by vishaka robinson | January 17, 2013 | Lifestyle
The warm winter retreat of many Chicagoans: Miraval Resort & Spa in Arizona.
Thanks to the ringing endorsement of Chicago influencers (Oprah Winfrey and star couple Giuliana and Bill Rancic, to name a few) as well as the enviable winter climate of Tucson, Arizona, Miraval Resort & Spa has become a magnet for Michigan Avenue snowbirds in search of mind and body downtime.
“October to May is the most popular time for our Chicago guests,” explains resort CEO Michael Tompkins. And no wonder: “Daytime temperatures average between 75 and 85, so those coming from the cold of Illinois literally feel like they are stepping into summertime.”
From plush, desert-inspired suites, guests can create their own tailor-made escape by signing up from a vast roster of diversions: equine therapy (where participants routinely break down in tears of self-discovery); Swing and a Prayer (Oprah’s favorite, which involves being hoisted from a height of 35 feet); and everything from painting classes, yoga, and acupuncture to one-on-ones with visiting clairvoyants.
The Rancics have notched up more than six stays (kickstarting 2013 with a New Year’s retreat in January). “The place is spectacular,” explains Bill of the resort’s tranquil setting in Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains. “The one thing Giuliana and I always do is one of the challenge courses. We really try to take ourselves out of our comfort zone. The great thing is that you can spend the morning doing activities like hiking or mountain biking and then spend the afternoon at the spa getting a massage.”
The spa in question is the stunning new 16,000-square-foot space with Clarins, which opened in May 2012—a haven of 23 Clodagh-designed treatment rooms interlinked with shady walkways lined with fragrant sage and wild lavender. Another welcome addition is last year’s promotion of Justin Macy to executive chef; he has taken the food (all included in the price of your stay) to a new level (think mesquite-smoked wild salmon and corn-bread-stuffed quail). Even Bill admits his only room preference is that it be close to the restaurant.
Book it: Double rooms start at $ 375 per night on an all-inclusive basis. 800-232-3969
The palatial St. Regis Aspen.
Rocky Mountain High-End
For a serious serving of spa with your snow, check into Aspen’s most opulent hotel: the palatial, 179-room St. Regis, which boasts its own 15,000-square-foot Remède Spa and all the trappings of a recent $40 million renovation. Gold Coast–based businesswoman Dawn Davis is a longtime convert, having stayed “hundreds of nights” at the St. Regis and decamping there for two months of the year. She singles out the St. Regis’s faultless staff (“their terrific [chef] concierge, Stephanie Borgo, is a pro at getting impossible-to-book dining reservations”), the luxe rooms (“my favorites are the junior suites, many with their own powder rooms”), and the hotel’s new Chef’s Club by Food & Wine collaboration as reasons she keeps returning.
Even the hotel’s glamorous general manager, Heather Steenge-Hart, hails from Chicago. “The joy of Aspen is that it’s just a three-hour direct flight, so you can leave O’Hare in the morning and be on the slopes by the afternoon.” The mountain winter is also vastly different from that at home, she says: “It’s just so calm and beautiful, like being on a movie set—not windy and brutally cold. So even though you are going into another snowy environment, it still feels like an escape.”
Book it: Double rooms start at $699. 970-920-3300
Sip cocktails poolside at the winter hot spot Riviera Palm Springs.
Rat Pack Glamour
With its 24 acres of palm-fringed grounds, unmistakable “spoke wheel” layout, and striking midcentury architecture, it’s little surprise that this 1959 gem, Riviera Palm Springs, once hosted rat pack greats like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. Today it oozes the same Hollywood glamour—albeit with a modern twist (thanks to a $70 million makeover in 2006). Now oversize crystal chandeliers, Warhol prints, and shag pile rugs take center stage, and guests hide away in secretive cabanas or dine amid the glowing fire pits of the hotel’s theatrical restaurant, Circa 59.
“This February we’re opening our ’60s-themed tiki pool,” says the resort’s director of sales and marketing, Michael Islava, who boasts that winter temperatures routinely hit 80 degrees. “You’re also flying into one of the country’s most stress-free airports,” he adds. (With open-air layout and artwork by glass artist Dale Chihuly, Palm Springs International Airport was named one of the 10 least stressful in the USA by smartertravel.com.)
Old Town resident Diana Martinez, president of DLM Entertainment, needs no convincing: The Riviera is one of her favorite holiday spots. “It has a fun, swanky feel to it, yet the service is amazing and very personal. Just thinking about the poolside cabanas and misters is making me want to go right now,” says Martinez, who always requests a room by the quiet pool. “It’s really nice and private back there if you want to relax.”
Book it: Mediterranean Jr. suites start at $249. 866-588-8311
Fitting in some time away from Chicago’s testing winter weather is as much a part of the season as skating around Millennium Park and black-tie galas at the Union League Club. Whether they’re in search of perfect pistes, a mind-body retreat, or simply some blue sky and a jaw-dropping pool, Windy City residents flock to these destinations—all less than five hours away.