Pulling into the driveway at Merribrook Retreat in Western Australia's glorious Margaret River region, a forgotten yet welcome wholesome feeling takes over. Rolling onto the dirt track sidelined by virgin forest we come across a sign pointing to reception, even though we haven't spotted a single other building yet. Originally-owned and hosted boutique accommodation, Merribrook Retreat is perched on 160 acres of natural bushland, maintaining its private, luxurious and escapist vibe with just 10 architecturally-designed villas on offer. Warmly greeted by Lorraine and Richard, who founded Merribrook in 1984 and built it from ground up over the years to follow, we are immediately made to feel welcome and easily make ourselves at home. Despite being located just off a main road and close to wineries, galleries and townships, the retreat is perfectly set in a peaceful valley where the sounds of birds, insects and frogs provide a peaceful backing track and kangaroos freely hop through the grounds. The true beauty of Merribrook Retreat however lies in its ability to be exactly the kind of holiday you are longing for, whatever that may be. It's the perfect base to explore the Margaret River region's tourist hotspots, as well as a remote sanctuary for those wanting to completely escape all that bustle. It functions as a beautiful conference, training and team-building site, and for those seeking an active holiday there are many peaceful trails to walk, winding roads to ride and beautiful oceans to swim nearby.
Common luxuries for all With only 10 villas to share all common facilities between, it's not hard to find yourself a quiet spot to relax in. Boasting the largest private pool in the district - 20 metres long and solar-heated - as well as a gorgeous spa with starry sky views and a Swedish sauna, be sure to pack your bathers. If you find water more relaxing to look at than to swim in, the retreat is perfectly perched on a slope overlooking a freshwater lake, with views from all around the grounds. A small deck and chairs await by the lake, while there's plenty of grass to picnic on. The Lakeside Lodge, surrounded by beautiful gardens, is a great place to seek respite from your room during an extended stay. The lovely outside verandah overlooks the lake whilst inside it feels much like a warm and cosy ski lodge. You'll find books and DVDs to borrow and tea and coffee making facilities for any time of the day. In the winter, there's even an open wood fire to curl up by. Kitchen facilities and breakfast If you aren't heading out to sample the local restaurants at night, a fully stocked commercial kitchen - and a BBQ on the verandah - is available for guest use. Breakfast however is included. That you will be thankful for. Consisting of a starter buffet of fresh seasonal fruits, cereals, muesli, toast, pancakes, muffins and sweet breakfast loaves, a few different options for a cooked breakfast follows. Locally roasted Yahava coffee and speciality teas are also served. A villa for every occasion Merribrook's Lakeview Deluxe Villa provides a high level of comfort for two. It boasts a private verandah and ceiling-to-floor glass offering uninterrupted views over the freshwater lake. Features include a Queensize bed and daybed, exquisite bathroom facilities and a deep double bathtub, and a fan and heating for temperature control. The Forest Edge Garden Villa suits those looking to bring a few extra people. Recently refurbished, these villas are set amongst beautiful gardens and orchards. Features include a Queensize bed and single daybed in the bedroom, as well as a table and chairs alongside a Queensize bed and single daybed in the main room. It also has a modern bathroom and heating. The Luxury Lakehouse is Merribrook's answer to your perfect romantic weekend away. Situated well away from the rest of the retreat, and with its own private driveway entrance, full privacy is guaranteed. Fully self-contained, the Luxury Lakehouse boasts its own outdoor starlit spa bath, a natural outdoor shower, and a private deck with BBQ facilities overlooking a small lake. It also features plenty of living space including a couch and kitchen, a Japanese-inspired bathroom, Kingsize bed, reverse cycle air-conditioning, and beautiful robes, candles and flowers to set the scene. If you should wish to leave your hidey hole, breakfast is still included at The Lodge. All rooms feature a CD and DVD player, iPod dock, small fridge, tea and coffee making facilities. Private massage and pampering services are also available in your villa, which are very popular. It's advised to book ahead. Take a stroll near or far A three-kilometre walking/running circuit brings the chance to see more of the Merribrook property if you're feeling active or looking to immerse yourself in nature. Stroll past lakes, mature cork oak, olive and stonepine plantations, and if you want to bring your own bike, you can even ride the track. For the serious walker, consider the Rails to Trails Track, a five minute