Sweat Lodge Ceremony in Santa Fe Ancient healing in modern times

Native American spiritual guide, Concha Garcia Allen leads a sweat lodge ceremony twice weekly for the guests of Sunrise Springs Resort in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is through the closeness of our relationship with the Earth, she believes, that we are better able to tap into our inner wisdom.

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Concha Garcia Allen MA, LMT, curandera, ceremonial leader, and Aztec dance leader. Photo courtesy of Sunrise Springs Resort

Native American spiritual guide, Concha Garcia Allen leads a sweat lodge ceremony twice weekly for the guests of Sunrise Springs Resort in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is through the closeness of our relationship with the Earth, she believes, that we are better able to tap into our inner wisdom. When we are in harmony with nature, we can unlock the answers to our problems and better interpret and fulfill our dreams.

Concha reminds us before the ceremony that our close relationship with nature has been broken. It is her desire to help us better understand our place within this world and our interdependence with all that is nature. Through a guided journey we explore the four directions of the medicine wheel.

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A Native American medicine wheel is the physical center of Sunrise Springs Resort. The wheel represents the four physical directions North, South, East, and West. It is also in alignment with the calendar and represents the four seasons. Each quadrant is also used to reframe the four phases of life from birth, adolescence, parenthood, and ultimately, death. The circle represents the never ending cycle of life with no beginning and no end. Each quadrant can represent the four elements as well Air (mental), Fire (spiritual), Water (Emotional), and Earth (physical). Animals totems are also assigned to stages of the wheel of life.

Concha makes a smoke offering to the four directions as well as the universe above us and below us. Chanted prayers and requests for the spirits of this world and all of our present and past relations are brought to mind.  She brings an emotional power to the ceremony.

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Tobacco is burned as an offering

 

Participants are dressed comfortably. Some in spa robes, some in bathing suits, and some in traditional Native American attire. We will enter this journey together, and we are reminded of the interdependence on one another for a successful spiritual experience. Our guide functions not only in a shaman, or curanadera, role, but she is also in the experience with us. Concha is joined by two of her nephews who assist in the ceremony.  We are each smudged while chanted prayers are shared. A ceremonial flute and conch shell are also played.

Sweat Lodge  Ceremony at Sunrise Springs Resort

Outside of the traditional stone and timber sweat lodge we are given a description of the physical and mental aspects of this journey. We are told that it is a place of rebirth. Like the womb of a mother, it will be dark, cramped and hot. Birth is where we begin the journey. In the hot lodge, we move through the four cycles of life in fifteen minute intervals. Guests are offered the traditional Native American “Gatorade”, an icy salted water with lemon. We are instructed on ways to endure the heat. We are also instructed on what type of conversations and prayers will be offered once inside the sweat lodge.

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Sweat Lodge at Sunrise Springs Resort

Heated stones on a stove are basted with water, as in a sauna. Once Concha has said her prayers and opened the conversation, we are instructed to pass a talking stick and share, if we like, how this particular quadrant of the wheel or phase of our life is affecting us. We speak only when we are handed the stick and at the close of our shared thought, we offer up the words “All my relations.”

We on our own individual spiritual journeys, from various religious and non-religious backgrounds. What brings us closer together to our relationship with the earth and its living beings is an understanding that we are all in this cycle of life together. It is through this dark, hot journey that we gain insight to what is blocking us from our personal growth. By reframing our aspirations or problems in alignment with the four elements of air, water, earth and fire, and where we are within our life’s journey, we hope to better understand that we have the answers to all of life’s questions if we can just slow down long enough to think of them. From a practicing Buddhist’s perspective, I am amazed at the similarities between the Native American traditions and the Tibetan.

Emerging from the first session, we spent time sharing childhood experiences and reflect on that ability to naturally use our imagination without the typical constraints we place on those mental aspects as adults. It was hot. I mean really hot! Some of the guests took the opportunity to plunge into the cool natural spring between sessions. These four sessions have us emotionally travel through the various stages in life and to the point to how we understand our place in nature at this very moment.

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Guests can share as much or as little as they like.  We keep our water handy. We also know that if we can just endure one more phase of this circuit, a cool plunge awaits us. There is no shame if one needs to step out early.

We left this experience feeling much more connected to the Earth, our current phase of life, and better understanding the connection to all people physically and mentally.

This is not a treatment for the faint of heart. It will test the physical and mental strength of even fit people. If you have questions about your ability to endure this experience, there are many other helpful services available at the resort, including counselors, a physician specializing in wellness, and much more.

Medical Considerations

  • If you have any chronic medical conditions, please consult with your medical provider before attending the Sweat Lodge ceremony.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water during the day of the ceremony. It is recommended to have at least 6 glasses of water prior to the event.
  • The lodge is an enclosed circular space and the number of participants may vary. If you have a tendency to anxiety in small, dark spaces, you can be seated near the door.

 

I was a hosted guest of Sunrise Springs Resort, a sister property of Ojo Caliente . All opinions are my own.

How to get a great music festival massage

My hesitation to use these services due to my germaphobic mentality is usually overridden by alcohol. In more sober moments I have thought about what is being offered, and I can say I feel pretty good about the cleanliness of most of these spa services. Here is what you want to look for…

Lollapalooza Music Festival

I look forward to big music festivals every summer. Now that I am getting older, I find that VIP service is the only way for me to roll.  I’m a little old for the mosh pit, but I still prefer to get in close for some great live performances. Several years ago, events like Lollapalloza integrated a VIP experience to the festival experience and now it seems to be standard at most large concerts and festivals. Many of the perks are obvious, premium seating and view, unlimited food and drinks, sometimes air-conditioned tents to escape the heat, deluxe air-conditioned bathrooms, and of course spa services.

My hesitation to use these services due to my germaphobic mentality is usually overridden by alcohol. In more sober moments I have thought about what is being offered, and I can say I feel pretty good about the cleanliness of most of these spa services. Here is what you want to look for…

It is helpful to have a beverage while you wait in line.
It is helpful to have a beverage while you wait in line.

1) A giant vat of hand sanitizer. Usually services are provided backstage or in a tent, preferably in a more quiet area. Bathrooms and running water are not typically a feature of these mobile spas.  Also, check that the therapist uses sanitizer on their hands between guests. If no care is taken to make the area appear as clean as possible, skip it, and move on to the beer garden.

2) Paper towels. Typically used in the face cradle of chair massage or massage table to provide additional cleanliness. Hauling in towels and sheets does not usually happen. Watch the therapist. If they sanitize and wipe down the massage chair and use new paper towels for the face cradle between every guest, that is a good sign.

3) Washable surface. It would be my preference to be on a wipeable mat vs. a sheet that has seen one too many festival goers.

4) Appointment times. Who wants to miss the show waiting an hour or two for a “free” 15 minute massage? Get on a list, or move on, unless the chair is empty and ready to roll. Set an alarm on your phone if you think you may forget.

5) Pick treatments times in the morning versus afternoon. Therapists usually work in shifts, so you want to catch one at the begining of the shift. Heat is usually a factor at these outdoor venues so cooler temperatures in the morning or late evening make for a better treatment experience. Hot, sweaty, sticky clothes in the afternoon are not optimal for a great experience.

