The adult spa garden at the Omni Homestead Resort & Canyon Ranch SpaClub. (The Omni Homestead Resort)
Fit editor, Express July 23, 2013

Karen Williams and her family make the trek to the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., every summer. The grand old resort in the Allegheny Mountains boasts falconry and fly-fishing and a legendary golf course, along with a host of other activities. But for the 44-year-old from Goochland, Va., the first item on her to-do list is always to get to the fitness center.

The challenge this year? Williams didn’t know where to find it.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express. View Archive

That’s because after a major renovation, the cramped old exercise facility was history. When the Williams clan arrived this month, they checked into the newly rechristened Omni Homestead Resort & Canyon Ranch SpaClub. The hotel’s just-opened wellness wing — a spinoff of the iconic Tucson getaway — features not only luxurious treatment rooms for facials, scrubs and massages, but also a seriously pumped-up gym.

“It just keeps going,” marveled Williams, who passed by rows of cardio equipment and a fully stocked weight room before reaching the trio of group exercise studios.

Nutritionist and cycling instructor Katie Abbott was waiting at the door of Studio 3, and she persuaded Williams to take a seat on a RealRyder bike that tilts from side to side, giving core muscles a tougher workout. After 45 minutes of hills, jumps and passing drills, Williams was sweating — and smitten.

“This is really what I need. I have to figure out how to do it at home now,” said Williams, who hadn’t attended a fitness class in seven years. Between work and raising two kids, there’s usually not enough time. “But because I’m here and all the noise and business is away, I can explore other things,” she added.

Soon, her children, ages 6 and 10, can do some healthy exploring, too. Unlike Canyon Ranch’s immersion spas in Tucson and Lennox, Mass., which don’t allow guests under 14, the SpaClub at the Homestead is actively courting younger customers. Any day now, the family spa suite will open, offering modified spa treatments for ages 5-13, as well as kiddie fitness classes (a closet full of bright orange yoga mats is waiting).

Canyon Ranch spokeswoman Sheryl Press says the brand envisions a place that families can visit together and customize their vacations. Maybe one parent gets a mud wrap while the other takes the kids to miniature golf, and then they swap, she says. Maybe Mom and Dad grab lunch at the Canyon Ranch Cafe — set to open this week — to dine on Asian-inspired, mostly organic, portion-controlled cuisine, but they let their kids chow down in another restaurant on the Homestead’s homemade doughnuts.

The mission behind all of Canyon Ranch’s SpaClubs — in Las Vegas, on a handful of luxury cruise ships and now also in Virginia — is the same: to reach a wider audience. “It’s a taste,” says Press, noting that the Homestead’s SpaClub guests don’t have access to medical services or life coaching that Canyon Ranch’s more comprehensive immersion spas are known for.

But the location, a four-hour drive from the District, can help Canyon Ranch tap into the previously neglected Mid-Atlantic market. (The company’s plans to build a Living Community in Bethesda were nixed in 2006 because of the economy.)

And, Press adds, it doesn’t hurt that Hot Springs has been luring people in need of a pick-me-up since 1761. Generations of visitors, including President Thomas Jefferson, have “taken the waters” in the area’s warm mineral pools.

This historical legacy looms large in the Spa Garden, an adults-only courtyard where guests are invited to relax after finishing a treatment. (Hotel guests not splurging for a $175 deep-tissue massage or other SpaClub service can access the space for a $40-$55 fee, depending on the day.)

Private cabanas encircle a swimming pool and whirlpool, but the real draw is the geothermal Octagon Spring, which maintains a consistent temperature between 93 and 96 degrees. Guests can sink into the magnesium-, calcium- and potassium-rich waters, letting their feet rest on the mossy rock bottom. Or, they can step in inches-deep water while taking a trip across the Reflexology Walk. The round pebbles along the short path give feet an invigorating — albeit sometimes painful — massage.

The other perk for spa customers is use of the men’s and women’s spa locker rooms, which each house an Aquavana thermal suite. Basically, it’s a series of spaces that toy with heat, water, light and smell to provide an array of sensations. In the Chill, you’re supposed to rub ice chips over your body while standing in a frigid, minty mist. Experiential Rains drench you in different types of showers, with light and sound effects to match — the balmy Caribbean Storm is probably the most pleasant. The Herbal Laconium invites you to sit in a warm ceramic nook. And the Aromatic Steam Room feels like August in Washington, only with an ever-changing light panel to stare at.

“I never want to leave,” one woman announced as she stepped out of the high temperatures in the steam room to drink a glass of water. She normally does hot yoga to help relieve the pain from a nagging shoulder injury, she said, but the Aquavana was doing the trick the morning I was there.

There’s a smaller, but still well-appointed, set of locker rooms for resort guests using the fitness facilities and indoor pool. All of that’s complimentary, although Stephen Loderick doesn’t think most people have figured that out quite yet. That’s the only way the Richmond resident could explain why he was taking a nearly private yoga lesson at 8 a.m. on a recent Sunday.

“I’m interested in a holistic health practice, so I’ve been asking for a fitness focus that’s not just a weight room,” said the 50-year-old, who’s thrilled with the new offerings, especially the classes.

Exercise physiologist Holly Hicks, who’s available to perform fitness assessments and body composition analysis and develop workout plans, says the schedule is still a work in progress, as her team of instructors determines what makes sense for hotel guests. For now, there’s a handful of classes (yoga, cycling, dance and water aerobics) every day.

That’s nothing compared with the 40 classes a day at Canyon Ranch’s Tucson and Lennox locations. Still, it’s plenty to give people an option for a different kind of holiday, Abbott says.

“A lot of times on vacation, people don’t have healthy options,” she adds. At the Homestead, no one can use that excuse anymore.

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The Homestead

7696 Sam Snead Hwy., Hot Springs, Va.

800-838-1766

www.thehomestead.com

Hotel rates start at $180 per night; Spa Garden/Aquavana access $40-$55 per day or $75-$90 for two-day pass; spa fees vary by service (a sampling: 50-minute European facial $155; 20-minute Kids’ Spa Massage $80; Lifetime Nutrition class $110).

Hallett edits the Fit section of Express.

As a first resort

When the Salamander Resort and Spa opens next month in Middleburg, the Washington area will have an even closer luxury retreat for pampering and perspiration. Founder Sheila Johnson first bought the 340-acre property with plans to make wellness the focus, and it’s remained a priority, says President Prem Devadas.

Overnight guests and locals indulging in day packages will have access to an infinity pool at the edge of the woods, as well as locker rooms equipped with “experience showers, aroma steam rooms and heated chairs,” according to spa director Penny Kriel. In addition to traditional fitness classes, she plans to schedule breathing and meditation sessions.

The resort’s emphasis on equestrian pursuits — guests can even board their horses in the barn — has inspired some unusual offerings, including $250 Human/Horse Synergy Rides. (Both rider and horse are evaluated to get suggestions for massage, acupuncture and other body work.)

Wellness programming will gradually ramp up over the fall and go into high gear come January, when Salamander expects to see a lot of demand from the resolution crowd, Devadas adds. Also in the works is medical programming, including executive physicals and dermatological treatments.

Salamander Resort and Spa

100 W. Washington St., Middleburg

www.salamanderresort.com

866-938-7370

Hotel rates start at $275 per night. Spa prices vary based on service (a sampling: two-hour Mindfulness Trail Ride $200; 30-minute Rhassoul therapy package with mud, steam and rainshower $90-$105; Fit Focus package with personal training, full-body scrub and massage $320-$375).

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