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Canyon Ranch review
American super-retreats

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The Quick Read: Canyon Ranch is one of the retreat world’s grand dames – the original centre in the Sonoran desert near Tucson Arizona set the bar high for luxury retreating with spirit and soul. Now it’s expanded with another large centre in the softer surroundings of the Berkshires in Massachusetts. There’s also a beachfront boutique hotel and spa in Miami, Florida and smaller ‘spa club’ outposts in Las Vegas, Nevada and Hot Springs, Virginia. There are even floating spa clubs on cruise ships such as the Queen Mary 2. Canyon Ranch can cater for pretty much whatever type of retreat you would like – healthy, sporty, detoxing, meditative – you name it, they provide it. A vast staff of doctors, natural therapists, yogis and trainers of almost every description cater for all tastes and needs. You can stay in the resorts and never get bored, or you can get out and about into the surrounding countryside with guides – Canyon Ranch is big on communing with nature via skiing, hiking, biking and kayaking. The only problem is deciding which to go to and what to choose.

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The pool at Canyon Ranch Tuscon

The pool at Canyon Ranch Tuscon

More on the locations: Each destination is very different. The original Canyon Ranch in the Arizona desert has a warm cosy feeling (despite its size). Originally a cattle ranch (hence the name) its buildings are low slung and mellow – the surrounding desert makes for inspiring walks.

The Massachusetts centre at Lenox is another world entirely. Bellefontaine House was built in 1897 – a large, European-influenced, stone and brick mansion set on a small hill with far reaching woodland views. Extra buildings have been added on in New England clapboard style and overall it feels far more formal, almost institutional.

The beach view at Canyon Ranch Miami

The beach view at Canyon Ranch Miami

The Carillon hotel at Miami sits on 750 feet of white sand beach: work out in the gym overlooking the waves or take a class right on the beach. There is slightly less choice in treatments and classes than at the larger centres but, in comparison to most spas, it’s still limitless. Think boutique hotel with an uber spa and fitness programme – read a word from the queen on her stay.

The spaclubs are Canyon Ranch spas within independent hotels. Homestead, in Virginia’s Hot Springs (spaclub newly opened in June 2013), is a sprawling grand old hotel based around traditional natural hot springs. Family-friendly to the extreme, it naturally enough majors in water therapies but also has the usual vast menu of Canyon Ranch classes and therapies.

The Canyon Ranch spaclub at The Venetian and The Palazzo in Las Vegas is one of the largest day spas in the world, a chance to chill out and wind down away from the frenzy and razzmatazz of Vegas. Slightly less choice in treatments and classes than the dedicated centres, it’s still pretty impressive. Over 18s only.

There are even Canyon Ranch spaclubs on board cruise ships. The one on the Queen Mary 2 is apparently  the largest spa afloat, with 24 treatment rooms, a weight training and cardio centre, aquathermal pools (steam rooms, whirlpools, waterfalls and thalossotherapy). There’s also a good range of fitness and yoga classes.

There are many classes and treatments available at the Canyon Ranch spas

There are many classes and treatments available at the Canyon Ranch spas

More on the treatments and classes: Canyon Ranch offers a bewildering amount of classes, activities, treatments and medical services –a word from the king on his stay – particularly at the larger centres (although, to be fair, even the smaller spaclubs have a greater choice than most spas and retreat centres). Teaching standards are high, and each class (there are more than 40 classes and outdoor activities a day at the large centres) includes two teachers – one to demonstrate and one to help fetch props, make adjustments and advise.

The range of treatments, like the activities, is seemingly endless. All are conducted professionally and to a high standard. At Lenox, our tester recommends Brian, who does neuromuscular therapy combined with a vigorous massage and Dr Kevin Murray, a highly skilled acupuncturist and naturopath. Facialist Anna also garnered great reviews – her 100 minute age-defying ritual really seemed to turn back the years.

It’s not all body orientated. Larger centres even offer a ‘metaphysical’ menu with tarot reading, clairvoyance, numerology, feng shui and handwriting analysis (all $195/£127.79) and a spirituality team who can conduct ‘spiritual dialogue’, a rite of passenger soul journey (all $220/£144.28).