I wish every festival massage was set up like this tent that was at Floyd Yoga Jam.

 

Helpful hints:

Use sunscreen daily and skip the massage if your skin is too damaged from the sun.

Don’t forget to tip! If you received a great service, show some love. Many times these folks are voluntold by their spa or massage school to work the event and they have to deal with some ungrateful and many overserved guests. I like to tip prior to the service. I find that I get a better, and usually longer, service rather than the tired therapist who phones it in. If this is a three-day festival and you are sleeping in a tent, these people are life savers. You may want to repeat treatments daily, so asking a good therapist when they will return is a smart idea. They may just rebook you on the spot.

If you are day drinking, don’t forget to include water in the mix. Try to alternate between adult beverages and water or other non-alcoholic caffeine-free beverages to stay hydrated.

 

 

Greenbrier Wellness

Having been through many wellness programs over the decades, I’m a huge fan of spa vacationing. This resort has a unique twist from most destination spa resorts.

Source: Greenbrier Wellness

Greenbrier Wellness

Having been through many wellness programs over the decades, I’m a huge fan of spa vacationing. This resort has a unique twist from most destination spa resorts.

 

Personal Training at the Greenbrier Spa
Greenbrier Resort Woman’s Wellness Weekend

Greenbrier Resort Women’s Wellness Weekend
I was thrilled to host a women’s wellness weekend at America’s Resort, the gorgeous and historic mineral springs resort, the Greenbrier. I cut my teeth as a spa enthusiast at this resort some two decades ago. Over time, my respect and admiration for a tradition of wellness dating back 236 years has continued to grow! While some may argue which spa is considered the beginning of destination spa travel in America, not many can argue that this resort not only was a part of the American spa tradition, but it basically invented many of the things we consider hospitality in this country.

Having been greeted by Mr. Frank Mosley so many times, his hospitality never gets old. Working at the resort for the past 58 years, he is 86 years young and the personification of West Virginia warmth and hospitality. Entering the lobby, the explosion of color matches the summer blooms outside. At check in I was greeted exactly the same way I have been so many visits before–iced tea, lemonade, or champagne.

This weekend was remarkably different from many past visits. This time I have a mission and a schedule. While some may eschew the idea of a scheduled vacation, perhaps they have never taken a wellness vacation. It is a beautiful combination when you can take a break from everyday life to learn new ways of living better. Since this resort has such a storied past of health care, hospitality, and wellness, I was excited to deepen my knowledge of living well thoughtfully presented by the Greenbrier.

Having been through many wellness programs over the decades, I’m a huge fan of spa vacationing. This resort has a unique twist from most destination spa resorts. Since the Greenbrier has had a serious concierge executive medical program since 1948, this wellness program has a medically-based foundation. I will be combining evidence-based medical services with state-of-the-art diagnostics, and weaving in my choices of subspecialty providers, seriously luxurious spa treatments, and an endless list of fitness activities and world-class cuisine. Oh yeah, did I mention that Greenbrier tennis pro emeritus Pete Sampras will be playing Andy Roddick Saturday night while I’m here? The amount of activities and services available at this resort is mind-boggling, so I am happy to keep their expertly prepared, individual schedule to glean as much goodness from one weekend as possible. It’s also fun to share this experience with a group of like-minded ladies with the same goals.

Dr. Michael S. Kluska
Dr. Michael Kluska, Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon

After checking in at the Greenbrier Clinic and receiving my printed schedule, I begin my day with a consultation with Dr. Michael S. Kluska. My first appointment has me both nervous and excited. I scheduled a specialist visit with Dr. Kluska, a world-renowned plastic surgeon with a passion for skin care. I had been considering getting my first Botox injection for years. I finally decided it was time, and took the opportunity to do it with an extremely well-trained board-certified plastic surgeon…(see results here). The Greenbrier Clinic offers a multi-specialty approach to treating the whole patient within a single resort visit. Patients can schedule in-depth visits with many specialties including internal medicine, cardiology, gastroenterology, orthopedics, nutrition, as well as a multitude of other diagnostic and preventive health treatments and procedures. Nearly every specialty is housed within the clinic wing attached to the resort. The convenience of walking over to appointments all within the resort is amazing. It is entirely possible to see an internist, a cardiologist, get a colonoscopy, have a radiologist review images including imaging from their own CT- scanner and mammography, or even have surgery over a weekend. Thankfully, I am in good health and my wellness visits on this weekend include time with my internal medicine doctor, a nutritionist, some blood work, and a plasitic surgeon. I could not help but think about how easy it would be to bring my husband here for a year’s worth of medical visits and testing, and have him not miss a single day of work, which is always his excuse for not taking better care of himself. I will be bringing him back another time!


I also had some time to enjoy the resort on my own. I chose to have lunch courtside near the golf shop. This is a favorite tour stop for PGA players and fans of the the PGA tour. I also had time for a little retail therapy in the pro shop. Who am I kidding…I was stalking Lee Trevino. I just missed him by five minutes! Jack Nicklaus was also in town this weekend as they are designing a new golf course….(more on celebrity stalking later :))And, knowing I would be seeing the pro emeritus Pete Sampras play Andy Roddick Saturday night, I was very tuned in to people-watching at the tennis courts during my lunch. Guests can schedule private golf and tennis lessons with tour professionals.

During my clinic phone consultation prior to my visit, I scheduled my doctor’s appointments as well as one of my favorite spa treatments at the Greenbrier. It is really hard to pick just one, so I usually don’t, but I have new doors to open this weekend, including a vault door in the bunker, and I need to experience some other aspects of this massive 40,000 acre property. If you have never been, the Greenbrier signature treatment, featuring a Scotch spray, is a bucket list spa item for any true spa junkie. I also strongly recommend having a facial at the Greenbrier. The staffing in the spa is second to none. Many of the therapists and estheticians have been here over twenty years! Some have even worked here for 30. Talk about expertise–you would be hard-pressed to find a more tenured staff in the entire country.

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Enjoying some quiet time in the relaxation room before my spa treatment

Friday evening is here and it is time to meet my newest friends and fellow participants for an anti-aging reception. Staff from the Clinic, medical vendors, and participants gather to meet and share excitement for the weekend. Many ladies were traveling with their husbands, but broke away to have a little lady time and kick off the program. Two of my friends and blog followers took me up on the opportunity to revisit wellness for the weekend and we had dinner at Forum after our reception. We could also not help ourselves…we had healthy dinners on our own, but the lure of the casino was too strong for us to pass up. Dancing counts as cardio, right?


Saturday morning we were greeted with a beautiful and healthy buffet in the Clinic conference room. We were instructed to fast after 10pm Friday night. Prior to breakfast, we had our blood drawn and tested. Individually, our test results are reviewed with us during our complete medical history and physical with our internist. We each had hour-long appointments with our doctors to go over our medical history and come up with a treatment plan for the next twelve months. My internist was Dr. Kelly Redden. I was impressed with her thorough exam. A few things really stood out as different for me during this exam. First, I was meeting with an actual doctor and not a mid-level provider at the exact time of my appointment! Second, remember what it was like when you would get an exam, then meet with the doctor in their office afterwards, once you are dressed, to get the results? I vaguely do.  Another eye opener was the ability of the Greenbrier Clinic to pull up all of my current medications from two different pharmacies. The accuracy of my prescriptions were not left to my sometimes short attention span. I actually brought mine in a ziplock bag, but they were able to retrieve all of my prescription data, even for a bottle of medicated shampoo I had filled and forgotten about. And finally, I was given a spa robe for medical appointment and assigned a locker. No giant paper napkin patient gowns here! It made me feel more human. I love this level of detail.


