Top Destination Spa: Miraval in Tucson, AZ

A guest works on her balance

Deep at the base of Northern Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains sits the iconic Miraval, a veritable oasis in the desert and mecca to spa-goers and wellness advocates since its opening in 1995.

With its dizzying array of health and fitness activities, spa rituals, dietary offerings, impressive on-staff experts and even an Integrative Wellness Program created by health guru Dr. Andrew Weil, Miraval remains a standout among the many destination spas around the country. But it’s the wealth of opportunities for personal growth and creating lasting health improvements that catapult this spa to Top Honors status.

The name “Miraval,” in a loose translation from the Spanish, means “view of the valley.” But according to president and general manager Michael Tompkinson, Miraval also means the valley within. “Because of the speed of today’s world, and the multitasking that we all engage in, we rarely have the opportunity to stop and just be,” he says. “Miraval provides an opportunity to have that space, a chance for our guests to look at themselves and their lives in a different way, and to get a clearer indication of the direction they need to go.”

The rugged mountains, breathtaking vistas and hardy desert flowers only serve to underscore the spa’s ethos of resilience, optimism and a sense of possibility. And Miraval’s core philosophy of self-discovery is reflected through its experience-based programming. “Programs such as The Energy Project, Mindful Stress Management and our outdoor challenge activities make each visit to Miraval an adventure of self-discovery,” says Tompkinson.

Choice, rather than restrictive regimen, is the guiding principle here. As such, guests can sample a variety of fitness activities—yoga, kickboxing, cardio drumming, horseback riding, rope climbing and zip lining to name just a few—while also indulging in a seemingly endless menu of pampering rituals, including detoxifying mud wraps, mineral salt pedicures, al fresco hot stone massages and a variety of energy treatments, all of which aim to bring guests back into the healing fold.

“We begin by focusing on breath, through the use of inhalations and aromatherapy, so that each guest can get to a place where she can get the most out of her experience,” says spa director Simon Marxer. “It’s not about doing a treatment to somebody, it’s about establishing a healing treatment space. We also try to blend a bit of the place into some of our services, such as our Prickly Pear Sugar Scrub, made with indigenous ingredients.”

Indigenous and regional ingredients, many of them harvested from on-site gardens, are also plentiful in the spa cuisine. “Food should be enjoyed as a beautiful, delicious meal first, and afterwards it should dawn on you, ‘Wow, that was good for me too!’ rather than the other way around,” says chef Chad Luethje. “We are well-versed in all kinds of dietary preferences and can provide any experience our guest wants, whether it’s gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, anti-inflammatory, Paleo diet—you name it.”

Popular wellness programs at Miraval include meditation, mindfulness, grief counseling, stress management and weight loss. The 90-minute Miraval Equine Experience, for one, starts with a visit to the on-site Purple Sage Ranch. Each guest is charged with her own horse to care for and to perform tasks with, such as persuading the animal to raise its hoof. The exercise, which requires guests to summon a sense of emotional presence and assertiveness, ends with a group discussion of how the tasks relate to challenges in their everyday lives. For those who wish to nurture their creative interests, workshops on photography, nature, cooking and other topics await.

The Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative Wellness Program, overseen by America’s foremost pioneer in complementary medicine, can address a myriad of health issues such as pain management, chronic fatigue, depression, and cancer prevention and recovery.

Guests first fill out a comprehensive questionnaire and complete a lengthy intake interview. Dr. Jim Nicolai, medical director of the Wellness Program, reviews patients’ medical histories, including any test results, but his focus is on lifestyle. Various treatment modalities such as acupuncture, the use of botanicals and supplements, stress reduction techniques, bodywork, yoga and other fitness activities may be recommended, to be performed during the duration of the guest’s visit.

“What we’re doing is truly the future of medicine,” says Dr. Nicolai. “Unfortunately, things like lifestyle, sleep, nutrition, exercise and our relationships with others are not being addressed in today’s conventional medical model. We offer a forum and a place to make change a reality by figuring out what’s realistic and manageable, especially when our guests get back into the real world.” —Katherine Stewart