Itineraries Minnesota - Summer 2008
Spas and retreats: Getaways for the mind, body and spirit
By Britt Aamodt
A business traveler wants to step off the treadmill. A mother of two desires time for herself. The retired couple seeks a window into nature. The teacher hunts for life-changing experience. The busy volunteer coordinator simply needs a little R and R, and fast!
What does the group travel planner want? A vacation destination that meets all her customers' needs, but is flexible enough to function as a main attraction or a fill-in between other itinerary highlights.
If you're looking for a unique, flexible offering for your itinerary, consider a spa or retreat. Spa and retreat packages come in all shapes and sizes, and offer a menu of activities suitable for the group travel experience. And in the Upper Midwest, where the topography is as variable as the seasons, you can locate spas and retreats cradled in river valleys, at the end of small-town main streets, in retail districts and in remote backwoods cabins with programs running throughout the year. So, whatever tour you dream up, you can find a reason (and an excuse) to tuck a spa or retreat into your tour package.
A Little Spa History
No one knows the origins of "spa" but etymologists—people who study the evolution of words and their meanings—generally trace the word "spa" to the town of Spa, Belgium, which is endowed with natural hot springs that during the Roman Empire earned a reputation for their healing properties. The ingenious Roman builders figured out how to channel the hot springs through thermae, or Roman bath houses, that grew over the centuries to include sports facilities, restaurants, libraries, lounging areas and various types of baths.
A typical thermae visit might begin with a workout, followed by dips in three progressively warmer baths. The tepidarium was the first and generally the largest room. Here a bather would have his body rubbed down with oil before proceeding to the caldarium . The final room was the laconicum, the hottest of the three, where the bather was massaged and and then sent for a cold water wake-up dunk in the frigidarium. The rest of the evening might be spent in the library or gorging on the specialties of the house.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans rediscovered the Roman baths and even constructed new baths as sanatoriums for the well-bred. It was believed that the special waters and climate of the baths would restore the ailing to health. Cure-stay patients spent upwards of two weeks at the spa and underwent a number of treatments, including massage, hot packs and mineral water soaks, overseen by a trained spa doctor.
Nowadays there is a new breed of spa that caters to everyone, not just the well-off. The emphasis remains on wellness but with a modern twist—wellness for mind, body and soul. You can find a spa to help you feel well again or to keep you well; and if there's a little relaxation, TLC and pampering thrown in with the exercise ball, tasty meals and cozy organic cotton sheets, who's going to complain?
In fact, many of the Midwest's specialty spas are all about relaxation and pampering in some of the region's most alluring landscapes. Plan for a day, weekend or week at one of these destination spas. The treatments range from wet treatments (sauna, baths, foot soaks), dry treatments (Swedish massage, body wraps), beauty treatments (facials, hair), relaxation exercises (Tai Chi, Yoga), lifestyle programs and classes.
Really there's no end to their inventiveness when it comes to fitness, fun, peace of mind and wellness. Many spas will tailor their programs to your group's specific needs, though not all may be equipped to handle your entire group in a single session. No problem. If you’re willing to split your group, the spa can arrange in advance to have several activities available. For instance, why not intermix group and individual activities so that while some discover the latest in Moor mud wraps, Dead Sea Salt scrubs, hot stone massages, meditation classes, ear candling and reiki, others can unwind in the steam room or trek out to nature or into town for nightlife and dancing? However you arrange your group spa experience, be prepared to enter the next level of well-being.
Take Your Stress on Retreat
Vacations provide most us of with an excuse to drop our hectic schedules and open our minds to fresh experience. Funny thing is we're so frantic trying to tie up loose ends at work, make arrangements for dog sitters, pack bags and clean the house that going on vacation can seem like anything but. Well, put the motorcoach on autopilot and sit back because there's a new word in relaxation vacations and it's called retreat.
Okay, enough with the relaxation theme already, right? Not like you want to be propping your customers' eyelids with toothpicks. Lucky for you, retreat vacations are more than soft music and early bedtimes. They're about putting aside the old you for a day or week, and allowing untapped energies and creative insights to bubble to the surface. Sleigh rides through crisp pine-scented air. Early morning meditations. Woodland hikes. Birding. Labyrinth walks. Snow shoeing lake paths. Gourmet meals. Classes in papermaking, nature journaling, nutrition and lefse baking.
Who wouldn't feel rejuvenated after that?
The Evolution of the Retreat
Retreats began as an offshoot of religious practice. For centuries, seekers have gone on retreat in search of God. The idea was to set aside possessions, obligations and the familiarity of one's home and family in order to undertake a journey of inner renewal. The Chinese word for retreat, biguan, reflects this meaning, translating as "closing off the senses to activate the mind."
Buddha, born into privilege as the prince Siddhartha, went on retreat after discovering that complete happiness didn't come from material wealth. Medieval Europeans called their journeys of faith pilgrimages. And even today, monks and nuns retreat into abbeys to shut out the noise and bustle of the world.
Types of Retreats
If you're looking for a unique destination, you can't do much better than a retreat. Retreats come ready to order. Take your group on a meditation retreat or a yoga retreat or a communal experience retreat where everyone pitches in to prepare the morning and evening meals. In the Midwest, you can find structured and non-structured packages; upscale, down-home, artsy, Victorian and outdoorsy settings.
Imagine stepping off your motorcoach for a slice of fresh-baked bread, followed by an excursion through 400 lushly wooded acres populated by deer, raccoon and fox. Depending on where you go, you could be sacking out in single rooms, doubles with fireplaces, guest houses with kitchenette and living room or sleeping bags. Attend dance workshops. Participate in group exercise. Listen to the sound of rustling leaves and songbirds. Sing. Meet guest artists and try your hand at watercolors. Corral your group for an evening meal by candlelight.
If you're having trouble choosing between spas and resorts, then consider a spa resort, which combines the luxury treatments of spas with the immersive experience of retreats. After a hard day's sightseeing, who wouldn't enjoy a chocolate-mint foot refresher or a plunge in the hot tub? Don't be surprised if the only word you hear is "Ahhh…"
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