They say you know when you’ve arrived at Miraval. Entering through the security gates, your blood pressure automatically falls 20 points, and your hunched shoulders drop. The name itself carries a mystique and prestige: People who’ve stayed here rave about it, and those who haven’t “ooh” and “aah” with envy when you tell them you’re going. I’d always wanted to see if this bucket list destination spa lived up to its reputation, and I finally got the chance to visit in January. “New Year, new me,” I figured.
Having driven directly to this spot—about 25 miles north of Tucson, Arizona—from Las Vegas after attending the annual Consumer Electronics Show (translation: I was about to explode from stress and stimuli), I was desperate for a few days in the desert to unwind and recharge.
Staff set the tone immediately, proffering a chilled glass of carrot, ginger and apple juice as I made my way to the front desk. Next, they gave me a quick tour of the facilities before showing me to my stylish accommodations, complete with cute patio and bathroom stocked with ESPA toiletries. Guest rooms at some retreat-style resorts eschew modern conveniences, but at Miraval they come with big-screen TVs, coffee makers and Wi-Fi.
There was just enough time to take it all in before heading to dinner at the Cactus Flower restaurant, which also serves healthy-but-gourmet breakfast and lunch buffets. Dishes, which use locally sourced ingredients, skew low on calories, fat and sodium but high on flavor: I enjoyed butternut squash and coconut bisque, chile relleno and vegan praline ice cream on the first night alone. Thanks to a room service menu—complete with wine—plus a daytime selection of sandwiches, fruit and snacks at the Palm Court Café, guests never go hungry here. Despite making good of every opportunity to eat during my three-day stay, I somehow managed to lose a couple of pounds.
Grounds for Appeal
The next morning, after a deep sleep in my marshmallow-soft bed, I had my first chance to explore the property. Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains— “Miraval” loosely translates to “view of the valley” in Spanish—the 400-acre grounds are home to cacti, wildflowers, and wildlife including roadrunners and rabbits. Casitas named for local cacti and plants are dotted along winding pathways, which also off er access to several pools, a Body Mindfulness Center, yoga studio, climbing wall, tennis courts, and other fitness and wellness facilities. A series of lavishly appointed villas host guests seeking optimal privacy; more are scheduled to open later this year.
Numerous secluded nooks and crannies, plus a self-guided labyrinth, invite quiet contemplation. Admittedly, I wasn’t visiting during peak season, but the place never once felt crowded—I even had the pool to myself one afternoon. Guests are urged to embrace “Miraval Mode” by placing cellphones on silent, and by talking and texting only in designated areas. Clearly, employees go to great lengths to maintain Miraval’s reputation as a serene sanctuary to which people come after a life-changing event—or to have one.
Miraval’s tagline is “Life in Balance,” and equilibrium is the goal for many guests— and what a way to achieve it. Many of today’s destination spas and retreats offer mindfulness and wellness classes, but Miraval stands out for sheer breadth of its curriculum—200-plus group and individual activities, workshops, lectures and experiences, many hosted by experts in their field. This regularly changing roster spans a literal A to Z, from astrology to Zumba, in categories such as art & photography, culinary, fitness, integrative wellness, and outdoor adventure & challenge. According to Carl Pratt, Miraval’s vice president and general manager, “Options are frequently switched up depending on the latest trends, ingredients and techniques while also addressing guests’ needs.”
Given Miraval’s emphasis on expert tuition and unique experiences, guests could almost be forgiven for overlooking its spa. But that would be a mistake: Here, in the sleekly designed indoor-outdoor facility, they’ll find an escape within an escape. As with the rest of Miraval, the spa’s offerings are extensive— numbering more than 100—and range from traditional to unconventional, from facials to specialty bodywork. Out-of-the-box options include NAGA Thai, a Thai massage during which the therapist stretches the client’s body using suspended silks; and Spirit Flight, “a transformational healing ceremony” hosted by Tim Frank, NMD, who incorporates elements of his Native American heritage into the service. Next to the well-stocked spa boutique is a Deborah Lippmann nail salon that provides manicures and pedicures.
When it comes to hiring spa staff , “We first and foremost look for highly trained technicians with a wide variety of experience to draw from,” says Simon Marxer, corporate director of Miraval Spas. “We strive to create a team that’s dedicated to incorporating Miraval’s life in balance philosophy into the overall spa experience. As such, we seek out people who are passionate about Miraval’s core values and who truly embrace mindfulness and overall health and wellness in their everyday lives.”
During my stay, I encountered a mix of guests: men and women, young and old. Indeed, there’s no such thing as a typical Miraval client, but Pratt shares that the majority are women aged 35 to 50, and about 30 percent are repeat guests who “return for the restoration, and unique and transformative experiences.” Faced with increasing competition from newer resorts and destination spas, how does Miraval stay ahead of the game? Strategic marketing plays a major role, says Pratt, an industry veteran with 30 years’ experience in wellness education and resort management. “We aim to leverage our position as a thought leader and innovator in the world of wellness, and utilize a combination of advertising, PR and traditional and digital marketing to effectively reach our target audience,” he notes. Tactics include creative spa packages, customizable, flexible guest itineraries, an Arizona Resident Package that gives locals 15 percent off the typical overnight visit, and an Authentic Circle loyalty program for guests who have stayed more than four times or who own a villa. Plus, as Pratt points out, there’s increased demand on the part of the guest too, with “more and more people looking to combine their healthy lifestyles with travel.”
Of course, any successful modern day management objective must incorporate brand building and innovation as well. Last year, Miraval opened a Life in Balance Spa at the Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, California, and there are plans to integrate the Miraval experience into its locations in Lenox, Massachusetts, and Austin, Texas. In addition, says Pratt, “We’re currently in the development phase of creating new offerings for Miraval Tucson as we look to the next 6 to 12 months.”
Needless to say, my visit left me feeling thoroughly recharged and restored, and as I reflected on the lessons I learned from Miraval’s experts, I came to realize that, regardless of our location or situation, a life in balance is always within reach.
–by Lesley McCave