Touring the 12 spas of Christmas

• After a rushed holiday season, it’s time to escape into the ultimate retreat

By Mary Ann Anderson / McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Published Dec 22, 2013 at 12:01AM

In a year’s time, my face has been peeled and polished, my back waltzed on and slapped with pine needles, and my feet scrubbed and shined to pedicure perfection.

I’ve indulged in quite a few spa resorts in the past few months in a spa splurge to learn to be healthier and collect a few anti-aging tricks along the way.

From Wisconsin to Florida and from Texas to California, these dozen wellness-inspired spa escapes are the ultimate gifts for yourself or those on your gift list who deserve relaxation and pampering. Let’s call it the 12 spas of Christmas.

Aspira Spa at Osthoff Resort

Elkhart Lake, Wis.

855-876-3399

www.Osthoff.com or www.AspiraSpa.com

Aspira Spa at Wisconsin’s Osthoff Resort is more sanctuary than a spa. Set on the banks of the jewel-toned Elkhart Lake, the spa features Native American-themed treatments, including the Sacred Waters massage where bags of water are drawn from the ancient lake, heated, and then placed on chakra points for complementing warmth. The massage left me in a state of blissful nothingness and I count those moments as perhaps the most relaxing of my lifetime.

The full service spa at the all-suite resort offers massages, facials, yoga, lymphatic treatments and salon services. And couples will love Aspira’s “SpaSuites,” complete with fireplaces, candles, private showers and whirlpools.

The Spa at Barnsley Resort

Adairsville, Ga.

770-773-7480

www.BarnsleyResort.com

Set in the verdant, rolling hills of North Georgia near Adairsville in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the secluded Spa at Barnsley Resort is uncrowded and quiet. The Barnsley Signature Body Treatment, an hour-long combination of exfoliation, massage and mini eye treatment, is complemented with oil of rose, a flower that grows profusely throughout the resort.

Set on hundreds of acres of formal gardens and manicured grounds, the historic Barnsley Resort, dating to the 1800s, has both plush rooms and cozy cottages. The European-style spa is uniquely designed to resemble a barn.

Spa Prunifolia at Callaway Gardens

Pine Mountain, Ga.

706-489-3301 or toll-free 866-627-7460

www.callawaylodgeandspa.com

As my massage begins, I close my eyes and breathe in sweet scents of eucalyptus, lavender and magnolia. Soft flute music accompanies me into light sleep. At Spa Prunifolia at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, near where Georgia and Alabama meet, those wonderful aromas, many of which are harvested from flowers in the gardens, are incorporated into massages, wraps and facials.

The Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens is framed by Callaway Gardens, a 13,000-acre preserve that’s akin to a southern-style Garden of Eden. About 2,500 of those acres are covered in azaleas, and when they blossom in the spring the riot of vibrant color and honeyed scents are almost unreal.

The Spa at Ritz Carlton Reynolds Plantation

Greensboro, Ga.

706-467-7185 Spa Direct Line

706-467-0600 Resort Direct Line

www.RitzCarlton.com

The spa menu at the Ritz Carlton Reynolds Plantation in Georgia’s gorgeous lake country is based on the seasons, Southern inspirations and water. Among the spa’s treatments are the Oconee Rain, a combination of body-brushing, massage and shower based on the Creek Indian healing system of fire, water, air and earth, and the Eminence Organics Facial, which left my skin seemingly born anew.

Hidden away among forested lands and iridescent sapphire waters of Lake Oconee, Georgia’s second largest lake, this is a world-class resort that’s all about golf, water and spa. The feather beds and 400-count thread sheets are extra touches.

The Spa at Grove Park Inn

Asheville, N.C.

800-438-5800

www.GroveParkInn.com

The Spa at Grove Park Inn is a haven of bliss. As the spa is situated almost entirely underground, you’re cushioned away from the world, at least for a while. I chose the Sanctuary of the Senses Facial, an incredible 80-minute anti-aging journey that is akin to a mini facelift. My skin looked brighter and younger and the effects lasted for days. If a full body treatment is more to your liking, the exquisite Fire, Rock, Water and Light takes you through the steps of exfoliation to a full body masque to a relaxing massage.

The Grove Park Inn, chiseled into the granite wall of Sunset Mountain and overlooking Asheville, pays homage to the serendipity of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. I can attest its restaurants are among the finest in the Southeast.

The Spa at High Hampton Inn and Country Club

Cashiers, N.C.

800-334-2551

www.HighHamptonInn.com

A ballerina danced on my back at the Spa at High Hampton Inn and Country Club. Well, she wasn’t really a ballerina but an ashiatsu therapist, and as she pirouetted not only did she massage my back with her feet, but also my legs and even bottoms of my feet. The deeply relaxing massage, which increases circulation and releases toxins, is dizzying and strange, but it is one of the spa’s most requested treatments.

