I know I am not supposed to pick favorites but …
Maybe it’s because I have been quarantining for the best part of the past five months? Maybe it’s that Cal-a-Vie Health Spa is a hop skip and a 15-mile jump from my beach house? Or, maybe it is just that Cal-a-Vie is a magical place and I met some wonderful people there. Whatever the reason, so far, this has been, by far, my favorite wellness retreat.
I’ve been waiting to visit Cal-a-Vie since I first heard about it through a friend of a friend 12 years ago. She was one of those seemingly perfect Beverly Hills socialites who did things like go to a luxury health spa for a week to get away from her already amazing life. “Someday”, I thought, I will go too. However, life as we used to know it, always got in the way. Travel for work and what other people wanted to do always took precedent over my “selfish” spa vacation plans. Then COVID-19 hit. We all got a crash course in how stress, fear, loss of work, change of plans, root shock, isolation, and uncertainty can do a number on our physical and mental health. All of a sudden, once spa and fitness resorts were open again, wellbeing was no longer an optional indulgence. Health and wellness was essential. So, with no other places I need to be and all my TV and movie projects put off until 2021, I was beyond ready to partake in some major self-care.
Cal-a-Vie Health Spa is now open and ready for your safe arrival. To ensure a healthy environment they are taking advantage of their idyllic location in the southern California sunshine with fresh outdoor spaces for fitness and spa programs. Guests maintain social distance during a rigorous hike or more leisurely golf course walk every morning. Workouts for every fitness level take place in open-air settings or in their two beautiful pools. The weather is perfect for al fresco dining and current California approved spa treatments. Unlike many family friendly resorts now starting to open, Cal-a-Vie is very adult and single female friendly, which is perfect for me.
Just a 20-minute drive from where I have been slowly getting out of lock down in Oceanside, I entered the gates and drove the picturesque long driveway. I took a pit stop before crossing the wooden bridge to the main grounds where my temperature was taken and a few health questions were asked as required by the San Diego County Health Department. This is also a daily requirement for all employees and anyone else entering the property. I had just tested negative for a third time, felt great and was ready for my four-day stay.
Top 10 Best Spas in the World
I had long last arrived at one of the “Top 10 Best Spas in the World” as voted by Conde Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice and North America’s #1 Destination Health Spa according to Travel + Leisure. Nestled between fields of grapevines and lavender, Cal-a-Vie combines European spa ideals with California concepts of fitness and nutrition. Packages are custom-made for each guest offering an intimate self-care hideaway. Owners Terri and John Havens modeled the property after their passion for historic antiques and family trips to France, pairing a gorgeous 450-acre setting with wellness programs inspired by a commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately the Cannes Film Festival 2020, where I had several new projects premiering, was cancelled and made virtual. Going to the South of France online was not my idea of a real getaway. So I am grateful that the lush landscape of Cal-a-Vie was like being in Nice in my own backyard.
The accommodations are casual-elegant chic with Frette linens and lovely signature spa products. Each room is temperature controlled with its own air conditioning unit so circulated air is not shared. During this unprecedented time, they are going beyond the requirements of the CDC, Federal and State health agencies to assure all of the guests and employees a safe environment. Besides needing to wear a mask to go in public areas, you would never know there was a global pandemic going on. I felt completely at ease with Cal-a-Vie being everything I hoped for and more. I arrived just in time to have lunch and settle in before a swim and an outdoor terrace mat-Pilates class with a beautiful view of vineyards, a duck pond and rolling hills. As luck would have it, L.A. actress Erin Murphy (“Tabatha” from Bewitched), who I knew from Hollywood events, was there as a guest as well. Great! Someone I know and like for social distancing working out and hanging out.
If you are starting a new, post-pandemic fitness program, Cal-a-Vie Health Spa has everything you need. Beautiful hiking trails, TRX, personal fitness sessions, Zumba, spinning and aqua workouts are just a few of the exercise amenities. They have made the most of the outdoor Pavilion space and two swimming pools for fitness classes while following “no groups indoors with out masks” guidelines. Meditation and mind/body/spirit yoga classes are also available with private classes available upon request. Guided hilly hikes around 10 miles of trails on the private property provide great cardio-activity as you enjoy the breathtaking nature. Cryotherapy, Chiropractic, acupuncture, vitamin shots and IV therapy, nutritional counseling, Bod Pod, blood tests to determine food sensitivities, life coaching, and more are also available for an extra fee. If interested, guests are able to opt-in to the newly upgraded Cal-a-Vie Health Spa Cleanse Program.