We enjoyed more fellowship while some awaited physician appointments, others, time at the spa or activities on property. Our schedules were set up with blocks of open time as well as scheduled group activities. We could use our open blocks for discovering any activities at the Greenbrier, or just spending some quiet downtime. It is up to the patient to decide.

Personal Training at the Greenbrier Spa
Personal Training at the Greenbrier Spa

Mid-morning, just outside the spa, the wellness ladies took a private fitness class designed specifically for us by a personal trainer. It was a different workout than what I generally do, but I love trying new activities, so I really enjoyed it and enjoyed being out in the beautiful weather and gardens of the resort.

At lunchtime, we convened in the bunker kitchen for a wellness cooking class. Here, we learned about a variety of superfoods, cooking techniques, and portions to enhance our healthy, active lifestyle. I am always inspired by eating really great, well-prepared whole foods, and the Greenbrier has been a culinary leader in the hospitality industry since the resort opened.

After lunch, we returned to our personal blocks. I went for my signature spa treatment, others saw various physicians and received personalized care or had activities scheduled. At 3:30, I went over my lab results from the morning with Dr. Redden and had my in-depth medical history and physical.

Dr. Kelly Redden Reviews my results
Dr. Redden reviews my lab test and makes a treatment plan for me for the next twelve months.
Tennis Match at The Greenbrier
Saturday night, I watched the tennis match between Andy Roddick and Greenbrier Pro Emeritus Pete Sampras. I was able to catch Pete for an autograph !

Sunday morning, we started the day with a wellness walk and meditation. It was beautiful to walk through the gardens, grounds, and golf course with our personal trainer. I took the opportunity to snap lots of pictures on this scenic stride. Joanna, another participant and I took this selfie with Andy Roddick having coffee in the background on our way to meet up with our trainer. You really never know who you will bump into around here. Once we met up with Josh, we walked at a brisk enough pace to burn calories and get the heart rate up, but we also made time to stop and smell the flowers. Josh Beverage, our trainer,  made sure to point out interesting facts about the grounds and various events and activities available on the property. On completion, a couple of us did have breakfast together in the main dining room. I am a huge fan of room service at the resort, and generally opt for breakfast in bed, so it was nice to see the gorgeous main dining room in the daylight. We decided to stick to our healthy eating plan and ordered a spa breakfast from the menu instead of the decadent Sunday brunch. I was able to keep my convictions due to my wellness walk.


Our final group activity was a meeting with Connie Gottshall in the clinic. She is the nutritionist for the Greenbrier Clinic. She reinforced the information we received at our cooking class, and gave us helpful strategies to make better food choices. She actually had sample meal plans to follow as a guide and definitely inspired us all to take a closer look at food labels, not just for ingredients, and hidden sugars, but also portions. I think her talk just reinforced to me why I prefer to eat whole foods rather than prepared foods. I was definitely more motivated to cook at home more often after this class, and with the skills Iearned in the cooking class, I had everything I needed to prepare better food choices back home.

Greenbrier Nutritionist
Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Connie Gottshall shows us how much sugar is in one can of Coke.

If I could stress anything to you about this wellness weekend, it would be that it was still a vacation. I just learned to live better, armed with new knowledge and motivation to continue to make these educated decisions about food choices, what my body needs. Dr. Redden suggested I add vitamin B-12 daily, Calcium 1200 mg daily, and vitamin D3 1000 mg. She also prescribed exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. In six months she will recheck my HDL cholesterol. This won’t be a problem for me, as I live 90 minutes away, and plan on visiting every three months to get my Botox injections. How cool is it that the doctor would come and give me my Botox injections in my room, if that is what I want? This is what concierge medicine is all about–old-fashioned service, like a housecall to my suite! I have an iPhone app to refill my prescriptions, and they will work with my local physician if needed for additional issues as they arise.

Travel Tips

Private medical suites are available with competitive pricing. If you are planning medical testing or procedures, let the Clinic staff help you book your room. Medical suites have two refrigerators for ice packs and medical supplies. Ample space is available for your family to stay with you. The doctors make rounds in the hotel. Recovering from surgery here is best-in-class.

The Clinic executive medical program caters to people that keep tight schedules and they respect your privacy and time.

Book your spa appointments in advance to insure the optimum therapist and treatment time for your schedule. Add on a 25 -minute mineral soak to any spa service you book. It is a must!

Fitness classes are always new and exciting. Try a new class before your spa appointment. Guided meditation is available most mornings in the spa. Keep your eyes peeled in the gym, lots of celebrities visit and have homes in the area.

Get outside! The grounds at this resort are magnificent. Your normal walk, run, or bike ride will be inspiring. Comfortable walking shoes will take you far at this property.

Try a new sport. Equipment and staffing is always top notch. Falconry or whitewater rafting, anybody?

Book a tour at the beginning of your stay. Historical tours provide a wealth of information about the resort as well as American history.

EAT! This resort has a culinary apprentice program that takes classically-trained chefs three years to complete, much like a masters program.  There is a specific farm-to-table restaurant, but much of the food is grown right on property and always has been.
If you are going to have a cheat day, this is the place to do it. They employ one person who just makes housemade ice cream for eight hours a day, every day. This is a serious foodie paradise. Check calendars for specialty chef’s tables and memorable holiday meals.
This resort is dieter-friendly, with spa menu choices on most dining menus. Staff are happy to cater to your special food preferences. Mom can have an egg white omelet while the kids get treated to chocolate chip pancakes, so everybody is happy.

The Greenbrier is set in the gorgeous mountains of West Virginia. It is easily accessible by half of the country for a family road trip. Air and train service will also take you door-to-door from New York City or Washington D.C.

One visit will not be enough to see and do everything–plan ahead to make the most of your vacation.

I was an invited guest of The Greenbrier Clinic. All opinions are my own. This is my life.

Trump Winery and Albermarle Estate in Charlottesville, Virginia

A visit to Monticello and a stay at the Trump Albermarle Estate and spa located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Donald Trump and Thomas Jefferson on the same day?

 

A visit to Monticello and a stay at the Trump Albermarle Estate and spa located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Donald Trump and Thomas Jefferson on the same day? 

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The  Trump Albermarle Inn and Winery

I had the pleasure of spending time with my family touring Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, VA earlier this month. We stayed overnight at the Trump Albermarle Estate. Trump’s is the largest winery in Virginia, and includes a 45-room estate with 10 guest rooms. Surrounded by all the presidential history in Charlottesville, I could not help but make comparisons of the two homes and, at times, the two men. The Albermarle Estate and winery is just down the road from both President James Monroe’s home, Ash Lawn-Highland, and Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. I was entertained by the thought of considering TJ and Trump as neighbors. Would they have been civil?

