© 2012; 2001 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Diane Redfern. Information
Note: This article is reproduced here for inspirational value alone and will not normally be updated.
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Thoughts on Spas

By Diane Redfern

Until recently, no red-blooded North American male who valued his masculine image went to a spa on vacation. Spas were just "fat farms" for women. Real men might be found in a club or gym steam room sitting around wrapped in towels and dabbing at sweaty brows while talking business. That was okay, but "spa" and "holiday" together . . . not likely.

Real men went camping or fishing or golfing, or on driving and sightseeing holidays. Times change.

Spa-Finders Study

According to research conducted by Spa-Finders, the largest spa reservation company in the world, a gradual change in attitude has been afoot since the New York based agency opened in 1986. Spa-Finders' database has demographic data for more than 200,000 spa-goers. Using figures taken from year to year studies, statistics showed that 91% of Spa-goers were women in 1987 and only 9% were men. By 1998 male spa-goers had increased to 27%.

During the last five years, Spa-finders has noted a dramatic increase of men asking for spa information. Furthermore, it is reported that after they have been persuaded to take that first spa plunge, many men move beyond traditional massage treatments to discover the joys of submitting to facial treatments and total body scrubs. They are also going for meditation or yoga instruction, and new age therapies.

It's a Guy Thing

As proof positive how cool it is for men to take spa vacations, Spa-Finders offers up legendary NBA Coach Phil Jackson. Jackson is justly famous for his unorthodox coaching style, which reportedly incorporates Zen meditation, yoga and the power of love into basic basketball fundamentals and techniques. No one quibbles with the results: Jackson led a powerhouse Chicago Bulls team to six NBA championships in eight years before switching to the Los Angeles Lakers.

In an article for Spa-Finder Magazine, writer Carol Isaak Barden asked Jackson, who frequents spas in California and Arizona, what he likes about spas.

Jackson replied:". . . I like to walk, hike, go for a swim, or take a bike ride. I love the outdoors; it's a spiritual experience for me. I also like mud treatments, massage, and I'll take a facial. I like all the 'women things,' including pedicures. . . . Spas are interesting places at night, especially when they have programs and lectures."


Which Spa Will it Be?

Hmmmm, men and women milling about wearing bathrobes and facial masks, I wonder if that is a recipe for romance? Rio Caliente Spa is well-known among spa-goers. Consider the following two letters, which were published in the February 1999 issue of Doctor's Review magazine. The first is a scathing response to an article recommending Rio Caliente Spa that had appeared in an earlier issue. The second is a rebuttal from the article's author.

By contrast:

Connecting members have also recommended Rio Caliente, as have numerous travel writers and acquaintances of mine. These two startlingly opposed points of view illustrate how individual expectations can make or break a holiday.

A Spa is a Lodge? Ranch? Retreat?

These days any lodge, ranch or hotel offering a hot-tub and a stretch class is liable to be promoted as a spa, so you have to distinguish brochure hype from actual fact.

At The Hills Health & Guest Ranch in central British Columbia, I was disappointed to find very rudimentary massage and beauty treatment facilities when I was there in 1994. And the "luxurious" chalet accommodations promised by the brochure may have qualified by country ranch standards but certainly not by my idea of spa standards. To me, "luxurious" conjures up sumptuous decor, manicured gardens, choice artworks, sunken pools and scented baths. Had my expectations been fixed more on a ranch experience than on a spa experience, I might have been happy at the Hills.

On the other hand, a week I spent at Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat & Health Spa in southwestern BC, near Nelson, fit my expectations completely. What the brochure promised was delivered: a supervised fasting program (also hiking, biking, photography, yoga) and a private room in a "beautiful mountain lodge." Luxury was not promised, but the peace and serenity of the place sometimes allowed a luxurious feeling.

Know Thyself

You have to know what's good for you. Language difficulties and unfamiliar customs were accentuated by the fact that I went alone to Abano Terme a pretty spa town at the foot of the Eugenia Hills near Padua and Venice, Italy.

In Europe, where the term "spa" originated (Spa, Belgium), whole towns are built around the perceived healing powers of mineral springs, and Abano Terme (population 17,000) is one.

Abano Terme is famous for its 130 radioactive springs and volcanic mud "fango" treatments for gout and arthritis.

I just wanted some simple R&R after a hectic week running around Rome collecting travel facts. And I was in the mood for as much pampering and luxury as my stretched travel budget would allow.

Abano Terme, Italy

From the rail station in Venice I telephoned the Bristol Buja, a full service spa hotel selected from tourist info I collected earlier. I got a single room and half board (two meals) for 166,000 lira (C$130; US$90) per day, a bargain for a first-class hotel in the center of town, convenient for shops, walks, concerts and dining out if I felt like a change from hotel fare. Beauty and massage treatments were optional.

The town and countryside were charming. The October weather was perfection, The hotel food was good. My single room with a balcony overlooking the thermal pool was comforting – even the bathroom floor was warmed. Yet I was not particularly comfortable at the Bristol Buja.

I found the service reserved, even haughty – appropriate in the European fashion but not quite to my style at this stage of my travels. Each night at dinner, the maître d'hôtel seated me in a long line of tables for two, facing a similarly placed gentleman across the aisle. Neither he nor I were inclined to strike a conversation.

When I'm out and about wandering the streets of foreign cities, or riding on public transportation, or in one-on-one situations, I don't mind – even enjoy – bumbling my way around unfamiliar territory with inadequate language skills. But here, in this resort setting, where couples and larger parties chatted in German, French and Italian, I felt isolated and inept. It would have been different had I, like other guests, either come with a friend or signed up for a structured group program.

Planning a Spa Vacation

Spafinders.com represents more than 200 of the best "spa" destinations worldwide. Servicing both travel agents and individual customers, Spa-Finders consultants match clients with appropriate options based on personal budgets and goals. The company produces Spa Finder Magazine, including the annual Spa-Finder directory featuring spa experience articles and full-color descriptions of hundreds of spas worldwide.

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