From Tucson to Bali, nearly every resort offers luxe spas to its clients. Yet the Caribbean resorts have never had more than the occasional exercise class (with the instructor strolling in fifteen minutes late).
On Anguilla, however, a sparsely populated jewel in the British West Indies that has suddenly become the island destination of the moment, three of the top resorts have announced that they’re pursuing the spa scene, from personal training sessions to beauty treatments, yoga, and beyond. Way beyond.
A friend and I discovered this recently, when one night over dinner at the resort of Cap Juluca we met Diana Bourel, a pixieish woman of about 40 who is in charge of the resort’s spiritual program. When Bourel learned that my friend is a surgeon, she suggested he write a medical paper on the evils of injecting Botox into the target zone between your brows, which is often referred to, in certain quarters, as the third eye.
The next day, I was in her suite for “Coming Home,” billed as a spiritual energy reading. With a scarf around her head—in homage, I suppose, to the fortune-tellers of yore—Bourel instructed me to sit with my knees touching hers while she held my hands and palpated them. She then closed her eyes and launched into a Sanskrit chant. As a veteran of yoga, I didn’t find this odd. The chant, she explained, was a prayer for me to forgive her. I soon began to see why. Her voice returned to English, but took on an eerie Ghost of Christmas Past quality. “You used to go to a big house with a large iron gate,” she moaned. “There were two children, aged 7 and 12, dressed in academic clothes. You loved to go there. Your mother”—apparently in my past life—”was the maid in the house.” She then told me that my mother (in my current life) had trouble with the position of my head during birth, and this affected my energy. She advised me to check with my mother, which I did, and when she practically laughed me off the phone, I thought it best not to bring up the part about the maid.
Given the way aromatherapized yoga and candlelit meditation classes have been elbowing out more traditional cardiovascular workouts in New York, it didn’t seem such a leap for Cap Juluca to try the spiritual approach. If anything, it was a more natural evolution for the slow-paced island than the hip-hop yacht parties going on in nearby St. Barts.
Arriving at Cap Juluca, you instantly start to unwind. That may be partly because of the rum punch they feed you during check-in—abstinence from drinks with little umbrellas will never be part of a Caribbean spa regime. But it has more to do with the warm and efficient staff and the fact that accommodations have no radios and no TVs. Each room faces the ocean, with its spacious private terrace bestowing panoramic views of the sea and of St. Martin, and an expansive, sun-drenched, partly enclosed bath and shower opening onto a back garden. Breakfast, complimentary fresh fruit and pastries, or more spalike offerings, such as egg-white omelettes with poached lobster, can be delivered to your room.
This is no Canyon Ranch—the island is flat as a yoga mat—and Cap Juluca doesn’t even have any regular exercise classes. But private circuit-training sessions are offered at the well-appointed and air-conditioned gym, the running track is bougainvillea- and hibiscus-studded, and guests regularly jog up and down the breathtaking stretch of beach. You can swim in either a glassy Maundays Bay or a 60-foot pool tiled in the hotel’s Moroccan motif. The resort has added outdoor yoga classes sophisticated enough to be challenging but still accessible to novices.
Feeling the need for a bit more fitness, I headed to the neighboring CuisinArt resort and spa. Yes, CuisinArt. Though it sounds more like a retreat for suburban toques than people interested in pursuing a healthy lifestyle, there is a full fitness schedule, including aquatic kickboxing, Pilates, a boot-camp workout, and a hydroponic farm where they grow organic vegetables. With children’s activities on the schedule during holidays, the place is decidedly more family-oriented than Cap Juluca. I signed on for the sand-and-surf workout, led by a Nordic jock named Peter Vasilis. Though I was surprised to be the only one who showed for the class, I got a great workout from beach running, lunging, and push-up drills and sprints in the water. The pitying stares of the other guests, for whom The Da Vinci Code and a beach chair were far more appealing, suggested that this program might be a hard sell. I stayed around for a yoga class, attended by one other couple, but when the husband turned beet red while reaching for his toes, the session suddenly devolved into a series of mild stretches. The yoga teacher moonlights as a Thai-style masseuse, and this form of “passive yoga,” in which the therapist twists your body into various positions, was a more worthwhile hour, given at CuisinArt’s modest but well-appointed spa.
