www.tidewaterreview.com/features/health/sc-trav-0228-health-retreats-20120228,0,5130210.story

tidewaterreview.com

The path to nirvana

Retreats from coast to coast show the way to bliss — or at least a smaller waistline

By Danielle Braffe, Special to Tribune Newspapers

9:08 PM EST, February 28, 2012

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Fresh-from-the-farm breakfasts, Tibetan stretching and miles upon miles of hiking trails are just some of the reasons adults are happily forgoing their vacations for health retreats.

But with hundreds of retreats from New York to California, it's hard to figure out which is best for your health needs.

We did the sorting so you can transform your health without having to fly off to some European spa.

Cal-a-Vie

Location: 200 private acres in Southern California

Best for: Beginner to advanced fitness buffs

Details: Stay in one of 32 villas, meditate in a 400-year-old French chapel and choose among 100 fitness classes that run the gamut from Zumba to gyrotechnics. When it's time to eat, you won't find any processed foods here. Even the ketchup is made from scratch, said Kathleen Powers, guest-services manager. When you arrive, a consultant will custom-design a program to help you complete any goals, whether to lose weight, to up your golf skills or to zap your stress.

Cool perk: No need to bring a suitcase. Everything is included here, even your workout gear.

Dates offered: Ongoing

Price: $8,095 for seven days. Includes all meals, six massages, classes and a fitness evaluation.

Information: 866-772-4283, cal-a-vie.com

Lake Austin Spa Resort

Location: 19 acres on the lake in Austin, Texas.

Best for: Spa-goers

Details: Choose from more than 100 spa services, which take place in a 25,000-square-foot, 40-room spa on the lake shore. Finish the day by stargazing and learning some Tibetan stretches. Need a break from all that relaxation? There are plenty of water activities, which include hydro-biking and aqua Zumba.

Cool perk: The Gifts of Our Garden spa treatment ($315 for 100 minutes) is based on the benefit of each herb (lavender relaxes you), according to spokeswoman Darlene Fiske. You choose the herb you want used during your treatment. The spa technician takes the fresh organic herb from the garden, grinds it with sea salt, wraps your body with it, scrubs you and gives you a massage.

Dates offered: Ongoing

Price: Rooms start at $1,720 per person for three nights, which includes meals, fitness classes and activities. Spa services are a la carte.

Information: 800-847-5637, lakeaustin.com

Mohonk Mountain House

Location: A castle 90 miles north of New York City, overlooking Lake Mohonk

Best for: Anyone who loves the outdoors

Details: Mohonk's health amenities all revolve around the picturesque outdoors in Hudson Valley. Choose to explore the 85 miles of hiking trails, to swim the lake in warm weather or to skate in the 10,000-square-foot outdoor ice rink during cooler months, said Fiske, who also represents Mohonk. When the sun sets, remain under the stars for a cozy nostalgic campfire, complete with s'mores.

Cool perk: It's one of the rare health retreats that invites you to bring the kids. They can take part in nature walks and canoe tours led by a staff naturalist.

Dates offered: Ongoing

Price: Rooms start at $270 per person per night and include all meals and most activities.

Information: 845-255-1000, mohonk.com

Hilton Head Health

Location: Coast of South Carolina

Best for: Serious weight loss

Details: Most people tend to stay at this retreat for two to four weeks and on average lose seven to 14 pounds, said Michelle Musulin, Hilton Head Health program consultant. They achieve this through a combination of fitness classes, behavioral-modification seminars and a customized diet. Cooking demonstrations and nutrition classes also are offered, so you can continue your progress long after you leave the retreat.

Cool perk: As soon as you arrive, you are assigned a private coach, who designs a schedule for you for your entire time.

Dates offered: Ongoing

Price: A week starts at $3,300 and includes all meals and classes.

Information: 800-292-2440, hhhealth.com

Big Sky Yoga Retreats

Location: Near Yellowstone Park in Montana

Best for: Yogis

Details: The goal here is to use yoga's techniques and philosophies and apply them to everything else in your life, said Margaret Burns Vap, founder of Big Sky Yoga. Big Sky has a variety of retreats; all are women-only, but the most popular is Cowgirl Yoga, in which you spend half the day doing yoga and the other half connecting with horses and going horseback riding. "There's a fear of falling off, since horses can be unpredictable," Vap said. "We're trying to smooth that over and show what's possible when you link breathing and yoga and horses."

Cool perk: If you're a yogi book-lover, you should check out the Eat Pray Love yoga retreat, in which scenes from the book are woven throughout the retreat, which emphasizes eating, hiking and yoga.

Dates offered: Most retreats are offered Thursdays through Sundays, June through September.

Price: Starts at $895 for three days and includes everything.

Information: 406-587-2390, bigskyyogaretreats.com

New Life Hiking Spa

Location: The mountains of Vermont

Best for: Hiking

Details: New Life takes advantage of its stunning surroundings by offering 21 different hikes each week. Expect to take a three-hour hike each morning, followed by fitness classes. The average person loses about 5 pounds a week, said director Jimmy LeSage.

Cool perk: Most of the hikes are along the Appalachian Trail, and you'll often cross paths with people who are in the midst of hiking the entire 1,800 miles of the trail. "You'll get inspired," LeSage said.

Dates offered: Most people stay one to two weeks during the May 17-Sept. 30 season.

Price: Starts at $1,500 a week, which includes everything from food to classes.

Information: 866-298-5433, newlifehikingspa.com

The Biggest Loser Resort

Location: Utah, California or New York

Best for: Intense weight loss

Details: Ever watch "The Biggest Loser" on TV? The resorts are based on the popular weight-loss show and aim to teach participants how to live a healthier lifestyle via intense fitness and nutrition classes. A typical day starts at 6 a.m. with stretching, followed by an assortment of exercise, cooking classes and hikes. The average woman loses about 5 pounds a week, and men lose about 7 each week, said Derek Johnson, the executive nutrition director at The Biggest Loser Resorts.

Cool perk: It's not just for adults here. Anyone age 14 and up can attend this retreat for a health jump-start.

Dates offered: Ongoing weekly cycles

Price: Starts at $2,695 per week for a private room. The price decreases if you stay longer than three weeks or if you share a room.

Information: 877-825-8878, biggestloserresort.com