 

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Monticello
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My family at Monticello
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My husband, Mike, a double Hoo looks up to TJ.

Thomas Jefferson, famous as an American Founding Father, principle author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), architect and founder of The University of Virginia (1819), elected as the second vice president under John Adams (1797-1801), elected our third president (1801-09), one-time minister to France (1795) and our first Secretary of State serving under George Washington (1790-1793). Jefferson was also an avid botanist and gardener. His home in Charlottesville is the only private residence protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Jefferson and another Virginia President, James Madison, organized the Democratic-Republic Party to oppose the Federalist Party . There is so much to learn about Jefferson, that a tour of his home is important, but also grounding. Touring Monticello with my husband a “double Hoo” and our older daughter, also a Wahoo, (nickname for UVA students and alums) was eye opening. This historic site evinces so much greatness, but was built on the backs of slaves. It left me in awe of the accomplishments of the time, but also heartsick at the inhuman treatment of the enslaved. Three tours happen each hour on the hour–the home tour, the slave tour, and the garden tour.

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The most recent addition to Donald Trump’s library.

Donald Trump–businessman, real estate mogul, hotelier, reality tv show host, author, and now Republican Party presidential candidate–is running for the very same office that was once held by Jefferson. While it may seem improbable and almost inappropriate to make comparisons to the two men as statesmen, it is a natural progression to compare their two homes while staying at the Albermarle Estate and visiting Monticello.

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When entering the Trump estate and winery, I was directed through an automated secure gate. Oh, the irony! The estate is surround by an impressive brick wall. The Trump winery, well known locally as the former Kluge winery and estate, is now part of a separate portfolio within the Trump hotel brand, as a bed and breakfast. Trump winery is the largest wine producer in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Located just down the road from Monticello, this winery is in the heart of a wine-making region which is also famous for being the home of past presidents. Staying at the Albermarle Estate is logistically perfect for a wine trek in this region. At first glance, this estate is dramatically larger than that of his neighbor, Jefferson’s Monticello. Albermarle Estate includes a wine making facility, tasting room, meeting rooms, and even a little chapel on a massive 1300 acre estate. Having toured Monticello prior to checking in at the Trump Estate, I was impressed with the scale and design of this once famous private mansion. TJ preferred to use 10 foot wooden fences , to deter deer, around his property with intermittent use of ornamental hedges and fruit trees, to make beautiful, functional partitions on his property. At UVA, TJ also used red brick to make the famous Serpentine Wall.
Jefferson graduated from the College of William and Mary. He could speak and read in seven languages. TJ’s library at Monticello has been meticulously recreated by donations. His original library is maintained at the Library of Congress. While the collection of books housed in his original bed room and study is impressive, it is limited to just a few book shelves. Trump on the other hand, has a YUUGE library (sorry, I can’t help myself). It, too, is a curated collection of first editions, law books, and of course, an entire shelf of his own works. He even included his daughter Ivanka’s book. It would have been impossible to find a book by one of Jeffersons daughters, as only men were allowed to be educated and attend universities at the time. TJ’s daughters, particularly Martha, were involved in the operation of his estate while Jefferson was away serving as ambassador to France, Vice President, and President. Trump’s daughter is also in the family business and is currently redesigning the spas at his hotels.

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I am excited to visit the new spa that Ivanka developing in Washington, D.C..

Tj was a lover of the finer things in life. He once sent a trusted slave to France to train in the art of French cooking–for eight years! He also received a slave as a gift from a friend that was a skilled cider maker, to improve the quality of the cider produced at Monticello. Jefferson ‘s home has two kitchens: One where preparation and cooking took place, close to the kitchen garden, and second just to plate the food and present it in impeccable fashion to the many distinguished (and ordinary) guests of Monticello.


Jefferson was constantly hosting guests at Monticello. It was custom to never turn away any travelers that showed up announced or unannounced. It was a custom of the time to stay with friends, friends of friends, family, and even strangers. All were made welcome. Guests would sometimes stay for weeks on end. This is where I believe Jefferson would have made use of Trump, as a hotelier and neighbor. I often wondered why Jefferson built a second summer home, Poplar Forest, not far away, in Bedford, Virginia. I now know it must have been to escape the constant onslaught of house guests at Monticello. I don’t doubt that TJ would have also traded his hard apple cider for some Trump wine. Obviously, the Neo-Georgian design of the Albermarle estate echoes that of Monticello, so I believe Jefferson may have at least been flattered by the mansion, even though it is nearly six times the size of his home.

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The pool house has a pool house!

I stayed in the pool house at the Trump Albermarle Estate. My room was actually named after President Harrison. It was surreal to page through Harrison’s biography. The book jacket summed up his presidency well. Harrison’s run for office was “full of drama and comedy.” “Harrison entered the national stage as an overblown Indian fighter. Harrison actually did his fighting by pen, negotiating the tribes of the American Midwest out of millions of acres of land. His presidential campaign, an extravaganza of parades, songs, dances, and ball rolling, was all about a humble solider in a plain log cabin who bore little resemblance to the actual candidate. But voters loved it and the 1840 election had a record turn out that still stands today.” Harrison is most famous for his brief time in office. He died just a month after his inauguration in 1841. (Gail Collins on William Henry Harrison.) Sound like anyone we know? Is a Twitter rant the new poison pen?

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The Albermarle Estate pool house includes a few guest rooms, a state of the art gym, a spa treatment room, sauna, and provides easy access to an outdoor hot tub and of course, the pool. Multiple salons, a billiard room, a card room, and a home theater complete with any Netflix program or internet movie you might want. The popcorn machine and all the candy you can eat made for the perfect conditions to Netflix and chill. His celebrity gallery in the movie theater is priceless. Only one movie poster, Saturday Night Fever. I’m guessing it must be the Donald’s favorite. The inn also features Donald Trump’s favorite sporting teams, golf memorabilia, and of course, magazine covers of himself. The estate also has a disco ball, but I will let you discover where that is on your own.

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We were able to dine at the Albermarle Estate for breakfast Sunday morning. (They only serve breakfast, for now). Large windows look out onto the formal fountains and gardens. Due to a very strong wind storm, my breakfast was cooked without electricity! The estate lost power in the very early hours of Sunday morning. A shower or recharging my precious iPhone was not happening for me. Sorry, no food pics. At TJ’s house, they did not allow photographs to be taken inside. I wanted to capture the irony of both men having yellow living rooms.  A trip to the “necessary room,” while dark, was at least not outdoors as at Monticello. This wrinkle in our stay did not dampen our enjoyment of the property. While we were inconvenienced a bit, it definitely fit with the ironic, historic weekend we were having. The scale of this estate is impressive.

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Prior to breakfast, I was able to enjoy a 90 minute Swedish massage in the spa. I had requested my services the day before and Michael, the manager, was able to accommodate my last-minute booking for my desired time. I was beyond pleased with my skilled therapist, Bridgette. The single spa room, was large and well lit, thankfully. If we had had functioning electricity, it would have been a heated table. With no music, I enjoyed a fun chat with my therapist about all things spa-related, Trump, local knowledge of restaurants and wineries, and my family adventures over the weekend. Bridgette is lovely.


