What a Joy: Wellness Weekend at Tenaya Lodge

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Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite is a flat-out beautiful resort in a wonderful setting. Offering the feel of a grand traditional lodge with chic, updated modern comfort, the space is welcoming for families, couples, and anyone who just wants a respite from the vicissitudes of modern life.

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In short, it’s a special place – indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs, views of the vast and piney woods, a location just two miles outside the Southern entrance to one of our most popular national parks.

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There are a variety of dining options, from the romantic, upscale Embers to Jackalope’s Bar and Grille, the cozy/cool bar with a surprisingly full menu, and the main dining spot,  the Sierra Restaurant, above. There’s also the Harvest and Grounds deli. Seasonally, there are BBQ, pizza, and outdoor bar areas to enjoy as well.

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There is no lack of activities in and around the hotel, from indoor and outdoor pools to a night walk led by flashlight to the fully appointed spa with sauna, steam room, and treatment rooms. Highly skilled massages, facials, skin treatments – it’s all there, and offered in crisp, modern facilities.

Which brings me to one way to experience this stellar property – through their Wellness Weekend programs which are offered through the spa.  There are several on the hotel’s schedule, one coming right up in November should make the perfect way to take an “ahh” break before the holidays; another in January.

Don’t groan at the idea of “wellness.” This is not your typical diet and exercise package; nor is it an insular stay in the lodge. Combining wonderful meals from bountiful, healthy ingredients with yoga, meditation, massage, and a guided hike, there’s nothing quite like this program out there. We’ve been to spas, to resorts, to retreats, and on backpacking expeditions – this program combines elements of each into one weekend. Its filled but not overfull with activities, and creates a splendidly intimate environment for participants. There’s time for both conversation and contemplation. And perhaps best of all, the program offers a new way to experience the Yosemite Valley, without the hassles of large tourist crowds, parking, or figuring out where and when to take a hike.  Everything is there for you, in a serene, well-packaged event, wrapped up with a bow of pleasure.

 

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Let’s take a look. We arrived on a Friday afternoon, in time to take a tour of the hotel, including it’s view rooms and suites. The great fireplace in the lobby, the seasonal decor around the edges of the main entrance, and the well-landscaped pool have great appeal in and of themselves.

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Afterwards, I headed to the spa, Ascent. My treatment was a hot stone massage. It was a different experience than other hot stone massages I’ve had. There was real focus on problem areas, yet it was a thoughtful, gentle approach that had lasting curative effects. Impressive and intuitive, in short. As mentioned, the spa facility itself is modern and aesthetic, spare and well laid-out,  with all the bells and whistles such as a peaceful relaxation area, hot tea, fruit, and infused water.

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After my massage, a wine and hors d’oeuvres gathering offered a laid-back opportunity to get to know other participants in the weekend; we had expected cheese/crackers/crudites, but instead we were served a variety of stylish mini salads, skewered prawns, scallops, sushi, fruit, fine cheeses, and mini-desserts such as a perfect creme brulee and chocolate mousse. Wines were excellent as well.

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After this event, guests had free time for activities such as that night hike, a hot toddy at the bar, or, our choice, a visit to one of the dining rooms. We went to Embers, which is a standout for presentation, and we were told, a room in which engagements and anniversaries frequently take place.

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Cozy in rich reds, with a fireplace in the middle of the room, the ambiance is perfect for both such occasions, but also simply for a high-end dining experience.

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We shared as astonishing mushroom goulash, an inventive dish packed with flavor, both earthy and somehow delicate.

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We also shared the restaurant’s signature dessert, Bananas Diablo, a take on Bananas Foster, theatrically prepared table-side. A nice balance of flavors, once the sugar and alcohol are caramelized, not too heavy or overtly sweet.

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We rose early for a breakfast buffet in the spa area Waterfall room – aptly named for a lovely, sleek waterfall fountain.

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Once again, expectations were exceeded. Here were overnight cold oats with a wide range of toppings from pepitas to dates and honey; baked avocado halves with a egg inside; fresh juices; a vegetable-rich hash. To take on our upcoming hike, the centerpiece of the weekend, we were given awesome backpacks, a lunch box with our choice of lunch entree, water – and an expandable, reusable water bottle, plus a selection of protein/breakfast bars.