After Pilates, a swim and a shower, I joined Erin for a beautiful dinner alfresco by a babbling brook where we could enjoy delicious, healthy food including a sweet satisfying dessert. You can make choices on calorie count and request gluten free, vegan or any modifications for allergies. I decided to go with a middle of the road 1500 calories but no dietary restrictions to get a real taste for all they offer. Dinner was followed by an optional group nutrition chat about how to order mindfully in restaurants. I know what I’m supposed to do in theory. However it was a nice reminder as we get back to life after too much greasy, bready take out and cheesy casserole baking during quarantine.
With a rotating assortment of menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner included with my stay, I savored a vibrant, rainbow colored selection of gourmet spa cuisine. From the omelet du jour to my favorite spicy shrimp taco bowl (to the not so secret late night in-room spicy popcorn upon request) dining is a delight. As part of Cal-a-Vie Health Spa’s culinary experience, seasonal produce and herbs are harvested from their own organic gardens. Wildflower honey is gathered from the resort’s apiary. Every ingredient is combined to present guests with the freshest possible fare, serving up farm-to-table scrumptiousness like no other. Executive Chef Curtis Cooke believes that “the foundation for a healthy, happy life begins with food”.
After a nice sleep and live wake up call knock at the door, delivering my requested pot of black coffee, I threw on some leggings, a long sleeved T-shirt and the souvenir Cal-a-Vie water bottle holder/fanny pack they provided. It was perfectly brisk for a 6:30 am, 2 1/2 mile hike that was just enough to get a sweat on and not too much to knock you out for the day. It was fun to chat with new retirees CEO Jennifer from Texas and her Silicon Valley biotech friend. As a semi-retired actress/producer wanting to spend more time doing things I love like health spas and hiking and only working on projects with people I really like, I felt that I was in the right place. I was finding my tribe for my stay… and perhaps beyond. We lead the pack with Fitness Coordinator Austin who laid down markers for the rest of the group not far behind. Everyone was free to go at their own pace with other instructors mixed in or choose to go on the more leisurely Golf Course Country Club route. By 7:30 am, I was already in need of my first shower and wardrobe change of the day. I left my dirt dusty trail runners outside to be cleaned. Erin had been there before and gave me the tip. I took a quick rinse off and changed into my next workout outfit before heading to a well-earned breakfast. Eggs Benedict over sweet potatoes? Yes please. Fresh squeezed lemon water? Sounds lovely. Mini-Muffin of the day? Sure!
A Day at Cal-a-Vie
I was given a laminate with the day’s schedule listing Zumba to start. However, I got lost and ended-up with my first class being TRX, my favorite anyway. Sometimes everything just happens as it should. I followed TRX with a core class, then body sculpting with lots of lunges and squats. Thank goodness we got a spa snack break to keep on keeping on. I ended my rigorous workouts with an aqua class in the bathwater warm pool that was a great stretch of the muscles that I forgot I had. All of this before lunch. I was tender already and happy my afternoon schedule consisted of restorative yoga, free time, retail therapy, and an outside cabana massage.
Relaxation is infectious at Cal-a-Vie. Devoted specialists bring you a new degree of “aaahhh”. With each spa treatment, therapists use the finest plant and sea extracts and aromatic oils. Though not all services were currently available due to California health laws that are hard to make sense of as they change week to week. It doesn’t seem logical why you can get a massage but not a pedicure or hair treatment. Oh well. I am not going to let it spoil the bliss of what I can do. Which is plenty. Can’t visit Cal-a-Vie in California in person? No problem. You can also bring the spa to your own home for a stay-cation as there is as a large selection of the resort’s best serums, oils and lotions available for purchase online.
Speaking of shopping, I knew right away that I wanted to bring some pieces of Cal-a-Vie home with me to be reminded of the magical place. Their beautiful boutique is filled with nutrition books, fine bath and body essentials, workout accessories, active-wear, loungewear, swimwear, jewelry, and more. Going through three workout outfits a day is a good excuse to shop even if they do your laundry daily. Their pretty coffee table style “Cal-a-Vie Health Spa Beautiful Living Cookbook” features over a hundred of Executive Chef Curtis Cooke’s most delicious dishes and is gorgeous even if you just browse it for the photos, and like me, never plan to actually make anything.