I don’t recall seeing a church on the property of Monticello, however the Trump estate has a gorgeous chapel used for weddings. I was not told of any special denomination, but it was obvious it was a Christian church with traditional white cladding and a white steeple. Destination wedding guests will love that they can take over this estate by booking the ten guest rooms. The property, rooms, winery, gardens, and chapel make for a picturesque bespoke wedding venue. Catering would be arranged with an off-site vendor. Being able to toast a special day with the delicious Trump sparking wine is a bonus.

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Trump wines are actually highly rated. The 2008 Rose blend is rated at 90 by Cellar Tracker.

My husband and I enjoyed time visiting our daughters over the weekend in Charlottesville. Our oldest is a fourth-year at UVA and the younger is a sophmore at VCU, in Richmond. Together, they chose to stay on campus for some late night fun with friends, while Mike and I were able to unwind from our long day of sightseeing. As a family, we spent some time sipping wine by the pool and getting caught up. Later, after the girls left, we spent some time reading in the library, and checking in on the golf tournament. Late night, we watched the Amy Winehouse documentary in the theater, which we had to ourselves. Michael made us popcorn and we hit the all-you-care to eat candy bar hard. We typically stay on the Downtown Mall when we visit C’ville, but this was a nice change of pace, and a quiet, private place to spend time with the kids.

 

What to know before you go:
Due to the size of this estate, it is easy to forget that this is not a hotel. Breakfast is served in the dining room. There is no room service, and lunch and dinner are on your own.
The location of this winery cannot be understated. Blenheim (Dave Matthews’ winery) is right next door. Nearly a dozen more wineries are on the same road.
While trekking to the other wineries is a piece of cake, driving 15-20 minutes back into town on 2-lane roads for lunch and dinner could be tricky if you have been drinking wine.
A Trump tasting room is on property and open from 11am-5pm daily. It includes a souvenir Riedel glass, which of course has the Trump logo on it. It also has a limited selection of cheeses, charcuterie, and picnic lunches. Special events at Trump are scheduled on holidays and Thomas Jeffesron’s birthday (April 13th), and the Fourth of July, the day TJ died.

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Michie Tavern is also on the same road and is a historic site with tours as well. Famous for their fried chicken and BBQ, the line will likely be out the door. It moves quickly and we enjoyed our family style meal there.
Monticello is a must see, and just a few minutes down the road. It has a cafe and also offers grab-and-go food, perfect for a picnic or enjoyed back at the estate. A beautiful gift shop offers a nice opportunity for retail therapy.
This is a kid-friendly property only if your child is over 12. Due to the fragile nature of the artwork, furnishings, glass, and overall adult vibe, young children are discouraged from visiting. It was perfect for my college age kids.

Factoid: Thomas Jeffersons, highly regarded as one of our greatest presidents, spent much of his time during his second presidential term dealing with domestic issues, including the trial of former vice president Aaron Burr for the murder of political rival, Alexander Hamilton, in a famous duel. In 1807 Jefferson wrote the Trade Embargo Act. It was meant to normalize trade while England and France were at war and “retrieve our lost honor and bring the mad King back to his senses”(Make America Great Again? lol). Jefferson also spent time removing Indian tribes from the newly organized Louisiana Territory. He also penned the Slave Trade Act 1807 which prohibited new slave import into the United States. It is interesting to note that law did not stop slaves from trickling in to the U.S.

Factoid: Billionaire John Kluge built this 23,000 square foot mansion in the 1980s. His third wife, Patricia Kluge, originally listed this estate for sale at 100 million dollars. The 1300 acre estate includes 200 acres of French vinifera grapes planted in 1999. Trump purchased this property from his friend, Patricia Kludge for 6.5 million in 2011 and she stayed on for one year working for Donald. Eric Trump, Donald’s son, now manages the winery and inn, visiting monthly via helicopter.

Factoid: Thomas Jefferson brokered the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The territory, consisting of 828,000 square miles (or what is now 15 states and two Canadian territories), was bought for 11.2 million, less the forgiveness of French debt of 3.7 million for a total of 15 million dollars.

I’m sorry. The irony is just so thick.

Wow! This was a lot to learn in less than 48 hours. I would recommend a long weekend in order to see and do more in this rich, historic, wine-soaked area. Learning from history is important. Learning by experience brings history to life. Visiting this property during this election cycle was a trip!
Famous American poet Robert Frost penned the poem “Mending the Wall,” in his book North of Boston (1914). In this poem the narrator, a New England farmer, contacts his neighbor to rebuild a stone wall between their two farms. As they both build the wall, the narrator questions the purpose of the wall. The neighbor replied not once, but twice, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

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Iconic serpentine wall on The University of Virginia,  designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Photo credit:By Karen BlahaFlickr: Daffodils and serpentine wall, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12911111

 

Names and places change, but the same arguments remain.

 

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I have also stayed at Trump Doral,  Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Coral Gables, Florida. I loved it. I guess this Presidential  election is adding a ironic vibe to what is a great Inn.

 

I was not given any special treatment at this property other than being a paying guest. I will return as we did have fun, despite a little inconvenience without electricity Sunday morning. I found the property to be exquisitely furnished, comfortable, and private. Look for additions to the spa soon, and potentially a golf course in the more remote future.

You might also enjoy checking out my favorite spa service of 2015 

 

Anam, a Buddhist Bar and Spa in Old San Juan

Anam Day Spa in  Old San Juan is located next to Parque De Las Palomas park on the water.
Anam Day Spa in Old San Juan is located next to Parque De Las Palomas park on the water.

I literally stumbled upon this little day spa while roaming the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. My husband and I decided to take a few suggestions from our concierge and Pinterest, and hit just one or two of the more than a dozen of recommended eateries and vistas recommended. What happened was pure serendipity. After a short walk up to Fort Cristobal, a little retail therapy at some local stores, and a great meal at a bean-to-bar chocolate cafe, (Casa Cortes ChocoBar restaurant that was on my hit list) we decided to ditch the list and just walk towards the water. We wanted to just see the city from a different perspective and allow it to open up to us in its own way. We literally happened upon a huge marble plaque that stated “home of the original pina colada.” So, of course we had to have a couple of those! Our bellies were still full from the chocolate cafe, or we would have eaten at Barrachina Restaurant, as well. The food coming out of the kitchen looked authentic and smelled amazing. We came to a a beautiful gate behind which was a small park with the most beautiful knotted and twisted shade trees. A plaque explained the park and a bronze pair of shoes. We sat on a bench and took in the view of the cruise ships, sailboats, and water. After some time resting our legs from the hilly climbs of the city we glanced over and noticed a day spa. This was no ordinary day spa. It was a Buddhist-themed bar in the front of the building and a day spa in the back. Was this a reverse mullet? Party in the front, business in the back? The sign outside posted modest prices, and spa services included cocktails. Are you kidding me!?! As a practicing Buddhist (I need a lot more practice) and a spa enthusiast and now, a mildly buzzed tourist…I thought my head was going to explode. Was this sheer luck or was it karma? I don’t know, but we had to go in. It was not a hard sell for my husband. We had no plans for the evening. He spied several very large flat screen tvs and and a full bar with beer taps. Of course I could use another spa treatment. My answer is always yes! YES!