drive away, as well as the Cape to Cape Track from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin, accessible just four kilometres away. Merribrook Retreat offers Cape to Cape Walking Escape Accommodation Packages, which includes pickup and dropoff each day of your self-guided walk. Local grooves around Margaret River From the beautiful coastline to the fresh green forests, and with many charming towns in between, the Margaret River region is world-famous. A prime wine-producing district, there are some 200 vineyards and 90 wineries to choose between, as well as a number of quality cheese and chocolate factories. Crowds also flock here to experience some of the best surf along the West Australian coastline. Top-notch restaurants, galleries, and arts and crafts outlets also add character to the region. If you plan to really explore, consider buying the Margaret River Gold Pass to get the best value out of your Margaret River holiday. Armstrong Road 114, Cowaramup, WA, Australia Contact tel: +61 (0)8 9755 5599, fax: +61 (0)8 9755 5081 Services pool, sauna & steam, massage BOOK NOW
It was a short walk to the lotus pond, which had become my morning spot. After waking early from a restful night’s sleep, I would walk out my door into the gentle Arizona sunshine moving over the nearby mountaintops of the Sonoran Desert, along the pathway that wound between cactus plants studded with flowers, blooming lantana and succulents. Lizards darted out of the way, while the occasional rabbit would hop across the path or ground squirrels shyly race back to their holes.
Then I arrived at the lotus pond. It was small, just in front of the Health and Healing center in the back section of the property. This was a peaceful spot I discovered on my first morning at Canyon Ranch, and became my favorite spot to start the day. I would bring a cup of coffee and sit and watch the koi and the turtles splash in the water, the colorful dragonflies buzz around the vegetation, and wait for the pink, purple and white lotus flowers to slowly open up on their lily pads to greet the day. It was almost like a meditation, the perfect beginning to my day.
This sort of peaceful, restorative feeling is one that accompanied me just about every moment and in most locations around the 150-plus acres of Canyon Ranch. The entire resort is lush and lovely, meandering and quiet, almost zen-like in the ambience that it exudes. Even with many other guests in attendance at nearly-peak occupancy, the grounds are so large and spread out that you rarely run across more than a few people at a time outside the classes and main gathering areas. Often, I would have a spot to myself for walking, sitting, reading or just enjoying the peace and quiet.
I had decided to give myself a completely unplugged experience while at Canyon Ranch – no internet or phone calls, to fully embrace and enjoy the restorative, healing powers of the place. It was nice that most of the resort is a “cell-free zone” – there are a few spots here and there that are designated phone spots, and of course guests are free to use their phones in their rooms, where wi-fi internet access is also provided for those who wish to stay connected.
But for me, the very essence of Canyon Ranch was about escaping from everyday life, to rebalance and perhaps discover some components of life and wellbeing that would enhance my life moving forward from this special place. The many activities and amenities at this resort 40 minutes outside Tucson make it easy to do so. I found that many of the guests were repeat visitors, many of them having come back over years and even decades. Canyon Ranch is one of the original health resorts of Arizona, celebrating 35 years this year, and although I had just discovered it I could tell it held a special place for many to rejuvenate or even rediscover themselves.
Health & Wellness Programs One of the first things you can do upon checking into Canyon Ranch, if you wish, is to meet with a program advisor to discuss the many opportunities available during your stay. At registration you are given a bag with a personal, reusable water bottle and a listing of the week’s programs, which can be overwhelming as the choices are plentiful. An orientation tour around the property really helps, as well. The goal of the Canyon Ranch programs is to help guests feel their best at every age. Holistic, integrative medical care integrates Western and non-Western practices with top physicians on staff and a range of diagnostic services, making it the perfect place for a comprehensive whole-body check-up and consultation for treatment programs. Food and nutrition programs, weight loss, lifestyle management, and Eastern healing medicines round out the offerings.
In addition to meeting with physicians for a medical consultation, including in every stay is a range of wellness workshops and programs that might include the following:
Reduce your stress with healing touch
The science of weight loss
Is your sleep posture causing you pain?
