After more than a year without travel, many of us need a new approach to vacation. Thanks to the pandemic’s creation of new stressors like longer at-home work days and patchworks of coronavirus travel restrictions, gone are the days of jet setting and city hopping; growing is the need for a comfortable travel home base that offers more than just the opportunity to unwind.
Wellness properties that opened or recalibrated their programming during the pandemic saw the writing on the wall, including the resort enclaves of Arizona. The classic spa-and-golf resorts of yesteryear are changing with the times, to prioritize not only a newfound enthusiasm for outdoor adventure among Americans, but also ultra-trendy wellness programs that aim to teach guests about mindfulness and meditation tools that can bring the relaxation of a truly great vacation back home with them, from beginner meditation sessions to chakra-balancing crystal therapy.
Think tackling a via ferrata and teetering aerial footbridge before breakfast, decompressing in a mineral-rich natural hot spring by lunch, and settling into a mindfulness session with a meditation coach come afternoon. That’s exactly what the sophisticated Castle Hot Springs Resort’s new “intentional wellness menu” aims to achieve alongside its hefty schedule of outdoor activities in the remote Bradshaw Mountains, one hour from Phoenix. The property, a Sonoran Desert oasis of natural springs and dramatic peaks, once catered to the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers in the early 1900s. It reopened in January 2020 after a decades-long closure and a complete renovation. Castle’s longstanding hiking trails are private to resort guests, including a famed trek to nearby Salvation Peak, where a flagpole planted by World War II servicemen—including then future-president John F. Kennedy—who were recuperating from battle wounds on-site in the 1940s. The star attraction, however, is the three geothermal hot spring pools on the grounds.
While it still has the standard spa treatments and 18 holes of golf, Castle Hot Springs is also prioritizing a new focus on mental relaxation that lasts, because of the wide-reaching impact of the pandemic. The all-inclusive’s new wellness menu offers beginner-friendly mind-and-body sessions, from yoga and tai chi to meditative breathing exercises, sound therapy, mantra classes, astrology readings, and guided meditation hikes to center your mind in the quiet desert.
The program is led by yoga and wellness author Colleen Inman, who works with guests one on one. The goal is to help visitors gain the ability to tap into “a regular inner vacation or retreat for daily nourishment and ongoing healing,” Inman says. “Our program brings the true purpose of a healing vacation [to the] forefront of the mind. It’s said that you cannot have a vacation from you. You take you with you wherever you go.”
Health studies released during the coronavirus pandemic have illustrated the necessity of frequent mental and physical breaks from work, which experts say have become harder to achieve with remote work blurring the lines between office and personal time. Vacation researchers at Finland’s Tampere University, for example, concluded last year that the mind and body needs detachment from work responsibilities to achieve true mental relaxation and recovery, and that autonomy over free-time activities as well as mastery of new skills can further mental well-being. On the physical side, the World Health Organization recently detailed a spike in work-related heart disease it says may only get worse amid the pandemic.
Arizona’s Sonoran landscapes, with its Saguaro-dotted peaks, orange canyon walls, and sprawling desert basins of unimpeded silence, makes it something of a capital for this level of relaxation to be paired with outdoor adventure. Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than the soon-opening Ambiente Sedona; the first U.S. ‘landscape hotel,’ a sustainability-focused property that aims to meld indoor and outdoor environments, it’s slated to begin accepting reservation this fall. The property sits on one of Sedona’s most popular trailheads, the Adobe Jack Trail, and will offer wellness activities including rooftop yoga and stargazing (with more to be announced). The Ambiente will be equal parts hotel and art installation, with 40 elevated glass villas flanked by massive brass sculptures and waterfalls fed by natural waterways.
And it’s not just new properties emboldening their wellness programs amid the pandemic. The longstanding Boulders Resort & Spa in nearby Scottsdale revamped its long list of spa offerings to include crystal healing rituals, sleep-aiding technique education, and emotional balancing sessions. It made the wellness additions “to help people cope post pandemic” and to bolster activities like guided bouldering with options that have emotional healing qualities, a spokesperson for the hotel said. Crystal therapy aims to promote positive energy flow throughout the body; the property also offers reiki sessions. And the 18 holes of golf is still available, of course.
With the world opening up again but domestic travel still safer amid the ongoing pandemic, the addition of such ranges of wellness learning are welcome expansions for a new world of travel in the U.S.—and the great reason to be a more indulgent version of ourselves as we start to travel again.
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