The brainchild of Mel and Enid Zuckerman, Canyon Ranch’s mighty slogan is “the power of possibility”. It is a veritable empire stretching across land and sea, and includes two destination health spas, a hotel and spa in Miami Beach, and SpaClub locations at The Venetian and The Palazzo hotels in Vegas, as well as on the Queen Mary 2, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
I have yet to visit the flagship in Tucson, Arizona, but working with my current location, I decide to battle the hoards of frenzied, bloodshot-eyed New Yorkers at Pennsylvania station to make the two-and-a-half-hour train journey to Canyon Ranch’s location in Massachusetts.
I arrive at Albany station to find a driver waiting. We journey through the woods of Berkshire County to Bellefontaine Mansion, which was built in 1897 as a replica of Le Petit Trianon, Louis XV’s Versailles château.
My driver tells me about the mansion’s devastating fire of 1949 that left only one room, the library, unscathed, and reduced it to a shadow of its former glory. But today it has experienced a renaissance in the hands of Canyon Ranch, which has restored the building as part of a $40m project.
Set in beautifully landscaped gardens, the main buildings are the Inn (with its newly remodelled guest rooms and suites), the Spa and Bellefontaine Mansion – all connected by covered walkways.
For those looking for a focused programme of treatments, the Executive Health Program (with a recommended 4-night minimum stay) includes consultations for nutrition, health and physiology, plus diagnostic testing to examine everything from lipoprotein levels to thyroid function. Other packages vary from Brain Fitness to Spiritual Health and Back in the Game: Gearing up Before or After Surgery.
Rather than sign up for a prescriptive, goal-orientated package, I opt for a more flexible à la carte choice of treatments, and kick-start my experience with a 50-minute acupuncture session on the second floor of the mansion.
My acupuncturist, who has been working with Canyon Ranch for almost 10 years, takes my pulse with his fingers and examines my tongue for colour and any coating. In Chinese medicine, the tongue is considered a map of the body, he says, reflecting the health of the organs and meridian systems. He uses this information to identify where I may have energy blockages.
He places tiny, sterilised metal needles along my meridians, according to where my blockages lie. He says he wants to focus on a few core areas, specifically those concerning my immune system and those affected by jet lag. I count 10 needles, which he tweaks, observing my reactions, to ensure he is really touching the nerves.
I tell him about my experience at Chiva-Som, where the therapist Takeshi Kitagawa used 40 needles. Kitagawa’s English was practically non-existent, I say, but his explanation of the moxibustion heating technique sounded like I was going to be spiked and roasted.
“Well, less is more,” my current acupuncturist says. “I think it’s counter-productive when you use so many needles – there is simply no need.”
I jolt slightly as he tweaks the needle. Then I worry I’ll need to scratch my nose, eyes or forehead – with the needles in a spot between my thumb and second finger, it’ll be tricky…
I am a huge fan of acupuncture, and often turn to it when I am burnt out, stressed or having problems sleeping. On this occasion, however, I really need a bit of va-va-voom – and that’s exactly what I get. The session is effective and well administered, and afterwards I feel more balanced.
Next, I head down to the sprawling 100,000sq ft spa complex with its cardio and weight rooms, dance and yoga studios, cycling studio, racquetball, squash and basketball courts, running track, indoor tennis courts and 75ft indoor pool, plus there’s an assortment of saunas, steam rooms, whirlpools, spa treatment rooms and a salon.
I book in for a 100-minute deep-tissue massage with one of the younger members of staff. He asks when my last massage was and when I explain I have them weekly, he seems shocked as he says there is a great deal of tension around my neck. When he gets to work it feels like he’s cracking stones with his bare hands – which is an incredibly satisfying sensation. His technique is slow, deep and coordinated with my breathing patterns. The pressure at times feels quite intense. However, when it is over the release makes it all worthwhile: I feel instantly de-stressed and my body is supple and relaxed.
Dinner is a buffet of salads and dressings, where you can eat as much as you like – the American dream. The good thing is that here they show both calories and ingredients, so if you are trying to watch your weight, it’s straightforward to monitor your intake.
The portions are small by American restaurant sizes, but big by spa sizes. I have a salad and a soup and run out before I am tempted by dessert.
Circuit training and a tarot reading bookend the second day, but which will leave Spa Junkie more shocked and breathless? Check back on Saturday May 25.