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Healing Retreats


courtesy of the claremont hotel, club and spa

New wellness offerings at Northern California spas will not only pamper but get you losing weight, sleeping better, conquering stress, and starting the new year on the road to living a healthier life.




St. Regis Hotel  ➻ san francisco
♦ Get a good night’s sleep after the stillness ritual.

Joe FletcherMy baggage: Maybe I’m turning into a werewolf, but I don’t sleep much on the nights of the full moon. The week leading to my Stillness Ritual at the St. Regis Hotel’s Remède Spa, I was waking every morning at 2 a.m.—and not going back to sleep.

City quiet: Can you really find peace in a hotel within walking distance of San Francisco’s go-go worlds of high tech, finance, shopping, and culture? The earth tones and clean, modernist decor of the St. Regis exude quiet elegance, not loud opulence. In my 10th floor room, with its floor-to-ceiling windows welcoming in city views, I felt like I was floating on a cloud above the hubbub of Yerba Buena Gardens.

Relax, be still: The spa specifically designed the new Stillness Ritual for guests, like me, who are having trouble getting a good night’s sleep. It starts with a 30-minute bath in warm, bubbly water infused with lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, and rose petals. Then comes a languorous 90-minute Swedish massage, with a special craniosacral and foot reflexology treatment. My therapist used his thumbs to find precise points in the back of my neck, just below the occipital bone.

Joe FletcherActive participant: Spa director Deborah Larsson says clients receive the best results when they focus on their breath in a way that makes them “present.” As my therapist pressed his thumbs into the back of my neck, I breathed in, out, in, out, to help bring the release in my neck and shoulders.

Après ritual: I enjoyed a healthy lunch, sitting by the St. Regis indoor pool. Executive Chef Romuald Feger has developed a veggie menu of cold soups, salad, and couscous, using produce he purchased that morning at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Sleep? Yes, I conked out around 9 p.m. in my big, fluffy bed and woke to the purple light of dawn. A full night’s sleep at last; a much-needed break in a cycle of insomnia. A week after my stay, I still wake up at 2 but quickly nod back into a deep sleep.

The St. Regis Hotel, 125 Third St., San Francisco, (415) 284-4000, starwoodhotels.com.  —Martha Ross


The Sonoma Mission Inn  ➻ sonoma
♦ Visit this Wine Country spa to relieve stress and improve diet.

courtesy of fairmont sonoma mission inn My baggage: I’m 40 years old but still eat like a college kid—a big cup of coffee for breakfast, then lunch around 2. Not good.
Break your fast: Nutritional therapist and registered dietician Barbara Birsinger gets me to promise I’ll try healthy breakfasts (blend frozen fruit into milk or yogurt for an easy smoothie) and midmorning snacks to get that metabolism working for me, not against me.

Monitor your hunger scale: During the day, she says, rank your hunger on a 1–10 scale, with 0-2 being famished and 8-10 being stuffed. Try to keep yourself between a 4-7, and you’ll never run low on energy or overeat.

Try a meal meditation: Birsinger says, before you eat, imagine how you’ll feel afterward. This will help with appropriate portion sizes and enjoyment.

courtesy of fairmont sonoma mission inn Great grapes: Being in Wine Country, I opt for the Harvest Kur treatment, which starts with exfoliation and a grape-seed oil bath soak, then a rub of warm grape-seed mud from head to toe. The mud is an antioxidant, and the seeds create the best allover back scratch ever. The finishing touch: a sensational massage—relief for my hunched-over-a-keyboard shoulders.

Cocoon bliss: Remember the film Altered States? My final treatment is like William Hurt’s trips to the flotation tank, except replace the mescaline with a vanilla shea butter wrap. Slathered with this moisturizing butter, then wrapped in a cocoon and lowered into a tub of warm water, I feel a womb-like sensation of weightlessness, as a therapist massages my face and scalp. The blissed-out mind walk lasts 45 minutes, and when I come to, I get a delicious vanilla smoothie as a chaser.

Supreme shut-eye: Exfoliated, moisturized, and nourished, I head to my suite for the best night of sleep I’ve had in a year. Not bad for a Monday.

Back in the real world: I’ve been following Birsinger’s advice about breaking the fast with a healthy meal, and it’s golden: better focus and more energy throughout the day.

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa, 100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma, (707) 938-9000, fairmont.com/sonoma.  —Peter Crooks


Cavallo Point  ➻ sausalito
♦ Escape the real world altogether.

Kodiak GreenwoodMy baggage: I’m having trouble making a space in my life for creativity, and without that, I feel like a rat on a wheel.

Om: Cavallo Point’s dramatic location at the northern foot of the Golden Gate Bridge and the woodsy setting of the Healing Arts Center & Spa prime you for a relaxing stay. Nestle in one of Cavallo Point’s converted historic officers’ quarters or a contemporary room or suite. Throw in a snooze by a roaring fireplace and a soak in the open-to-the-sky whirlpool tub, and you’ll be feeling far, far away.

Don’t fight back: Before my hypnotherapy, the main event of my stay, a massage therapist named Dolores wrestled my physical tension to the mat. Seriously. She meant business.

Fat chance: During my oxygen facial, which is like getting your face airbrushed with products, I heard so much about my skin getting plumped up that I thought I’d come out of there looking like a 21-year-old. Uh, maybe not. Still, I felt great.