I made side trips to Malliouhana Hotel & Spa, the most old-world of the resorts on Anguilla, and Temenos Villas, which currently has only three villas (four bedrooms each), ranging in price from $30,000 to $35,000 per week, but is being expanded. Malliouhana has opened a 15,000-square-foot fitness center and spa complex with bamboo floors and thoughtful touches like heated tub backs and toilet seats. Massages come with your choice of New Age, jazz, or classical music, and in addition to a large gym, there are classes in yoga and chi gung. At Temenos, the fitness center is small but equipped with state-of-the-art machines, and each villa has its own pool. The digs are rock-star-worthy, impeccably designed, and stocked with every tech toy a guest could want—the antithesis of Cap Juluca’s unplugged vibe.
But going off the grid was the goal, and back at Cap Juluca, I eased into the program with a traditional body scrub—a stimulating ginger-scented “rice and spice” version is available, but I went for the more vigorous salt exfoliation. Like the resort’s massages, available for singles or couples, it was performed in my room, because the truth is, there isn’t much of a spa facility here. This actually turns out to be a plus, as you can fall asleep right in your own quarters, among the purple orchid flowers the therapist strews around the massage table and in the shower.
Next, I scheduled a session with Hubert Delamotte, Cap Juluca’s astrologer, whose ultralong waxed handlebar moustache gave him an Inspector Clouseau cartoonishness. After lifting my mood by telling me I was a “magic woman” to whom good things happened, he advised that I see an osteopath. He had divined that one of my legs was shorter than the other.
Starting to feel physically freakish, given my head-birth situation and my irregular legs, I decided I could use Thierry Liot’s “Soul Awakening,” a mystical healing process that dates back 2,000 years. “I saw the priestess,’’ insisted a man who had just experienced the treatment, but he conjured for me nothing more than the dazed Rick Moranis in Ghost Busters. My trepidation turned to relaxation as Liot began with a normal Shiatsu-style massage, releasing pressure points, first in the feet (a sole awakening), working up to the neck. Next he applied crushed gemstones to my chest and began vigorously rubbing that area. “When the soul leaves the body, it takes a left turn, then flips,” he explained in a thick French accent. Whatever, I thought, and began to slip into a dreamy state, when I was suddenly jolted by chants of “Maaameeeloonn … Maaarooosheeee.” I looked up to see Liot, eyes closed, flailing his hands over my body while uttering these strange sounds.
“What are you doing?” I asked with some alarm.
He replied that he was “imitating the path of the soul” as it left my body.
Not wanting to think about leaving this mortal coil while on vacation, I ended my session. The next morning I opted for the good old gym circuit with Cardigan Connor, which turned out to be a great workout. Then I headed for a quick 50 laps in the pool, and met my friend for another swim in the transparent sea. We walked up the beach to one of the hotelÂ’s three waterfront restaurants for some sushi and sake, and returned to the room for massages. As we sat on the balcony, watched the sunset, listened to the waves, and took deep breaths of negative-ion-fueled ocean air, I realized that with a little self-discipline, a week at any of these resorts could indeed be a soul awakening.
The four-hour trip to Anguilla is relatively uncomplicated; American Airlines has flights daily to San Juan, where you switch to a prop jet for the quick jump to Anguilla ($519 to $607 round-trip between January 12 and May 23; 800-433-7300). On Anguilla, five nights at Cap Juluca, based on double occupancy with food and spa services included, is $7,690 (888-858-5822). At CuisinArt, the five-night all-inclusive spa package is $3,865 per couple (800-943-3210; 264-498-2000). Malliouhana offers an all-inclusive five-night spa package during April for $4,700; otherwise rooms are $590 to $1,120 per night, single or double occupancy, treatments and meals not included (800-835-0796; 264-497-6111). At Temenos, you get a personal butler, chef, and housekeeper for your money, but food and spa services are not included (264-222-9000).