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Then, off we went to meet the driver of the hotel’s tour bus to end all tour busses – a Mercedes model with a retractable roof, cushioned, expandable seats, and a smooth ride.

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Buckled in, we drove 40 minutes into the park and up to the trail head for Sentinel Dome in the Glacier Point area of the park. Along the way, the driver pointed out landmarks along with various flora and fauna. When we arrived at the trailhead, we disembarked for a hike, yoga, and meditation.

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Led by Balanced Rock, a Yosemite-based non-profit, and an extremely zen outfitter, we had three guides who helped us stretch before our hike, guided us on our trail, and once at the top, allowed us plenty of time to simply take in the astonishing view before leading us in yoga and meditation classes.

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The trail itself offers a great introduction to the park. At 2.2 miles round trip and a 400 foot elevation gain, its enough of a challenge over some rocky terrain to make participants feel as if they have accomplished something. This is not a paved loop to Bridal Veil Falls.

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Yet it’s not too difficult to achieve, and the mix of pine shaded trail with granite “steps” is a pleasure to undertake.

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If we were a little winded from the final ascent, that was okay – we could catch our breath while taking in views of Nevada Falls, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan, all at a level that put us visually equidistant from their summits – but with none of the fearsome effort that climbing Half Dome entails.

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While there were other groups of trekkers at the top and along the trail, this was not a crowded destination or path; we were able to take in the awe-inspiring vistas without being a part of the horde which so often clouds and crowds the views in the Valley floor.

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After time for photographs and contemplation, the stretching and exercise of a half hour yoga class was just about perfect for loosening tight calves.

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If you’ve never done a down-dog on a granite rock face or made a sun salutation to sunlight emanating near the crest of El Capitan, then you’re missing out.

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Lunch proved equally special – what a view for an al fresco meal. And we were provided with truly a perfect presentation of quinoa and kale salad, a crisp veggie wrap with Thai peanut dipping sauce,  hummus and house-made chips, and a delicious, chocolatey trail mix. Thoughtful cold packs kept everything in great shape.

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Post picnic, a lovely meditation and reading, accompanied by participants picking a word from a series of “angel cards” and describing how that word resonated, made a lovely transition from the more prosaic pleasure of dining to the spiritual.

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Our meditation leader, Sarin, had also packed a singing bowl, and she sounded it and let us try our hand at making it ring, too. The compact sound bath continued off and on as we descended again, heading back to our bus.

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On the ride home, the roof was opened – a convertible bus in the mountain air, on a sunny fall afternoon – pretty much bliss.

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Back at the lodge, we had a bit of downtime – so we enjoyed a Tenaya Red IPA in the bar, a beer created by a craft brewer in nearby Oakhurst especially for the hotel, with a refreshing, crisp hoppy taste and a slightly citrus notes.

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Next, it was time for a cooking demonstration by the hotel’s executive chef, Fred Clabaugh, and dinner.

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Set up in an airy ballroom, windows open to the woods and hills, diners feasted on fennel soup encased in a light, almost souffle-like bread shell, a silky, splendid hamachi crudo, and a choice of entrees: an exceptionally tender beef prepared inside a baked egg crust or jackfruit in coconut curry, each course served with wine pairings.

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After a short break, it was time for a very relaxing yin yoga class and then – s’mores.

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A fire pit was set up on a patio just outside our yoga classroom; the night was chilly, so we gathered around it, silver stars above us.

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Between hiking, yoga, meditation, and chocolate – we were ready for a great night’s sleep.

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In the morning, we woke up to another, more vigorous yoga class, followed by a second terrific breakfast in the waterfall room. Fruit smoothies such as basil/pineapple, mixed berry, and ginger were incredible; a vegetable egg scramble was perfect.

The only downside to the weekend was leaving the property, although we did cap our trip with a drive into Yosemite Valley where we took in some of the classic lookout points, such as Tunnel View and Bridal Veil Falls – looking up at Sentinel Dome and feeling the thrill of accomplishment for having seen, and spent time drinking in, the park’s beauty from that vantage point.

Each Wellness Weekend is a little different, including outdoor time with yoga, a spa treatment, and other activities. In November, there will be a paint and sip class.