Mindfulness and the brain
Keep your joints healthy
There are also daily 12-step meetings, and the entire resort including dining areas is alcohol-free. Some people come to Canyon Ranch due to crisis and are choosing recovery, while many others are looking for maintenance, cleansing and restoration.
Spa & Aquatic Center The spa complex at Canyon Ranch is very large, incredibly equipped and a delight to spend time in. With more than 80,000 square feet, the complex includes gyms and workout rooms, yoga studio, hair and nail salon and of course, the spa treatment areas. In the spa guests can receive classic bodywork massages and Asian therapies, Ayurvedic treatments, body scrubs and wraps, and facials. There are many beautiful, relaxing common areas with numerous soaking pools of varying temperatures, from hot to a cold plunge pool; a steam room, aromatic Eucalyptus room and sauna. The complex also houses a Healthy Feet clinic, with gait and footwear analyses, reflexology and touch therapies. The salon is full service, offering hair, nail and makeup services. There are also special maternity offerings for special attention to moms-to-be. The gym portion of the complex has nine gyms, a yoga dome, courts for squash, racquetball and wallyball, a strength and cardio training room that is outfitted with all the latest computerized fitness equipment, and personal training. Just behind the spa complex are tennis courts, and the Aquatic Center that houses two heated indoor pools for free swimming, aquatics classes, Watsu water massage and underwater treadmills. Three other outdoor pools are located around Canyon Ranch, so no matter where your guest room is, you are sure to be near a pool.
Fitness & Activities This is definitely a highlight of a stay at Canyon Ranch. The beauty of the environment and programming is that you can do as much or as little as you like. The program advisors do warn against not getting so excited about all the offerings that you are too over-zealous and leave exhausted. That was my temptation. I definitely wanted to take advantage of the dozens of exercise and fitness classes offered each day, and I enjoyed hiking, yoga, pilates, aqua fitness and many others. Classes on the weekly schedule typically include many of these classes as well as:
Abs and core conditioning
Stretch classes and walking
Boxing workouts, and many more
There are golf and tennis clinics and private lessons also available, as well as high ropes adventures and obstacle courses. Besides the physical fitness aspect, Canyon Ranch programming also puts just as much emphasis on internal, emotional health. Many workshops are offered on topics such as meditation, cultivating inner peace, creating sacred space, harnessing your intuition and many more. Also offered are art and creative classes, bingo, live music, bingo, cooking demonstrations and hands-on classes. Food here, in fact, is something of an art form. Guests can dine in the dining room (by reservation for dinner) or at the more casual, order at the counter Double U Café. All dishes are described with their ingredients, calories, fat content, etc. The aim is to provide delicious and healthy gourmet cuisine, with snacks and drinks available all day long.
Guest Rooms Accommodations are clustered in different groupings throughout the resort, all with stunning views of the mountains and surrounding desert landscape. The original art and décor is inspired by the natural surroundings, and plentiful outdoor areas provide more comfortable lounging outside the room. All guest rooms include the following amenities:
Cloud-soft feather beds
Your choice of pillows from 20+ options on our Pillow Menu
Mascioni® luxury Italian linens
Terry cloth robes
DVD, cable TV, stereo/CD player
Computer phone jack
Wired or wireless Internet access
In-room coffee and tea service
Hair dryer and thoughtful amenities
In short, if you are looking for the ultimate, all-inclusive and holistic way to immerse yourself in health and wellness, the beauty and expertise of Canyon Ranch is the way to go. It was named a Conde Nast Top 10 Best Destination Spa for 2014 (having been recognized by the veteran travel publication numerous times). There’s a very good reason Canyon Ranch has been around for more than three decades…in fact, hundreds of them.
Details Canyon Ranch 8600 E. Rockcliff Road, Tucson AZ 85750 Telephone: 520-749-9000 or 888-239-5149 Rates: From $2,140 per person for 3 nights, $4,495 for 7 nights. 4 and 10 night stays also available. Rates are all-inclusive of meals, programs and activities, use of all facilities, resort fees, a daily spa allowance and taxes. Canyon Ranch is a no-tipping resort.