The High Hampton Inn is one of those wonderful old family inns that harkens back to the golden age of resort travel. Think of the resort as similar to those in the Catskills but with a Southern twist. The spa is small, which means you’re afforded the highest level of personal service.

The Spa at Pinehurst Resort

Pinehurst, N.C.

800-487-4653

www.Pinehurst.com

Growing up in Georgia, indisputably the land of tall pines, never once did I imagine that pine needles would find their way into a spa. The Heart of the Pines treatment at the Spa at Pinehurst incorporates fresh, locally harvested longleaf pine. The needles aid in detoxification and circulation and are both relaxing and invigorating at the same time. If being gently slapped by pine needles isn’t your thing, try the Sweet Tea or Honey Magnolia Sugar Scrub. It’s all about the South here.

Since the resort is probably most famous for its championship golf, the spa has created a “Just for Men” series of treatments perfect for guys who want to relax after a day on the links.

Wedged away in the pretty pine-covered sand hills and forests between North Carolina’s mountains and coast, the luxurious playground of Pinehurst Resort is all about slow, Southern gentility.

The Spa at Hammock Beach Resort

Palm Coast, FL

www.HammockBeach.com

866-841-0287

There’s just something to be said for a hot stone facial massage that feels more like feathers on your skin than fire. The esthetician at Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast on Florida’s Atlantic coast managed to parlay such a sensation with just a few smooth rocks, scented oil and her fingers. With just the simple act of touch, the transformation from ordinary facial to extraordinary is astonishing.

The spa takes its inspiration from the ocean, with treatments blended with tropical elements like sea salt, coconuts, pineapples, and papaya.

Hammock Beach Resort is a family-friendly resort that features one-, two-, and three-bedroom luxury villas and condominiums.

The Spa at One Ocean Resort

Atlantic Beach, Fla.

904-249-7402

www.OneOceanResort.com

The Spa at One Ocean Resort in Atlantic Beach, also on Florida’s east coast, is a true gemstone. The spa is beautiful and calming, with more than 40 sea-inspired treatments available — the Seashell Massage and the decadent Sea of Life Anti-Aging Facial are favorites. I opted for the facial, and I promise my fine lines seemed to melt away.

One Ocean Resort and Spa is a highly awarded, luxurious and contemporary resort overlooking the Atlantic and is just steps from myriad beach boutiques. Decorated with all the translucent turquoise and silver of sky and ocean, the sensation is that that you’ve stepped into an undersea world.

Castle Rock Health Club and Spa at Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort

San Antonio, Texas

800-937-8461

www.westinlacantera.com

One of my favorite scents is clean, citrusy lime, and its aroma is one of the hallmarks of the Woodhouse Escape body treatments at Castle Rock Spa at the Westin La Cantera in San Antonio. Incorporating head-to-toe elements of a bamboo body scrub, volcanic stone massage and foot reflexology, the treatment is rounded out with a neck, shoulder and head massage with wild lime oil. Heavenly.

The award-winning and luxurious Westin La Cantera is the ideal gateway to the Texas Hill Country. Like the Hill Country, the full-service resort is colorful, fun and festive.

The Spa at the Chattanoogan Hotel

Chattanooga, Tenn.

423-756-3400

www.chattanooganhotel.com

The menu of the Spa at the Chattanoogan Hotel in Chattanooga reads like a testament to Lookout Mountain and the Tennessee River, both of which are nearby. It was difficult to make a choice among the Flowing River Massage, A Walk in the River foot treatment, the Ruby Falls Hydrating Body Treatment, or the Mountain Mud Masque and Massage. In the end, I treated myself to an anti-aging facial while hubby chose the Flowing River Massage, one that he declared as the “best ever.”

The upscale Chattanoogan Hotel, an AAA Four Diamond-rated resort, is located in downtown and is within easy walking distance of the city’s major attractions.

The Spa at Hotel Healdsburg

Healdsburg, Calif.

800-889-7188

www.healdsburghotel.com

The Spa at the Hotel Healdsburg is just what I expected to find in California’s Sonoma County wine country. It’s all about the fresh scents straight from the farm with its Farm to Spa Collection of Lavender-Peppermint Restorative Massage, Meyer Lemon Sage Massage, and the moisturizing, purifying Wine and Honey Wrap, which combines sauvignon blanc with sweet honey. While wraps usually aren’t my favorite spa treatment, it was hard to resist this cocooning warm and soothing wrap.

Located on Healdsburg’s historic main square, the sophisticated Hotel Healdsburg, consistently named to Conde Nast’s Traveler Gold List, is close to wineries and all that beautiful Sonoma County, one of my favorite places in the world, has to offer.