Our take: if you want to actually experience Yosemite, without the crowds, without navigating a trail on your own, and have a weekend that renews you both physically and spiritually, then – look no further.  Wellness Weekend is about mental, spiritual, and physical health, relaxation and invigoration.

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And even without participating in the weekend, Tenaya Lodge is a special place to be.  The hotel’s motto is “roughing it without the rough part” and that pretty much sums it up. From responsibly sourced food to a double silver Leeds certification that marks the hotel as incredibly environmentally conscious, the property truly works hard to offer a superior experience. The rooms are first class, of course, from the beds and linens to the warm red and gold color scheme, leather arm chair, and spacious baths.

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There are 102 rooms in the lodge along with 54 cottage duplex or triplex units and coming soon, there will be 50 stand-alone luxury cabins with their own club house.

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We’ll be back again, perhaps to experience the holidays at the lodge when we understand a wild-harvested 35 foot topped Douglas fir is lit in the lobby. The fall theme during our stay was itself an epic taste of seasonal decor.

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Honestly, from our experience, any season would be the right season to visit Tenaya –  and take in a Wellness Weekend.

Don’t miss the upcoming November 3-5 Wellness Weekend Event.  On the calendar now for 2018:  January 12-14, with more dates currently being planned.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke

Hostel Stays in LA: Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

hostel 2As we approach holiday season, out of town guests may be heading our way and looking for accommodations. When hotel rates are simply too high and there’s no room at home for visitors, hostels can make a great option for a stay. 

Of course, some travelers will complain about the difficulty of getting a good night’s rest at a hostel in a city as busy as Los Angeles, but sleeping soundly at a hostel is hardly impossible. In fact, getting the right amount of shut-eye is perfectly doable if visitors follow a few simple tips.

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Avoid Staying at a Party Hostel

All it takes is a little research to avoid party spots. Checking online reviews goes a long way toward determining whether a hostel is a quiet spot or a great hangout for partygoers.  USA Hostels Hollywood, Surf City Hostel, and Banana Bungalow West Hollywood are all known as lively, fun spots; but a quieter option is the Orange Drive Manor Hostel, described by Trip Savvy as a 1910 manor home with a serene vibe, yet located in walking distance of Hollywood attractions from the Capitol Records Building to the TCL Chinese Theater.

Tire Yourself Out

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Yes, one sure way to get a good night’s sleep is to be tired enough to sleep as soon as you hit your hostel’s pillow, according to travel blogger RachelRTW. With so much to see and do in LA from cutting edge art galleries and museums to taking a surf lesson at the beach, hiking the trails of Griffith Park, or visiting all the area theme parks, it shouldn’t be a problem to get ready to drift off into dreamland.

Bring a Sleeping Kit Wherever You Go

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Veteran travelers in the know keep this travel essential handy wherever they go. A sleeping mask keeps light away and comfortable earplugs mean unwonted noise can be easily kept at bay. Can’t sleep without music? Then ear plugs save the day. Keep an extra pair to listen to your favorite tunes, or perhaps white noise relaxation, such as recorded sounds of rain or ocean waves.  If you’re sharing your hostel space with other guests, this should take care of extraneous light and sound.

Avoid Alcohol

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Sure, Los Angeles is known for its craft brews from Angel City Brewery’s eclectic scene downtown to the wide array of tasty IPAs and ales in Torrance breweries like Smog City and Absolution. We even have our own whiskey distillery downtown. Not to mention the altogether awesome club scene from trendy speakeasies to revolving rooftop hotel bars. All the same, to get a good night’s sleep you might want to try an organic soda or sparkling water instead of these tempting alcoholic treats, at least close to bedtime, for a more solid night’s sleep.

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According to sleep expert Lisa Scotti in her better sleep guide, it’s wise to avoid drinking alcohol within four hours of your bedtime. It might be tempting to consume alcohol, but to get a good night’s sleep it might be worth considering avoiding it especially if you’re staying in a hostel. While drinking can help you doze off initially, the effect is only temporary, and you’ll end up restless, possibly waking several times for toilet breaks.

