The word transformational is thrown around a lot these days in the health and wellness space. Who doesn’t want to transform something in their lives, whether it’s their health, mental state, career or all of the above? The period of extreme change we’re experiencing collectively may have only exacerbated this desire.
Many wellness resorts claim to offer dramatic results through life-altering, immersive experiences and treatments, but how many of them deliver? Here are five wellness retreats, and one soon to open, using everything at their disposal, from stunning natural settings to cutting-edge medical advances, to offer guests the most profound gift, the opportunity to emerge a better, healthier and more balanced version of themselves.
Castle Hot Springs
Location: 50 miles outside of Phoenix
Healing philosophy: A digital detox retreat with therapeutic soaking. All accommodations are screen-free (even the Wi-Fi password “RUsureUwant2” encourages unplugging), and Castle Hot Springs’ world-class mineral hot springs date back 13,000 years.
Atmosphere: Down a dusty dirt road against the Bradshaw Mountains, Castle Hot Springs (from $1,500 per night) channels the Old West. Wild burros roam the desert landscape strewn with steep canyons and saguaro cactus, and the yellow Cape Cod–style lodge, where JFK famously recuperated from injuries sustained in World War II, feels very turn of the 20th century. The hotel opened in 1896 and became the winter retreat of choice for America’s most famous industrial families such as the Vanderbilts, Astors, Wrigleys and Roosevelts, who came to soak in the healing thermal waters. With three bluish-green pools surrounded by lush palm trees, Castle Hot Springs feels like a hidden paradise. A fire shuttered the resort in 1976, and it remained closed until a Phoenix couple revamped and reopened it in 2019. The accommodations, 30 new cabins and bungalows, are midcentury-meets -Southwest with the exception of a 100-year-old restored cottage.
What to book: All the buzziest treatments are offered, from energy healing to gua sha, but Castle Hot Springs excels at customization. The signature massage is designed to address each guest’s specific needs and preferences, and therapists will employ specialized techniques to achieve the desired outcome. Guests can add things like a stimulating scalp treatment and gemstone collagen mask designed to repair skin on a cellular level.
Other perks: Sky View Cabins have telescopes for nighttime stargazing, while Spring Bungalows have stone tubs plumbed with hot springs water.
SHA Wellness Clinic
Location: Alicante, Spain, about an hour and a half south of Valencia
Healing philosophy: Achieving optimal physical, mental and spiritual well-being through healthy nutrition, holistic therapies and preventive medicine.
Atmosphere: Overlooking Altea Bay and a 13,000-acre conservation area known as Serra Gelada Natural Park, SHA Wellness Clinic (from $4,390 for a seven-night program) is surrounded by the natural beauty of the Mediterranean. According to the World Health Organization, the region’s climate is one of the most optimal for good health. The clinic’s austere modernist architecture is softened with hanging gardens draped over terrace edges, and there are multiple water features, including a swimming pool with a waterfall. SHA is the result of a transformative personal experience. After years of medical issues, founder Alfredo Bataller Parietti recovered his health thanks to integrative medicine and healthy nutrition. The SHA method combines medical advances with dietary reeducation and natural therapies intended to improve longevity.
What to book: A bit of a commitment, SHA offers a variety of health programs from seven to 21 days, including Optimal Weight and Healthy Aging and the more demanding Detox designed to purify the body of toxins. The program includes a personalized food and health plan, bioenergy assessment, hydrotherapy and medical services like an oxidative stress test. SHA has also introduced a program for those who have recovered from COVID-19 but are still experiencing long-term effects.
Other perks: Healthy nutrition is at the core of the SHA experience. In the Chef’s Studio, guests learn to prepare veggie-filled, energy-boosting Japanese and Mediterranean meals that they can incorporate into their daily routine. The restaurant SHAmadi serves healthy haute cuisine where even desserts like carrot cake crumble with coconut cream contain zero sugar, dairy, egg or gluten.
Location: In the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, 40 minutes southeast of Knoxville
Healing philosophy: Using art, adventure and the healing environment of the mountains to improve body, mind and spirit.