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I chatted up the owner/bartender, Marcos Long, who had impeccable English, and was happy to round up a manicurist for me. My service would include a sangria. I explained my desire to stay on the rum vibe we had started and he was more than happy to make me a special frozen drink at no additional charge. Sometimes, my husband will join me for a pedicure, but the lure of the sports and the beer taps proved stronger than my pitch, and I happily took my seat in the manicure chair while he bellied up to the bar. Heidi was a fairly new technician, and her English was not as great as the owner’s, but she gave me a great manicure. She was so young and cute. She shared with me her time behind the chair and the name of her pet beta fish as she scrubbed, rubbed, washed and groomed my nails in preparation for the polish. While we were chatting, I noticed a rhythmic drumming sound.  As Heidi applies polish, I realized the drumming was not recorded music, but rather Thai massage.  I hadn’t noticed the two massage tables behind the heavy drapes! Another guest pulls back the drapes, hands a wad of money to the massage therapist, and thanks the owner’s wife for another awesome weekly massage. Turns out the owner’s wife is a Thai massage therapist, and he is a bar owner, so they just combined their businesses. Brilliant, in my humble opinion.

Later, not wanting my nails to smudge, my husband and I decide to sit outside watch the cruise ships leave port. It was a fantastic sight to take in as the sun set. Outdoor bar seating at this spa, next to a beautiful park, this was a great and unusual way to end the day.

My tips for visiting Anam?  I wish I had known Mrs. Long,  the owner was actually trained in Thai massage, in Thailand, if I go back to San Juan, I am totally booking massage with her!  If you are visiting from a cruise ship, this is a great late afternoon stop to end the day. Spa and nail appointments are not required but if you are in a large group, call ahead. The owners would be happy to get a cab for you to get back to the ship on time, as they know exactly when the ships depart. The last spa appointments are around 7 pm, so 3 or 4 pm would be perfect to see the park, get a treatment, have a drink, and catch a cab without stress. Tell them I sent you. Cheers!

Pinnacle Cottages and Paddling at Primland

Experience the new Pinnacle Cottages at Primland.

New Pinnacle Cottages at Primland
New Pinnacle Cottages at Primland

Nothing like some fresh mountain air, a little exercise, and some new Frette sheets to soothe my soul. I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek prior to the grand opening of the new Pinnacle Cottages at Primland. Of course, since I consider this to be my second home, I have been watching the progress of the build out over the past year or so. Even having done a walk-through about a month earlier, I was not prepared for how spectacular these new cottages would turn out. Having walked though all four of the multi-unit buildings, I knew exactly which unit I would be booking for my future visits.  I just didn’t know the name or room numbers yet. Well, allow me to share with you the awesomeness that is Oriole 70 & 71.

Pinnacle Suite, perfect size for a couple
Pinnacle Suite, perfect size for a couple. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan
View of the Dan River Gorge
View of the Dan River Gorge. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan
Porch for two with a spectacular view
Porch for two with a spectacular view Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan

Each of the buildings were designed with group stays in mind. The idea was for families, golf and hunting groups, wedding parties, or corporate retreats to have a place where they could open up adjoining rooms if they like and share an entire floor or building, or group of buildings, if needed. When the staff helped me carry in my luggage, they told me they thought these rooms were even more spectacular than the main lodge. Having stayed in every suite in the lodge, all three tree houses, all of the fairway cottages, and most of the mountain homes on the property, I thought, “I am the perfect person to be the judge of that!”

Custom Cabinets and Art are beautifully blended for this stunning suite
Custom cabinets and commisioned art are beautifully blended for this stunning suite. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan
The larger suites include a kitchen
The larger suites include a kitchen. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan
Original art works hint to the Oriole theme of this suite.
Original art works hint to the bird theme of this suite. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan
The larger suite has a grand livingroom for entertaining guests
The larger suite has a grand livingroom for entertaining guests. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan
Livingrooms have gorgeous views of the gorge and pinnacles of Dan
Livingrooms have gorgeous views of the gorge and pinnacles of Dan. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan

The same attention to detail in the architecture, quality of the furnishings, and oh baby!…new bath tubs had me a little twitterpated. One of my favorite daily activities, a long soak, was over the top.  When I am on vacation, my soaks can be pretty epic, pruney toes, long reads, maybe some vino therapy, and Primland has the best bathtubs, I swear! I could probably do an entire post just on which of the tubs I like best and why.  This is not a cookie cutter resort with five hundred rooms with the same tub in each of them. Oh, no…this is a place for fans of Architectural Digest to come and read the latest issue while soaking in one of many different dreamy bathrooms. I can tell you as a super soaker, without a doubt, this tub and view is my new favorite on the entire property!

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My room is connected to my friend’s room next door. He is an excellent neighbor, friend, and Primland enthusiast himself. I will give you a little tour of our suites, but then I have to tell you about our trip out to the reservoir. We have the entire upstairs of Oriole Cottage among us. One suite has a huge porch with lots of seating, enough for all of us to have a party, and the second smaller suite has a much more private porch meant for just two. Each suite has all of the modern amenities that are expected at a five-star property, but the gorgeous mountain view and meticulously-curated custom art work takes this space to another level. Giant Baby and I are in the smaller suite. I called it the romance side 🙂

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We enjoyed birding and paddling
We enjoyed birding and paddling
Funyacks on Dan River
Funyacks on Dan River

I have been wanting to try the funyaks ever since they first added the activity, but something always seemed to get in the way. First it was winter, then we needed to golf or hike or something. I have done nearly every activity on property, but still need to learn fly fishing, tree climbing, disc golf and horseback riding. It just happens that Summer, our funyak guide, is also an equestrian guide, so I might get talked into one more activity. Getting to the reservoir is no small task. Four-wheeling in the Suburban with Summer on some of the very remote dirt roads was an adventure in itself. Once at the reservoir, we needed to get our gear on and take a short hike through a rhododendron thicket. For those that have not spent time in the Blue Ridge Mountains, these are gorgeous evergreen flowering bushes that grow very tall. Summer gives us some basic instructions as we have all canoed or kayaked before, and just like that, we are out on the water. Funyaks are inflatable kayaks that are open on the top like a canoe. So there was no need for lessons on how to roll over under water or anything scary like that. As a matter of fact, the reservoir was very calm. The Dan River flows into it, but we will be staying in the calm open spaces just to enjoy an easy paddle, check out some wildlife, and enjoy the afternoon. That said, other guests have wanted to explore further up stream and really challenge themselves, and get a workout. We are not like those guests. We came to float, and as luck would have it, we were able to watch a beautiful bald eagle catch its own lunch. At one point, we just hung out under some trees and did some bird watching. Summer shared with us that some guests like to just float and take a nap. I like how those people think! On my next trip to the reservoir, I think I will have them pack us a picnic lunch. Stand up paddle board have just been added, so I will have another activity to add to my bucket list. Yup, I learned some new stuff, paddled a bit, and exercised my mind and body. This is what I call wellness!

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Ritz-Carlton San Juan and sightseeing by private car

Ritz-Carlton San Juan and sightseeing by private car.