Turn Off the Lights

Sleep studies have shown that lights can make it hard for people to fall asleep. And this doesn’t just mean turning off that overhead light or your bedside lamp. Digital devices include light, too, and they can also be overly stimulating. Put the iPhone or Android away, turn off that laptop, and save Netflix for another time. And if there are others staying in your hostel dorm room and you get to the room first, follow this slightly sneaky but sweet tip from Indefinite Adventure –  turn off the main light but leave a side light turned on. Having a dim light burning encourages later arrivals from switching on the overhead light. They can still see their way around, and get the message that someone else is already resting in the room.

In short, whether you’re seeking a good night’s sleep and economical accommodations – or you have guests in town staying at a hostel, it’s entirely possible to get a great night’s sleep. And because hostel guests spend less money that those who stay in a hotel, there will be more to spend adventuring in Los Angeles.

  • Guest post, curated by Genie Davis; Photos: Genie Davis, Flickr, Pixabay)

 

Day Trippin’ – When You Just Want to Get Away from LA

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Los Angeles isn’t just an urban wonderland, it’s a wonderland with proximity to easy day trip escapes. It’s a cliche that you can be skiing in the mountains in the morning and surfing on the beach in the afternoon – and yet, it’s a cliche that’s actually true, too.

Here are a few ideas for fast getaways  – and some of the activities that make those getaways fantastic fun. 

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Big Bear Lake

Kitschy carved wooden bears? Check. Terrific mountain views? Check. A beautiful big lake for boating? Check again. And of course, when those mountain views are snowy, there’s skiing too – just a little over two hours from DTLA. Castle Rock Trail offers beautiful views and some unique rock formations. Check out the charming Big Bear Alpine Zoo, a rehabilitation facility offering injured, orphaned and imprinted wild animals a safe haven; 90% of all the animals are successfully released back into their native environment. Browse the eclectic shops in the heart of Big Bear Village, taste Nepalese cuisine at the Himalayan Restaurant, or join the nightly karaoke fun at Murray’s Saloon and Eatery. Want to stay overnight? There are plenty of cozy cabins, sleek condos, and even seven public campgrounds. 

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Mountains not your thing? Try the rolling wine country of the Temecula Valley about a two hours southeast of LA. Lush vineyards and equally lush bed and breakfasts abound; tasting tours, weekend concerts, and beautiful spots to picnic are all a part of the winery scene here. Callaway, one of the largest, offers splendid views of a rolling terroir. Experience the wow of a hot hair balloon ride or visit the new gastropub in Old Town Temecula, Crush & Brew – just like it’s name suggests, there’s both local wines and local craft beer on tap.

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Joshua Tree National Park

Climb giant boulders, experience the otherworldly landscape, walk the gentle path through the fuzzy Cholla Cactus garden, or enjoy the stunning outsider art at the Noah Purifoy Foundation outdoor museum near by. In the spring, the desert blooms with wildflowers; and any time of year, you’ll thrill to the vast vista from Key’s Point. You’ll want to find the somewhat elusive trail to Samuelson’s Rocks, where an eccentric miner and farmer carved Biblical and political sayings before this land was parkland; or take a guided rock climbing course and learn to belay with the best. Of course there are more than several other amazing things to see and do, from the meditative Integraton Sound Bath to the terrific music scene at Pappy & Harriet’s just down the road in Pioneer Town.

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Las Vegas

After the solitude of Joshua Tree, perhaps you’re looking for something with a little more action? Las Vegas is a longer trek, but the under-five-hour drive has grown a little more interesting these days with some outsider art stops along the way, including Ugo Rondinone’s vibrantly colored installation, Seven Magic Mountains.

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The bright colors of the rock sculpture sponsored by the Nevada Museum of Art and New York’s Art Production Fund, the installation makes the perfect vivid intro to the neon brightness of Vegas itself. An online reference for all things betting and gaming states that brick-and-mortar casinos ruled the world of gambling for centuries, but have since ceded to online gaming options. But the eye-popping fun of splashy theatrical acts, high end restaurants, luxury spas, and luxury shops – as well as themed “world travel” experiences such as Italy at The Venetian casino and hotel or Times Square in the heart of the New York New York casino and hotel – not to mention, Paris, Monte Carlo, and fine art and stunning gardens at the Bellagio – are a huge draw. Don’t want to get behind the wheel after a night of high rolling? There is always a deal to be had on an overnight stay or a weekend fling in Las Vegas.

