Susan Donnelly of Boston was excited about taking a road trip to a spa with her girlfriends — until she saw what the per-person tab would be. “The spa was charging nearly $4,000 for three nights — each,” Donnelly says. “Our new plan is meet for a pedicure and a margarita.”
You don’t have to spend big bucks to enjoy the fabulous perks of a spa. Put on your robe and flip-flops and come along to these wallet-friendly spots. Some are always inexpensive; others offer good deals and extra bang for the buck.
FOR ACTIVE TYPES: NEW LIFE HIKING SPA, Killington, Vt.
Guests from Sweden to Alaska travel to Vermont to get rejuvenated at this laid-back, summer-camp-like spa. The philosophy is simple. “If you eat real food — whole grains, fruit, and vegetables — and you move your body, you’ll feel good,” says founder Jimmy LeSage, who opened this “hiking spa” 35 years ago. The spa is open from mid-May through September, the best time to take advantage of Mother Nature’s gym, the Green Mountains. Rooms at the Inn of Six Mountains, the spa’s home, aren’t fancy, but they’re clean and comfortable — not that you’ll spend much time in your room.
A typical day begins with stretching and breakfast, then a three-hour guided hike. Hikes range from an easygoing walk in the woods to a thigh-burner at a brisk pace with some elevation gain (you choose the level of difficulty). Both the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail are accessible from the lodge, so there is plenty of hiking to choose from. You can try 21 hikes if you stay for a week. After a healthy lunch, guests can join a fitness class, do yoga or meditate, swim in one of the pools, or go the indulgence route with a massage or facial. A jaunt to nearby Woodstock is another option. After dinner, there might be a cooking demonstration (say, how to make smoothies), a lecture, or someone playing the mandolin.
The location is gorgeous, the hiking is great (and you had better love to hike, because you’ll do it in the rain), and the price is right: The rate for a two-to-four-night “mini-break” starts at $229 per night double occupancy, which includes meals, guided hikes, exercise classes, and one massage or facial per three-night stay.
GIRLFRIENDS’ GETAWAY: THE OAKS AT OJAI, Ojai, Calif.
It looks like a cute, rustic inn on Ojai’s main drag, but when you step inside, you hear the pounding of feet and the thumping beat of Latin music. It’s a Zumba class at The Oaks at Ojai spa, a high-energy zone amid Ojai’s tony strip of shops and galleries. If you stick around, you’ll meet the force of nature behind the spa, founder Sheila Cluff, “the godmother of Aerobics.” Now 76, and still teaching classes and making YouTube exercise videos, Cluff founded The Oaks in 1977, before Jane Fonda put on her first pair of leg warmers. This former professional figure skater — still a dynamo on ice skates — is her own best testimonial: She’s got arms like Michelle Obama’s and energy to burn. Guests love the vibe at this famously low-priced spa.
“It feels like a sorority house,” says guest Stephanie Woodlee of Modesto, Calif., who visited with her mom, Janice. “You really bond with the other guests and the staff, so it feels perfectly normal to walk around in your pajamas and eat popcorn at 8 p.m.” But don’t be fooled: They’re serious about fitness and committed to healthy living. Guests choose from among 15 fitness classes, along with the opportunity to hike and bike the hilly countryside surrounding the Ojai Valley (83 miles northwest of Los Angeles). There’s even rock climbing. The Oaks also offers spa treatments, including a new pomegranate sugar scrub and the popular vitamin C anti-aging facial. At night, guest lecturers discuss topics such as nutrition, body image, and why laughter is good for the soul.
Rates start at $209 per night on weekends (there’s a two-night minimum) per person, double occupancy, which includes fitness classes, all meals, and use of all facilities. And there are deals, like the Mother-Daughter (or son) weekends in September, January, and May, when rates are discounted 40 percent.
COUPLES: MIRBEAU INN & SPA Skaneateles, N.Y.
You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into an Impressionist painting at Mirbeau, given the lush, Monet-inspired gardens and buildings that look like they were plucked from a French country estate. Featured in the book “1,000 Places to See Before you Die,” this ultra-romantic inn is set amid the rolling farmlands of New York’s Finger Lakes region, about five hours from Boston by car. Local wineries — more than 100 — are the main attraction here. Most are open all winter.
You can get a wine-infused potion slathered on your face or body if you opt for one of the “vinotherapy” treatments at Mirbeau’s 14,000-square-foot spa. And you can drink wine in the Aqua Terrace, Mirbeau’s hot tub zone, where there’s a waterfall, a fireplace, a Jacuzzi big enough for 15 people, and a bar. “It’s really nice not to share a hot tub with the pre-teen set,” says guest Paul Kelley of Beverly. Other amenities include exercise classes, yoga sessions, saunas and steam rooms, and beauty treatments galore.
This luxury comes at a price, alas, especially if you choose a package that includes a six-hour winery tour and a multicourse dinner at the inn’s steakhouse ($889.50 per night, weekends). Of course, you can always visit wineries on your own, grab dinner at a local hot spot, like Johnny Angel’s Heavenly Burgers, and stay and spa at Mirbeau. Booking a spa treatment gets you complimentary use of the wet areas and fitness classes. After Columbus Day, room rates dip as low as $219 per night during midweek (based on availability) and around $319 on weekends.
REASONS TO GO SPA-ING IN MONTREAL: BotaBota Spa Sur L’eau and Scandinave Les Bains
Take an old ferry boat, spend $12 million outfitting it with high-tech pools, Asian art, and glass tiles, and you’ve got BotaBota Spa Sur L’eau, a floating spa on the St. Lawrence River. Here, you’ll feel like you’re relaxing on a luxury yacht, even though you’re not moving. A marvel of repurposing, the boat sits at a quay in Montreal’s Vieux Port, minus its engines.
You walk a
gangplank to enter, past a garden area set up with massage cabanas, and enter the four-level spa. Wearing your swimsuit, you’ll do the Scandinavian-style pool hop — hot plunge, cold dip, relaxation — in a series of saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, and cold baths. One of the cold pools is filled with filtered water from the river. Black beanbag chairs and lounges beckon guests to relax on terraces, indoors and out. “It’s really magical to be out here in the hot tub in winter, when the snow is falling around you,” says Marieve Lambert, customer service coordinator. It’s definitely a kick to be lounging on an outdoor deck in your spa robe, watching boats go by and taking in the busy streetscape of the Old Port area. There are even windows in the sauna, so you can sightsee as you sweat. There’s a bistro and a bar, so you can make a day of it. Access to the “water circuit” is $56 per day weekdays, $66 weekends and holidays. Or stay up to three hours for $46 or $51, respectively. Get $10 off when you pair it with a spa treatment — BotaBota offers facials, scrubs, nail treatments, and massages. www.botabota.ca
And in case you need more proof that Montrealers are just as stressed out as Bostonians, check out the Zero Stress room at Scandinave Les Bains, in Vieux Montreal. The barely-lighted, womblike space feels like the nap room at a day care center, with its cushy mats and soft music. Almost futuristic-looking, this day spa offers the option of baths only, $55, as well as massage-and-bath packages. A 60-minute Swedish massage, with the bath experience, is $132. On the Saturday when we visited, the clientele was a mix of men and women, including a couple who kissed passionately under the waterfall in the hot tub.
Both of these are day spas, but each offers lodging packages with local hotels and inns at a variety of price points.