Fantasy Fitness Spa: Miraval in Tucson, Arizona

Photo: Miraval
To banish the winter blues, we’re declaring this Fantasy Fitness Spas of the West week! What exactly does that mean? Are we flying you and a friend to Palm Springs? Not exactly.

Instead we’re kicking off a week of cubicle travel (cause who really sits in armchairs?), during which we whisk you away to our five favorite spas. (More precisely, the five spas we’ve visited recently and loved.) Given that our former life was dedicated to writing about spas, you can take our picks pretty seriously.

Something we've learned along the way: While luxe details like bedding thread count make for good living, they don’t necessarily make for good reading. So we’re focusing on the top three awesomely memorable experiences at each of our five fantasy spas. Here's today's...


I didn’t go to Miraval to jump off a pole. (Though I did, and so did Oprah.) I went for the promise of mindful-living tools and for the integrative wellness program, created by Andrew Weil, MD, the integrative health pioneer and best-selling author. Turns out they’re all interlinked.

The spa runs like a 5-star inner-life hotel. It’s on a 400-acre swath of desert that makes you feel somehow calmed by nature. The beautifully executed spa cuisine, which gets lots of kudos, is calorie-controlled at dinner. (Just watch the buffets at breakfast and lunch, and cocktail hour. Not kidding.)

With about 100 fitness activities and mindfulness classes to choose from—and just as many spa treatments—it can be hard remember to chill out.

Here are three key experiences to help narrow it down, all of which I’d do again in a heartbeat. —Melisse Gelula

Jumping off the Miraval pole
Well+Good's Melisse Gelula about to take the Quantum Leap at Miraval

1. Mind-Body Challenges
Miraval’s forte is creating physical challenges and experiences—like grooming a horse and jumping off a 25-foot-high pole — that translate into inner-life lessons. When your horse doesn’t respond to your request, it tells you reams about how you communicate with others and yourself. And when you willingly climb and jump off a freestanding 25-foot pole, your reasons for rigging up for the challenge and the fears it brings up makes for good therapy. These challenges, or Clue-In Activities, as Miraval calls them, are great for those a little allergic to more woo-woo approaches of finding yourself.

2. Integrative Health Experts
James Nicolai, MD, was handpicked by Dr. Weil to head up the Integrative Wellness Program. Going over my intake form together, I quickly learned what a polymath of a physician he is. Dr. Nicolai pulls from Western and Eastern medicine—and the supplements aisle—to broker your path to better health. He’s capable of citing pharmaceutical data and Buddhist teachings in a single sentence. Two prescriptions I got: Breathe deeply—not like a person in crisis. (He showed me how to “breath walk.”) And plan chill-out time in my week, not just workouts: Cortisol contributes to belly fat.

Miraval spa treatment
Photo: The futuristic TAIZ Sensorium at Miraval

3. Super-Progressive Spa Treatments
Note to massage lovers: Save it for home. Miraval’s the place to book one of many un-gimmicky fusion treatments that will rock your world. And your chi. The Qi Journey ($320), which combines cranial-sacral work, Thai massage stretches, and acupuncture, places in the top five treatments I've had (that's including my time on staff of Luxury SpaFinder Magazine). Don’t miss the one-of-kind vibrational therapy session called TAIZ Sensorium ($250), with Kephart Taiz, who built this contraption that takes you into some deep place with healing frequencies. Some spas play an ocean soundtrack to soothe you, but this one made me feel like a wave rolling into shore.

All-inclusive rates (including meals, airport transfers, and $130 spa credit) start at $595 (doubles),

Like your vacation a little more hard core? Check out this spa destination filled with a Type A-approach to hiking and fitness or this one, probably the world's most extreme cleanse.

(Originally published January 2012.)

Loading More Posts...