Atmosphere: On verdant Chilhowee Mountain, Blackberry Mountain (from $845 per night), the sister resort to famed culinary destination Blackberry Farm, comes with everything a mountain retreat might: mist-covered valley views, thickly wooded hillsides and a feeling of serenity. The Lodge and Hub (which has an art studio where activities might include pottery and basket making, a yoga loft and a climbing wall) are mid-mountain while accommodations are in various settings. There are Treehouses shrouded in a forest, Stone Cottages that hug the mountainside and Watchmen Cabins at the mountain’s peak near the Firetower restaurant in a restored 1950s lookout.
What to book: From LED light therapy to nervous system resets, treatments at Blackberry Mountain are anything but run-of-the-mill. At the spa, called the Nest, therapies include perfectly paired experiences like Create, where guests try out aerial yoga and watercolor meditation and leave feeling freer and more joyful. The high-performance Alpha Beta + Vitamin C Brightening Facial aims to repair the effects of sun damage and reverse aging through a professional peel system and a collagen-building eye treatment.
Other perks: With 5,200 acres to explore, hiking is a must. Trails crest rocky ridgetops and snake down into cool, damp creek bottoms. For an adrenaline-fueled experience, the Arbor Adventure is a guided ropes course between three custom-built treehouses.
The Wilde Resort
Location: Sedona at the base of Thunder Mountain
Healing philosophy: Rugged beauty and mysticism combine for a rejuvenating experience at The Wilde Resort (from $219 per night), where East-meets-West spa treatments are focused on healing and spiritual growth.
Atmosphere: Formerly known as the Sedona Rouge, The Wilde reopened with a new look and name in September 2021. The lush green grounds with a labyrinth, gardens and courtyard planted with Italian cypress trees contrast with the red rock formations that surround it. The Wilde Haven Spa — where local healers perform specialty bodywork, lead meditation, qi gong and yoga nidra with sound bowl healing — has outdoor soaking tubs and seating areas for quiet contemplation. The 105 simple-but-tidy guest rooms sport jewel-toned colors and Southwestern motif pillows.
What to book: The mountains, vortex sites and local plants and vegetation inspire many spa treatments at The Wilde; it’s also a place to connect with your inner Zen. During the traditional Japanese Mountain & Sea bathing ritual, spa goers are buffed with wild cherry rice, followed by a soak in a hinoki mint mineral bath and a massage with kinoxei lime and plum blossom.
Other perks: Often a hub of activity, which may or may not be what you’re after, the Wilde offers stargazing, cocktail classes, Native American flute blessing ceremonies and storytelling around the fire pits.
Cal-a-Vie Health Spa
Location: Vista, just north of San Diego
Healing philosophy: Cal-a-Vie Health Spa (from $5,050 for three nights) combines luxurious European spa philosophies with the California concepts of fitness, health and nutrition to help guests achieve attainable goals and optimal health.
Atmosphere: The property’s owners are true Francophiles who want guests to feel they’ve been transported to the South of France. The destination spa’s 500 acres are planted with fields of fragrant lavender, citrus groves and vineyards. The proprietors even imported a 400-year-old chapel, parsonage and l’orangerie from Dijon, France (the space is used for events), and furnished interiors with authentic French antiques. Cal-a-Vie offers three-, four- and seven-night spa vacation packages, including gourmet cuisine, with over 160 fitness classes, hiking, beauty and spa treatments, mind-body awareness programs, lectures, guest speakers and accommodations in 32 private villas.
What to book: While the place doesn’t look like a medical spa, many Cal-a-Vie treatments go way beyond massages and facials. Guests can get wellness injections and try out Feldenkrais, a movement discipline that can help with pain relief. To go a step further, book a full-body cryotherapy treatment in which guests are immersed in a chamber flooded with extremely cold air for one to three minutes. The treatment help ease muscle pain and promote faster healing after injuries. The CBD-infused Cafe Noir Slimming Wrap exfoliates the skin to help reduce the appearance of cellulite and scars.
Other perks: Cal-a-Vie has pickleball courts and an antique store exclusively available to guests as well as an 18-hole golf course.