wonders on my dry skin. All products used in this spa are natural, and inspired by Native American Medicine.

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The room lights are now lowered. The candlelight, sounds, and smells of the room come to the front of my mind. Brenda, again checks my level of comfort and proceeds to give me an excellent head, neck, hand and foot massage. Amazing! But wait, there is more!!! While I am floating in this warm cocoon, she then applies cold marble stones to my pressure points on my hands, wrists, and feet. Whoa! The contrast of the warm tub and the cool stones is amazing. Brenda then wraps a heated towel under my neck and gently supports my weight. She is stretching my head and neck relieving any pressure that might have been there. I am now being floated by her in the tub while getting a very helpful gentle stretch to my upper body and neck. Kids? What kids? Teenagers? I forgot all about them!
Once Brenda is satisfied with my relaxed state, she steps out and says “I will leave you for some quite time now.” Relax and enjoy.” I am now left alone to enjoy the solitude. I really tune into the Native American music. I smell sage. I watch the candle flicker. I just I float, and enjoy the moment. When Brenda returns she tells me that she has left a towel for me by the shower for the next step of this treatment. She also places a towel on the floor so I will not slip. With a push of a button, my body rises up to the surface of the tub. The membrane now firm and supports me like a table.  I am instructed to shower off the preparation and return to the massage table in the same room. Brenda reminds me to take my time in the shower, and return to the massage table lying face down. Several minutes pass and I rinse off the milk and honey in the gorgeous, turquoise- tiled, rain shower. I was definitely moving slowly.I rinsed off, and enjoyed the steam. I also contemplated why it didn’t occur to me sooner to install a smooth river stone floor in my shower at home.

Once I towel off and get settled on the massage table, Brenda begins to work her magic on me, again. There is no chance that she is going to leave any knots in any of my muscles. She continues to give me a therapeutic massage. Magic Lake Float is listed as a swedish massage, but Brenda knows what I like. I prefer a little deeper massage than swedish, but not quit a deep-tissue massage. Brenda reminds me of my preference and adjusts the treatment to suit me, I don’t even have to ask!

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The fanning of eagles’ feathers and a chime remind me that this service is coming to an end, just as they invited me to relax and mentally check in at the beginning of my treatment. Typically, it is pretty hard to get up off the table after a good massage. Sometimes you feel a little woozy, dreamy, or sleepy after a spa treatment. After a long rest in my dreamy state, I am now able to read my animal medicine card that I picked at the beginning of the treatment. I can now meditate on the animal-inspired medicine from my card and its meaning from a book they provide. I just rest, sip tea, and enjoy the view of the golf course and a butterfly garden.

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Each visit to this magical place continues to make me daydream. Every visit a new facet of this gem is revealed to me as I explore all the activities and accommodations. I have been over a dozens of times and I have never not learned something new or not experienced something extraordinary. Many of these experiences inspired me enough to try to recreate Primland at my own home (that would be another blog post!). I continue to be inspired by the bespoke design of the Lodge, my time in nature, new activities I learn, and meals I have eaten at the chef’s table. I realize that I can never copy what is available to me here. It is not just the expansive land, beautiful scenery, and world-class activities. It is the people, too!  The people who guide me through Primland are amazing. I always feel inspired by their intuitive service and attention to detail. When I return home, I am inspired to apply a little mountain magic for my family in my own home.

I will now give you some of my favorite ways to experience Primland to the fullest…

I play golf and the Highland Golf Course is gorgeous and perfectly conditioned! I like to play nine on one day and the second nine on another day. That way, I have more time for other stuff like spending the day at the spa and lounging by pool. Recent renovations to the Primland golf course have moved up three tee boxes for the forward tees (#2, #3, and #9) and have made the course much more playable for ladies. I love to take pictures of the stunning mountains and nature while my husband is searching for his golf ball 🙂

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I love the tree houses and the fairway cottages. I have stayed in all of them. My favorite was the Golden Eagle with its view of the Dan River gorge…until they built the other two tree houses, Barn Owl and Cooper’s Hawk. They provide a little more privacy, yet still amazing views. Don’t forget to take your putter to your treehouse or fairway cottage. Those accommodations all have access to private putting greens. Barefoot putting in the moonlight with beverages is so fun! I love to watch birds fly below us from the  treehouse deck. Breakfast delivered to you in your treehouse is a must!

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The chefs table is mandatory for any guest that is a foodie. I prefer to spend a little extra to insure we have the table to ourselves. Three days’ notice must be given for this custom, seasonal experience. Three levels of wine pairing are available as well. If you don’t know Karl, the sommelier, you have not eaten properly at Primland, in my humble opinion. He is the best sommelier I have ever come across, and a conversation with him about your preferences will deliver you to the land of bliss with old favorites and new ones that you are probably not familiar with. I have learned so much about wine from him. He is truly a gem! He also does liquor tastings. I have really enjoyed bourbon and moonshine tastings as well (Not on the same visit! Don’t judge!!!)

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The staff will drive you if you ask. One cannot do nine flights of wine at the chef’s table and expect to be able to drive back to your house or cottage afterwards. I dont want to name any names, but trust me, even in a golf cart, driving after that many flights is a very bad idea (golf carts are given to fairway cottage guests). I have also arranged for them to drive us to and from Floydfest, a music festival in July, just 20 minutes away. They are always happy to accommodate.

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Every activity is exceptionally well planned and provides the highest level of professional training and equipment. I had a great golf lesson with Brian, the head PGA pro, and I still use one of his chipping tips on every round I play.

I now use a start chart app on my iPhone after an inspiring star tour we enjoyed. I now see the night sky in a differently and I can identify many constellations and planets.

I learned to shoot a shotgun at Primland. My first time shooting any gun ever, and I even broke several clays.

complimentary tea is served in the main hall each day at 4pm. All the fixings for smores are also set out every evening for your enjoyment.

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I learned to ride ATV’s, but I have to admit, I just wanted an excuse to see more of the property (ladies, they provide coveralls and boots to make our lives easier).

My husband and I took a cooking class on anniversary visit. We learned how to make hand-dipped chocolates with a chef while pairing (drinking) wine and eating lots of chocolates…good times!

We have spent hours walking the extensive trails on this property and we are far from seeing all of them. We have also taken a guided hike with a naturalist to help understand many of the native plants and animals that make up this massive 12,000 acre nature preserve.

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The spa was named in the Top 25 spas in the WORLD by Travel and Leisure readers. Are you really just going to book “a massage” after what I shared here? The Shenandoah, Daughter of the Stars facial is an amazing experience and it deserves a post of its own.

So many activities and places to explore are already laid out for you, but I would encourage you to come up with your own fun ideas too. I went through a low-carb phase (thankfully that has passed), and arranged a three course “healthy low-carb” meal delivered to our tree house for a romantic, sunset dinner on the deck.

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This resort’s goal is to go above and beyond. My goal is to push the limits 🙂 Have you visited Primland? Let me know if I missed one of your favorite activities, I still have many left to try.

No special consideration was given to me other than being a paying guest at this resort. This is my life.