Travel

Miraval

They say the third time’s the charm, and this was my third trip to Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa in Tuscon, Arizona. But I was charmed right from the start when I visited seven years ago.

Today, Miraval is both the same and different as it was my first trip. For one thing, the spa has changed ownership—it’s now part of the Hyatt company. For another, projects that were in the works during former visits are now complete, including a beautiful, Zeninfused spa building with expansive views of the Catalina Mountains. It’s hard to beat the experience of gazing at that view while cocooned in a robe and on a chaise lounge. Then there’s the elaborate series of waterfalls and trickling brooks that lull you with their serenity wherever you stroll. The restorative power of water—and Mother Nature in general—is everywhere here.

 

That speaks to what is the same about Miraval: It is a place for self-discovery, which is a big part of its attraction for repeat spa-goers. Each visit brings new opportunities for growth. While Miraval has the usual mix of relaxing treatments and go-go exercises, it is also known for an astounding array of spiritual offerings like Shamanic healing and intuitive massage, experiences we might not be inclined to participate in at home (even if we could find them). But the ambience at Miraval—nestled amid desert mountains that reflect other-worldly yellows, oranges and pinks depending on the time of day—coaxes you to look both inward at who you want to be and outward at the inspiring wonders of our world.

The key to maximizing a spa vacation is balance, and that is one of Miraval’s catchphrases, ‘living a life in balance.’ While there, you will want to experience it all—exercise classes, spa treatments, relaxation and workshops offered by various practitioners. The new spa director, Carl Pratt, spent more than a decade on staff at nearby Canyon Ranch, and he compares the two like this: “At Canyon Ranch, it’s more about go-gogo, and here, it’s stop.” As in stop and smell the roses, and take time to reflect on life and your priorities.

So in that spirit, I planned a three-night stay with one of my daughters. I recommend coming with a close friend or relative; there is something special about sharing the experience and processing your revelations with someone close. Singles are welcome, but I didn’t encounter many on this trip. What I did notice was more diversity in the guest population than ever before. There were women, and men, of every size, age and shape, and more couples than in the past.

 

Naturally, guests who come together won’t necessarily go to the same classes. While I opted for 7 a.m. Yoga Stretch, my daughter and other brave souls did a trail run through the desert (complete with animal spottings: coyote, rattlesnake, roadrunners and quail). There are two or three offerings every hour, from 7 a.m. to sundown. Among my favorites was Capoeira Dance, 45 minutes of cardio via Brazilian dance moves that make you totally forget you’re exercising (and that your knees might not be up to that much swiveling!).

The Sonoran Desert Walking Tour is another fun one—and much more sedate (if a bit steamy in 103 degree heat), since all it requires is following guide Andrew Wolf around the grounds as he points out interesting desert minutiae. Like the chiltepin chili,a tiny red pepper he called the progenitor of all chili peppers today. Doubters just have to suck on one of the tiny berries and wait about 20 seconds for the heat to be released. Warning: spit it out directly onto the ground, not into your hands.

Most classes are included in the daily spa cost, which can range from about $800 down to around $480, depending on whether you find a seasonal promotion. I’ve visited in February, March and May, and each was beautiful. May can start getting a bit hot, but only the middle of the day is uncomfortable, and even that is the proverbial ‘dry heat,’ which many don’t mind. The nice thing about the desert clime is that once the sun is on the wane, the heat entirely subsides—no humidity hangs in the air—and you’re left with 60 to 70 degrees from about 5 p.m. to 10 a.m. I’ve also been told the stormy season, July, is spectacular, with fierce storms and lightning over the mountains that last only a short while and provide quite the show.

Most packages wisely incorporate a spa ‘allowance’ in the daily rate, so guests will be more inclined to try classes and treatments beyond the usual. I accrued $150 a day to spend as I chose. So while I might not normally treat myself to a $240 Deep Desert Massage, the ‘account balance’ was there to spend!

There is also a large roster of personal growth courses like Mirror of the Soul and Native American Meditation & Healing, as well as private sessions in everything from exercise physiology and photography to Astrology and Tibetan Chakra Balancing. Many exotic offerings are introduced in 45-minute group settings so you can sample them before booking private sessions.

Meals, a big part of any vacation, are much-anticipated here. Not only because the food is fresh and plentiful, but because the dining area faces magnificent mountain views and a foreground of lush cholla, saguaro, mesquite, ocotillo, yucca and prickly pear, with something always in bloom. Menu options for breakfast and lunch are complemented by opulent buffets; you can’t believe spa food could be this good. And dinner is a four-course affair of items like Prickly Pear Glazed Berkshire Pork Tenderloin with Chile Dusted Pecan Slaw and Maple Charred Watermelon. Don’t miss the salted caramel ice cream with chocolate chunks, if it’s offered. Yes, there are rich desserts at the spa; remember, it’s all about balance.

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