Michal VeneraSee y’all later: My hypnotherapist helped me envision a beautiful place that I can go to whenever I want. It’s like having a house in the country, but without the property taxes. I have an adviser there and unlimited peace and quiet. You might think I’m kidding.

More food for the soul: The lighted windows of Cavallo Point’s Murray Circle restaurant, also in a historic building, look warm and welcoming. Inside, its understated 1930s-style decor feels grand, without being stuffy. An entrée of rich, buttery black cod, black peppercorn sauce, tangy tomato confit, and charred tender squid did justice to its every handpicked ingredient. The restaurant’s house-made breads rivaled those at the best bakeries. Roasted quail and a wood-grilled artichoke with aioli, though served in the bar, deserved five stars. Hazelnut lovers need to try the torte.

Back in the real world: One week after leaving Cavallo Point, I still often think of coming out of my hypnotherapy session and finding myself eye to eye with a deer. And I meditate and go to my—wink, wink—place in the country whenever I can.

Cavallo Point Lodge at the Golden Gate, 601 Murray Cir., Fort Baker, Sausalito, (888) 651-2003, cavallopoint.com.  —Michaela Jarvis


The Clement  ➻ monterey
♦ Have fun getting healthy, with adventure hiking and fresh fish.

courtesy of Intercontinental the clement monterey My baggage: I’m an overweight 30-year-old who loves being outdoors and is looking for a fun and natural way to shed some pounds.

Float away: Just being near water has a calming effect on me. My ocean-view suite, with an ultracomfy bed, two fireplaces, and a soaking tub, sets just the right mood for a relaxing and rejuvenating weekend.

Smart start: Wellness coach Lori Benak, from the on-site Energia Spa, takes me through a nutrition and fitness assessment, and pinpoints some trouble areas. My caramel macchiato and coffee cake breakfasts are setting me up for sugar rushes and crashes throughout the day. Benak suggests no sweets in the morning. Instead, a lemon-water cleanse followed by protein, such as yogurt or an egg.

Danger zone: There are three candy stores (think barrels of saltwater taffy), a Nestle cookie shop, and a Ghirardelli chocolate café all within a block of the Clement.

courtesy of Intercontinental the clement monterey New heights: Benak leads me on a hike in nearby Point Lobos reserve. We watch waves crash into a cove hundreds of feet below, spot a deer, and munch on homemade granola. She is energetic and inspiring, sharing stories and suggesting a gratitude walk, where we are silent for 10 minutes, meditating on five things we’re grateful for. The key to exercise adherence, she says, is finding something you love to do and putting it on your calendar, as you would any other appointment. I vow to visit Pleasanton Ridge when I get home.

Salmon substitute: Arctic char appears all over the menu at the hotel’s C Restaurant (where Jerry Regester, formerly of the Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, is the executive chef). The salmon relative aligns better with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guidelines, and it was heaven atop a Caesar salad—dressing ordered on the side, of course.

Sanctuary space: After an 80-minute combo aromatherapy massage and facial, where Sherri Coffelt smoothed out my knots with her hands and feet, I zone out in my suite’s tub, listening to the sound of the waves.

Back in the real world: Coffee cake’s out, I recently hiked up to the frog pond at Pleasanton Ridge, and I’m ready to up the ante.

InterContinental the Clement, Monterey, 750 Cannery Row, Monterey, (831) 375-4500, ichotelsgroup.com.  —LeeAnne Jones


The Claremont  ➻ berkeley
♦ Reenergize with holistic consultations and treatments.

courtesy of the claremont hotel, club and spaMy baggage: Poor eating and sleeping habits have started to sap my daily energy level.

Upscale meets Berkeley: The Claremont combines a timeless, understated luxury with Berkeley’s relaxed, quirky personality—it’s got soul. It’s also got some of the best views in the Bay Area and rooms to match, thanks to a recent renovation.

Forgive me, father: I kicked off my stay with a 90-minute nutrition therapy session from Andy Seplow, the Claremont’s nutritionist/herbalist/acupuncturist/amateur psychologist. Seplow listened to my health sins, took my pulse, checked my tongue, sprinkled in a few Chinese proverbs, and told me to eat better and get more sleep. “It’s not rocket science. Ultimately, we are our own best healer. We need to nurture ourselves.”

Pins and needles: Stated purpose for my first-ever acupuncture treatment: improve the efficient distribution of chi along my energy pathways. Yeah, I don’t know what it means, either, but I quickly settled into an intense state of relaxation, where I became acutely aware of the rhythm of my breathing. Afterward, I felt great: focused and energized, but not at all hyper.

John BensonGood vibrations: During the Tibetan Sound Massage, metal bowls were placed on me and rung like a tuning fork so that my entire body vibrated. But the sounds are just a complement to the massage, which was fantastic. Thorough and relaxing. I’d tell you how it ended, but I drifted off to sleep.

Coming soon: A spa menu for the new year reflects a continuing focus on wellness, away from just pampering. That means preconsultations to tailor your experience, more crossover with the Claremont’s fitness club, and a nutritional focus complemented by farm-to-table cuisine in the hotel’s new Meritage restaurant. 

Back in the real world: I’ve made a conscious effort to go to bed earlier and eat better. Energy levels are up; my chi feels strong.

The Claremont Hotel, Club & Spa, 41 Tunnel Rd., Berkeley, (510) 843-3000, claremont-hotel.com.  —Ethan Fletcher


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