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.

How to pack a spa bag

So you’ve booked your room, and your spa treatments. But, are you really ready for an entire day at the spa? I’m guessing you are, but what about you’re partner? Typically, my husband and I will ask me to carry his swim trunks down to the spa. On the upside, he remembered to pack his trunks this time, but on the down side, who do you think carries his wet trunks back to the room?  He also likes to stop and have a drink on the way back to the room. Ok, in reality it is more likely several beers while waiting for me to finish all of my treatments 🙂  Hanging ones trunks on the bar is not very appetizing. In order to get a little more organized about our spa activities, lets take a realistic view about what you will need to bring for yourself and possibly others.

Why does my cat always want to help me pack?
Why does my cat always want to help me pack?

Let’s start with the bag. The satellite bag. That’s right, once your kids have graduated from the diaper bag, you still have to schlep the kids stuff or in my case, the hubby’s stuff. If traveling solo, you will still want to have some of these items with you. I have a couple of ways I pack for a day at the spa. I like to carry a large tote/oversized handbag for car trips. When I fly, I like to use very compact, thin bags that I can pack within my luggage. Taking a dry cleaning bag from the room to the spa pool, gym, or beach is not exactly chic, but in a pinch, it will work just fine.

I like to always keep a thin, lightweight bag in my luggage to use at the spa, pool, day trips, or for additional luggage.
I like to always keep a thin, lightweight bag in my luggage to use at the spa, pool, gym, day trips, or to use as additional luggage.
This is the bag I prefer to carry when taking car trips and I don't have to worry about size or weight of my luggage.
This is a bag I prefer to carry when taking car trips and I don’t have to worry about size or weight of my luggage.

I am hoping that you are staying at a fancy resort that has pool/beach towels, a vat of sunscreen, and a cute towel boy at the pool. But if you are not, the bag needs to be at least large enough to hold a towel.

Don’t forget your sunglasses! I can’t tell you how many times I was just going to get a massage, then end up sitting out by the pool or on a patio for hours. Not having your sunglasses is a total bummer.

Pool cover up, change of shoes and or clothing, bathing suit, hat, sunglasses, and maybe a towel.
Pool cover up, change of shoes and or clothing, bathing suit, hat, sunglasses, and maybe a towel.

Wallet, room key, and cash. Cash is king when it comes to tipping.

I prefer to use a business card carrier for my room key, credit card, and business cards. It is also easy to put into an evening bag for a night out on the town.
I prefer to use a business card carrier for my room key, credit card, and business cards. It is also easy to put into an evening bag for a fun night out.

Sunscreen is a must if you will be enjoying the outdoors for an extended period of time. Many high-end resorts will have some sun block in the locker room  or at the pool. Or, they will sell you some very expensive sunblock. Tuck your favorite brand in your bag and don’t sweat what kind of coverage you will be getting.

If you are booking a facial, you may also want to pack a hat. Sun exposure after a facial is not a good idea.

I am always impressed when the spa offers really nice hair care products and real brushes. Those little “man combs” that are usually provided are pretty worthless. Keep a large tooth comb or vented brush in your bag and you will be able to fix your hair much easier. Ponytail holders, clips, or a headband can be handy. Worse case scenario, you packed a hat, right?

I don't always carry this much product, but it is nice to have what you need if you are not going directly to your room or home, after your treatments.
I don’t always carry this much product, but it is nice to have what you need if you are not going directly to your room or home, after your treatments.

Bring your bathing suit. Pack your own and enjoy the coed whirlpool or pool without having to buy one or worse, use a “loaner suit.” Sorry, it’s a nice idea for a service, but I’m a germaphobe about certain things.

The dry cleaning bag from your room or a plastic bag. I use these to put my wet suit(s) in, to keep it from dripping or getting everything else wet.

Ok, those are my bare basics for a trip to the hotel spa. Here are some other items I like to have with me.

A book, magazine, or tablet/smart phone.

Extra stuff I like to have if I am spending an entire day at the spa.
Extra stuff I like to have if I am spending an entire day at the spa.

Your iPod (yes, I have a spa playlist).

A compact for light make-up coverage, if we are not going back to our room or home.

Lipstick. I don’t leave the house without applying lipstick. Why would I leave the spa without some on? After a great facial, this may be all the product you need.

A notebook and pen to write ideas or make lists. I find a lot of inspiration in the quiet of a spa and I need some way to remember these ideas. Typing on your smart phone may not be the best way to capture these thoughts, as cell phone usage is generally frowned on in a spa.

I like to keep a small pad of paper and pen to jot down all those incredible revolations that occured to me in the meditation room.
I like to keep a small pad of paper and pen in my robe to jot down all those incredible revelations that occurred to me in the meditation room.

If I am staying at a budget spa/day spa for an extended day, I may bring my own cover up and spa shoes. Don’t get me started on “spas” that don’t provide robes!

If I am working out in the fitness area, I will usually wear my workout clothes and sneakers to the treatment. If you don’t want to be an outfit repeater after your workout, you will want to bring a change of clothes. Expert note, wearing Spanx (which are awesome) right after a treatment is a struggle, don’t do it! It will kill a good spa buzz.

I realise this stuff is common sense, but I cannot tell you the number of people I see who carry in their huge luggage/briefcase/enormous make-up bag into the spa. It kills the vibe when it looks like your luggage exploded all over the shared locker room. Most hotels/spas will gladly store your bags for you if you have already checked out, or are just a day guest. Do us all a favor and have your satellite bag. I always keep one in my small carry on. It can also serve as additional luggage if you end up having a little retail therapy while traveling.

Did I miss anything? What’s in your bag?

How to book a great spa treatment

Solid research pays off!
Solid research pays off

Why is it that I always get the best therapist when I go to the spa? Several of my friends call or text me when they get a treatment and either rave about it or lament the service. I would much prefer to hear your rave, rather than the rant, so here is my two cents.

Do some research in the area. Look for big brands like hotel spas, bed and breakfast spas, day spas, medical spas, Ayurvedic spas, healing arts centers, and unique retreats. Know all of your options. Ask trusted friends for input and read online reviews.

Narrow down your choices based on personal preference. Brands of spas or products, types of treatments, overall vibe, on-site or off-site treatments if you are traveling will help you make your choice.

Consider your cost-to-benefit ratio. If you will feel guilty about the amount of a service, you won’t be happy. If you only like luxury or “green” services, again, take this into consideration. Consider overall value. Can you stay the entire day by a pool? Can you workout or have lunch on-site pre or post treatment? Will your insurance cover a medical massage? The benefit of spending a day at a resort pool can offset the idea of higher priced treatments, particularly while on vacation.

Canyon Ranch Spa pool at the Homestead in Warm Springs, VA
Canyon Ranch Spa pool at the Homestead in Warm Springs, VA

When booking, I prefer to call and speak to a person. I skip online booking, even at my local salon. Ask if they have any specials or packages.

Ask for the best available. Definitely consider getting a male therapist! I know many people have a preference for the female therapists, but you are missing out on some very talented male therapists. If you prefer deep tissue massage, definitely let the staff know when booking your appointment.