The Tuscany desert offers some great hiking

The Tuscany desert offers some great hiking

More on the outsides: Wherever you are (apart from Las Vegas and, obviously, the cruise ships), the grounds are extensive and offer plenty of places to hide away and chill (if you even have a chance with the sheer abundance of activities on offer). Each place has its individual style but the relation of grounds to buildings are always carefully considered (remember, they offer feng shui classes).

Arizona and Florida are definitely more laid back in feel; Virginia and Massachusetts much more restrained and formal. Canyon Ranch is always keen to get you outside so expect jogging and hiking trails (alongside a plethora of sports). There’s even a labyrinth for walking meditation at Lenox. In Florida the beach is used as a location for yoga and fitness classes, and even sand-castle building competitions.

One of the bedrooms with a view at Canyon Ranch Miami

One of the bedrooms with a view at Canyon Ranch Miami

More on the insides: Again, each centre is very different. In Lenox, the décor is traditional New England, so tends towards darker, heavier furniture and dark walls. There are several lounges with roaring fires and cosy corners to curl up in. Arizona is much less formal, far more rustic in style and, because of all-year sun, the focus is more on outdoor living. Florida is stylish and  contemporary, befitting its modern Miami architecture. Virginia is old school grand hotel style with comfortable lounges and lobby.

More on the bedrooms: Canyon Ranch doesn’t really go for budget options so all rooms are huge and incredibly well decked out. Again, style varies enormously according to the centre you pick but all are light, airy and immaculate with all mod cons from DVD and iPod players, from wifi to coffee machines. If you want to splash out there are executive options, suites and, in some centres, even whole houses.

More on the food & drink: Each of the larger centres and hotels has a choice of dining area. At Lenox you can choose between the huge, slightly sombre dining room and a smaller, lighter café offering healthy snacks at any time of day. All Canyon Ranch food is home-made, mainly organic and despite being very healthy, is inventive and generally delicious. The menus let you know the calorie and fat content of everything and portions are small, in case you are here to lose weight. However there is no limit to what you can eat – order two main courses if you are hungry – no one will bat an eyelid. In fact, everyone is almost frighteningly nice and polite and genuinely make you feel as though your happiness is their only goal in life. Coffee, tea and fruit stations are liberally dotted all around the place so you are never more than a few yards away from sustenance.

Fellow guests: Clientele varies according to the centre. At Lenox, weekends see an influx of sporty-looking Bostonians and New Yorkers who chatter together constantly and head straight for the high energy classes, but the weeks are quieter and seem to tend more towards serious dieters or those interested in detoxing, retreating, and learning about healthy living. Virginia and Florida are family-friendly so there is far more of a mix. Arizona tends to attract the most spiritual/holistically minded of guests on the whole. Almost everyone is American. Ages range from early thirties to seventies, and there tend to be more women than men.

crown What’s queenly: In terms of the sheer range and choice of activities and advice on offer, the Canyon Ranch centres are outstanding. Couple this with the professionalism and high standards of the staff and you have the makings of the perfect healthy holiday. On top of that, settings and food are wonderful.

What’s lowly: The large centres are very large and you might find yourself bewildered by choice. The rather stuffy décor at Lenox conjures up images of nursing homes (but truly, if this is an institution, bring it on). You can’t ignore the price – but it is all-inclusive and such great service does not come cheap.

Getting there: The Arizona centre is 40 minutes drive from Tucson Airport. Lenox, The Massachusetts centre is an hour from Albany, New York (2 ½ hours train from NYC). The Florida centre is just 14 miles from Miami airport or 30 miles from Fort Lauderdale airport.

Costs: Canyon Ranch offer packages of various prices depending on length of stay and focus. Packages are all-inclusive (aside from extra treatments and private lessons). A winter stay of 3 nights at Lenox Massachusetts costs $2,150 (£1,409), which includes $405 (£265) worth of treatments, rising to $3,270 (£2,144) in the summer.

Reviewed by Sasha Bates and Bill Cashmore

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The ranch at Tuscan

The ranch at Tuscan