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San Diego

Two and a half hours from downtown Los Angeles, another wonderful SoCal city awaits. San Diego is a sprawling and bright mix of great beaches, charming history, and world-class museums. Find seaside amusement park fun at Pacific Beach; flower gardens in Carlsbad, sea caves and pine-studded trails in La Jolla, which is also home to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Don’t forget Legoland, Sea World, and the San Diego Zoo, either. Enjoy superb Italian cuisine in Little Italy; exciting nightlife in the Gaslamp District; beautiful bay views, and the white sand beaches and classic Hotel Coronado on Coronado Island.

So if you’re ready to get away from LA for the day – there are plenty of reasons to go.

  • Guest Post with Genie Davis

 

The Oaks at Ojai

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The Oaks at Ojai is a splendid retreat, an inclusive spa and fitness destination, and an intimate space that lends itself to a variety of getaways. From mother/daughter duos to best friends weekends, and couples, as well as the solo traveler, the resort has a refreshingly cozy, welcoming quality.

A pretty, shaded pool, a strong series of exercise and yoga classes, full meals and snacks, and evening entertainment, keep guests busy – if they want to be. The large, relaxing, Spanish-style rooms and peaceful, tree-lined grounds of the intimate resort are equally enjoyable for simply relaxing. And of course, a full compliment of spa services includes pampering massages, facials, and skincare.

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One of the most delightful aspects of our stay were the recently revamped accommodations themselves. Beautiful updating didn’t hide the romantic and artistic 1930s era features of the property.

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Original architectural touches such as these alcoves made for a private dressing area, above; historic tile work below remains a part of an otherwise thoroughly modern bathroom.

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A favorite feature: colored lights emanated from jacuzzi jets in the tub. A definite ahhh moment.

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Bedding is comfortable and rooms quiet: while the spa is nestled in the heart of Ojai’s hip California boutiques, and just a stone’s throw from the terrific art at the eclectic Porch Gallery,  the spa has a calm and drowsy vibe making early morning fitness classes easy to attend. Sure, you can go out in the town, visit a wine tasting room, listen to jazz just down the block – but you may prefer to stay in.

The graceful lobby area makes a terrific place to relax and read.

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The small gym space is flooded with light.

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Yoga, exercise, meditation, and more – the Oaks’ rejuvenation schedule is happening from morning to night in a spacious studio.

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We tried Pilates, restorative yoga, and stretching. The weather rained us out of aqua aerobics, but other guests with linger stays swore by the fun. In town strolls and area hikes are also on the schedule. Classes were well run and attended; geared toward both newbies and a moderate level of exercise.

With three meals a day plus tasty snacks such as soup and juice smoothies, guests truly never have to leave the grounds. Options for vegetarian and special food requests are easily accommodated, too.

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The spa focuses on meals that are filling yet healthy, keeping calories low and an emphasis on fresh and organic fare. No alcohol is served; but meals are often multiple courses, with salads or soups, entrees, and deserts such as chocolate covered local strawberries.

Our meals included a truly good mushroom barley burger, an amazing green drink featuring pineapple, parsley, coconut, and cucumber, and a well seasoned tofu  stir fry.

Spa treatments were lovely and generously timed: it was my boyfriend’s birthday so he received the pampering facial, neck, and hand massage. He loved the experience – and proved that while The Oaks has long been known as a destination for women, it makes a lovely retreat for couples, too.

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The spa shop offers the opportunity to purchase the delightful creams and scrubs used in the spa, along with clothing and sundries.

An inclusive and relaxing space, The Oaks has the vibe of a retreat center, and the spirit of renewal in a space homey enough to list classes and meals on daily handouts and serve butter-less popcorn while showing DVDs of recent films after dinner.

Low key is the ultimate accolade here. There’s no pressure to exercise  – although there are plenty of classes – or even partake of the spa’s  signature services – guests just come to relax and renew even if that means reading a book by the pool.

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With reasonable  pricing, weekend or week-long stays, and everything but spa services included, this is a chance to get away and maybe leave behind a few extra pounds, too. Or at least the weight of daily stress.

  • Genie Davis; photos: Jack Burke