As wiped out as I was from a busy day of activities, I could have ordered my dinner to my room. However, I was craving company after quarantine so I headed-up to the group for an outdoor dinner. I am so glad I did – finding actress Erin, Jennifer from Texas and her friend the non-nonsense, hilarious Christy. Their lust for life and becoming their best selves in a crazy new normal was infectious. We all became fast friends – like being at camp. As most events had been cancelled for the foreseeable future it was extra special to connect with real humans not on a Zoom meeting or social media platform. Another wonderful dinner included the resort’s signature herbal teas. Their hibiscus sangria sans the actual wine felt like having a cocktail while still being on a cleansing health retreat. Après dinner I drew myself a bath and poured in the sweet smelling Cal-a-Vie bath salts provided in my room to help soothe my good-sore muscles. I looked forward to another beautiful day of luxuriating again tomorrow.
After a great nights sleep, I did it all over again. A new dawn hike and then a variety of fitness classes were followed by a Marie-Antoinette style table setting tea party in the Antique Boutique. Created in response to guests seeking the French Provencal décor of Cal-a-Vie at home, the boutique provides exclusive access to 18th and 19th century pieces imported directly from France. Guests can purchase original artwork, glassware, and even pieces of furniture. I usually don’t even like the arts and crafts sort of things. However after a first half of the day of strenuous workouts I welcomed a break. I let the whimsy reel me in and even picked up some French linin table settings for a future at home al fresco girls gathering.
As another hike-eat-sweat-swim-spa was coming to a close, I reflected on my days of bliss while dressing for a special dinner at the L’Orangerie, a 300-year-old reception hall imported from Dijon. I felt so at ease and at home. I knew now why Cal-a-Vie was consistently voted one the world’s best wellness spas and I was enjoying every moment of my stay. I masked up for the group shuttle ride to the top of the hill and was met with an option of wine tasting or alcohol free fresh Blackberry spritzers, along with smoked-salmon, cucumber and caviar appetizers. The 16-acre vineyard at Cal-a-Vie was first cultivated in 2007 for Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc grapes. Now, they are known for their hearty red blend and crisp rose. Château Cal-A-Vie wine is available in beautiful gift boxes to take home or share the joy.
Sips and nibbles were followed by a sit down dinner with a stunning sunset. As dessert cake was served, we raised our glasses to our new super group the “Fab Four”. Not to outshine the superb supper, we also had the option on the way back to attend a presentation in the observatory and watch the stars, not only through our iPhone apps, but through a state of the art telescope in Cal-a-Vie Health Spa’s observatory. Planets Jupiter and Saturn, rings and all, were currently visible in the clear night sky.
By the next morning’s 6 am hike, it was a lot like work just to stand up. My gams were on their last legs, having done more squats, lunges, ballet barre, boot camp, and kettle bells in the past three days then I have done in the past three years. I choose the less traveled golf course walk that became a leisurely girls chat with Erin and another instructor. Once we got moving, I began to feel human. Following another scrumptious breakfast, I was back in the swing of things with Zumba, upper body blast, and aqua aerobics. I filled out my day with an outdoor patio spa body scrub that was so needed after not getting my usual Korean bathhouse scouring for five months due to COVID-19 closures. It left me soft, baby smooth and ready to head back to Oceanside. Well almost ready. I inquired before dinner about a late check out and was granted a generous 2 pm departure to enjoy a little more walk, yoga, sun and swim before this heaven on earth was simply a memory.
I’ll Come Back
Though it is fun to go to new places and try new adventures, I can say with confidence that I’ll come back to Cal-a-Vie. Being outdoors amidst their lush landscaped, calm colored grounds was like a walking dream. Fresh air filled days of this new normal al fresco healthy lifestyle had me floating on cloud nine. Cal-a-Vie Health Spa was indeed all that I hoped for and more. I have already looked into booking a future stay for a “Fab 4” reunion next year. Hopefully I will be able to give them all a post-pandemic hug.
To book your spa stay please visit https://www.cal-a-vie.com/