Ask if a “master therapist” or a “master esthetician” is available. Many large resort spas will have this option. A small upchange may occur ($10-15 dollars seems to be a standard charge), but it is always worth it in my book. If money is a big concern, check to see if a gratuity is built into the service. Sticker shock at check out will kill a good spa buzz.

Consider the time of day for your treatment. What will you need to do after your treatment? I prefer to do any exercise like working out or golf, prior to services. Avoid smudges to manicures and pedicures by booking those appointments last, during a full day of treatments.

If you have to be dressed up after your treatment, consider adding a blow out and or make-up application to follow your treatment. Large spas usually have a full range of beauty services, but even your local day spa will offer a make-up touch up for no additional charge for facial appointments. Ask!

Professional make up application is always a good idea :)
Professional make up application is always a good idea 🙂

Speak up when you meet with your therapist. Know ahead of time that you will be having a conversation with them and make it count. Therapists and estheticians always ask you if you have any problem areas, medical issues, or allergies, even if you filled out a form. This is the time when you mention that you prefer deep tissue or a lighter pressure. If you don’t like oil, ask for lotion. If you don’t like chatting during a treatment, let them know. If you want to learn more about skin care and the products used, let them know. It can be aqkward to answer questions or bring up requests once you have your face pressed into a cradle and you’re undressed.

Seriously, its best to speak up about preferences.
Seriously, its best to speak up about preferences.

If this is your local spa and you visit it regularly, be a generous tipper. These are the people who can really help you out in a pinch. You will get more samples, better services, and even extended time or add-on therapies as a bonus.

A thoughtful gift from the staff at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans.
A thoughtful gift from the staff at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans.

Remember, these professionals chose their career because they are sensitive and truly want to help people. They are not mind readers. If you recieve a great service, ask for their card. “Spa brain” will no doubt make you forget their name. Referring friends is always appreciated.

Did I leave anything out???

 

Runaway Moms Hideout at Lakeview Fontana Resort

 

Lake View Fontana Spa
Lake View at Fontana, a boutique Mountain Inn

I am pretty sure that I am not the first mother who dreamt about running away from home, but I am one of only a few women I know that actually did it! Now, I don’t want to get into the wretched details of what would drive a mostly sane person into ditching the kids with the husband and taking off. It is in the past after all, and all is forgiven. Let’s just say that our base requirements involve an annual Mother’s Day card, and a meal that we didn’t have to prepare on that one day of the year. Our basic needs were not met! Woodrow Wilson saw the wisdom in celebrating mothers way back in 1910, and it is observed as a national holiday! Apparently, nobody sent a memo to our families!

I will say this, I was not alone in my pursuit of rest and relaxation, I had a partner in crime. *Fancy, (let’s not use name real names to protect the guilty) and I had come off a very long year of family medical illnesses, deaths, and teenager shenanigans. One afternoon we decided to run off, the day after Mother’s Day to be exact, and that is precisely what we did. We did not leave forwarding details, we did not ask permission, and we did not really have a plan. We headed off to parts unknown. I stashed her Blackberry, and I unplugged mine. With one quick phone call, we headed off to a budget friendly spa, the Lakeview Fontana, in Bryson City, North Carolina.

This may or may not have been my partner in crime!
This may or may not have been my partner in crime!

We felt every bit as adventurous as Thelma and Louise. We stopped at a random winery about halfway to the spa. We were living large. No kids, no husbands telling us what to do, and no time frame of when we might return home.

Our arrival to this hidden getaway was pretty late at night (Hello! Winery, we blame you!). We were left a note at the front desk. It told us where they had left the key and to help ourselves to the honor bar in the dining area. This spa was tucked away, just off of the main road. It was once an old school, road side motel. It has been lovingly restored. Rooms had new bamboo floors, fluffy beds with white bedding, and of course, a serious spa! My gamble had paid off! It was so cute! It was rated one of the top ten budget friendly spas by Travel and Leisure.

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We easily settled into the flow of the property. Each morning we enjoyed the beautiful and tasty offerings for breakfast, including: French pressed coffee, juice, yogurt, granola, pastries, fresh fruit, and hard-boiled eggs. After a leisurely breakfast, we treated ourselves to very luxurious treatments in the spa. This schedule left us time to spend the afternoon by the pool or take a drive into one of several little towns to explore, eat, and shop. By evening, another spread of local wines and cheeses were prepared for happy hour. We loved happy hour! They have the most amazing view of a lake and we could sip, or gulp (don’t judge) our wine and take in the sunset.

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We booked two treatments for every day that we were there. Our innkeeper was awesome. We informed her of our “fugitive mom status” and that we were not sure exactly how long we would be staying. She was happy to accommodate us and I’m pretty sure she was all about maximizing our adventure. She did point us towards a casino in Cherokee, to a great little bistro in Bryson City, and some great sandwiches near an amazing white water rafting and kayaking area. I have chosen to not include pictures from the Cherokee Casino or the Paula Deen Restaraunt in the Casino, because, “what happens at the casino, stays at the casino.”

What you need to understand about this spa is how well-trained the staff are. Most of the staff have worked, in the past, at the Grove Park Inn. The Grove Park Inn in Ashville, North Carolina, is definitely on my top ten spas in the United States list. My friend *Fancy, would not feel comfortable spending an inordinate amount of money on herself, particularly with our, “runaway and ditch the kids with their fathers,” situation. The guilt would have been too much for her. We basically got the same level of service of a luxury spa for a third of the price.

IMG_0102_2
The Spa at Lake View Fontana

The treatment rooms are separate from the rest of the hotel and just steps from the dining area. The treatment rooms were quiet, and some rooms were able to leave the door open, to enjoy the sounds of spring while getting our massages, body wraps, and facials. The massage tables were heated, and pneumatic, so the vibe of the treatment definitely felt high-end. No flimsy tables here. Each room also had a shower for their extensive body treatment menu. Those therapists did magical things with steamy hot towels! The signature aromatic hot towel massage is not to be missed. After back to back 90 minute treatments daily, we forgot we had children!

In conclusion, it is best to buy your mom a Mother’s day card and take her out for a meal. Our five-day retreat was well deserved and it recharged us to return home and continue on with our full-time care giving gigs. I believe our tab for the week at Lake View was less than a thousand dollars. That does not include the $500 cash advance at the Cherokee Casino or the excellent shopping at a Native American Museum in Cherokee. So yeah, I think we all learned a lot that week 🙂

 

Tips for your trip; They offer yoga retreats and girlfriend packages. Bryson City is in the southern part of North Carolina near Cherokee, but also very near Dollywood and Gatlinburg, Tennessee (a favorite place for many to get hitched). Lake View Fontana is a secluded resort and perfect for a romantic getaway. This resort is also perfect for outdoor lovers of all sports. The US National whitewater center is just minutes away. Breakfast is served daily, but no room service is available, so feel free to pack in some of your own treats. Also note, we have both been treated much better since our return and Mother’s Day cards and gifts are now awesome.

Have you ever run away from home? Where did you go?

 

 

 

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

Enjoy the Silence, Abhyanga Massage at Blue Heaven Spa

Enjoy the Silence, Abhyanga Massage at Blue Heaven Spa.