HOT SPRINGS, Va.
Karen Williams and her family make the trek to the Homestead here every summer. The grand old resort in the Allegheny Mountains boasts falconry and fly-fishing and golf on a legendary course. But for the 44-year-old from Goochland, Va., the first item on her to-do list is always to get to the fitness center.
The challenge this year? Williams didn't know where to find it.
That's because after a major renovation, the cramped old exercise facility was history. When the Williams clan arrived this month, they checked into the newly rechristened Omni Homestead Resort & Canyon Ranch SpaClub. The hotel's just-opened wellness wing — a spinoff of the iconic Tucson, Ariz., getaway — features luxurious treatment rooms for facials, scrubs and massages, and a seriously pumped-up gym.
"It just keeps going," marveled Williams, who passed by rows of cardio equipment and a fully stocked weight room before reaching three group exercise studios.
Nutritionist and cycling instructor Katie Abbott was waiting at the door of Studio 3, and she persuaded Williams to take a seat on a RealRyder bicycle that tilts from side to side, giving core muscles a tougher workout. After 45 minutes of hills, jumps and passing drills, Williams was sweating — and smitten.
"This is really what I need. I have to figure out how to do it at home now," said Williams, who hadn't attended a fitness class in seven years. Between work and raising two kids, there's usually not enough time. "But because I'm here and all the noise and business is away, I can explore other things."
Soon, her children, ages 6 and 10, can do some healthy exploring, too. Unlike Canyon Ranch's immersion spas in Tucson and Lennox, Mass., which don't allow guests under 14, the SpaClub at the Homestead is actively courting younger customers. Any day now, the family spa suite will open, offering modified spa treatments for ages 5 to 13, as well as kiddie fitness classes (a closet full of bright orange yoga mats is waiting).
The brand envisions a place that families can visit and customize their vacations, says Canyon Ranch spokeswoman Sheryl Press. Maybe one parent gets a mud wrap while the other takes the kids to miniature golf, and then they swap, she says. Maybe Mom and Dad grab lunch at the Canyon Ranch Cafe to dine on Asian-inspired, mostly organic, portion-controlled cuisine, but they let their kids chow down on homemade doughnuts in another restaurant.
The mission behind all of Canyon Ranch's SpaClubs — in Las Vegas, on a handful of luxury cruise ships and now also in Virginia — is the same: to reach a wider audience. "It's a taste," says Press, noting that the Homestead's SpaClub guests don't have access to medical services or life coaching that Canyon Ranch's more comprehensive immersion spas are known for.
But the location, a four-hour drive from Washington, D.C., can help Canyon Ranch tap into the previously neglected mid-Atlantic market.
It doesn't hurt that Hot Springs has been luring people in need of a pick-me-up since 1761. Generations of visitors, including President Thomas Jefferson, have "taken the waters" in the area's warm mineral pools.
This historical legacy looms large in the Spa Garden, an adults-only courtyard where guests are invited to relax after finishing a treatment. (Hotel guests not splurging on a $175 deep-tissue massage or other SpaClub service can access the space for $40 to $55, depending on the day.)
Private cabanas encircle a swimming pool and whirlpool, but the real draw is the geothermal Octagon Spring, which maintains a consistent temperature between 93 and 96 degrees. Guests can sink into the magnesium-, calcium- and potassium-rich waters, letting their feet rest on the mossy rock bottom. Or they can step in inches-deep water along the Reflexology Walk. The round pebbles on the short path give feet an invigorating — albeit sometimes painful — massage.
The other perk for spa customers is use of the men's and women's spa locker rooms, which each house an Aquavana thermal suite. Basically, it's a series of spaces that toy with heat, water, light and smell to provide an array of sensations. In the Chill, you're supposed to rub ice chips over your body while standing in a frigid, minty mist. Experiential Rains drench you in different types of showers, with light and sound effects to match — the balmy Caribbean Storm is probably the most pleasant. The Herbal Laconium invites you to sit in a warm ceramic nook. And the Aromatic Steam Room feels like August in Washington, only with an ever-changing light panel to stare at.
"I never want to leave," one woman announced as she stepped out of the steam room. She normally does hot yoga to help relieve the pain from a nagging shoulder injury, she said, but the Aquavana was doing the trick the morning I was there.
There's a smaller, but still well-appointed, set of locker rooms for resort guests who are using the fitness facilities and indoor pool. All of that's complimentary, although Stephen Loderick doesn't think most people have figured that out quite yet. That's the only way the Richmond resident could explain why he was taking a nearly private yoga lesson at 8 a.m. on a recent Sunday.
"I'm interested in a holistic health practice, so I've been asking for a fitness focus that's not just a weight room," said the 50-year-old, who's thrilled with the new offerings, especially the classes.
Exercise physiologist Holly Hicks, who's available to perform fitness assessments and develop workout plans, says the schedule is still a work in progress. For now, there's a handful of classes (yoga, cycling, dance and water aerobics) every day.
That's nothing compared with the 40 classes a day at Canyon Ranch's Tucson and Lennox locations. Still, it's enough to give people an option for a healthy holiday, instructor Abbott says.