I did something at least 50% out of character for me this weekend. I went on a weekend getaway to the Canyon Ranch in Lenox, MA. I’m going to call it “a retreat,” because it sounds fun, even though it wasn’t anything that official. I had this vision of cabana boys feeding me grapes and fanning me off, and of doing trust falls and wellness exercises between luxurious facials and detoxifying rituals with chanting and Tibetan bowl. I may have also pictured hippies with greying hair and caftans somewhere in there. I wasn’t too far off, I must say: there were detoxifying rituals AND Tibetan bowls available. But there were also a few things that weren’t necessarily expected. I’ve put together a small list of what you might expect for others who might be setting off on a similar adventure.
1. Breathtakingly beautiful grounds
So, you drive up, and a guard takes your name and has to lift the gate for you, and you proceed up this very scenic drive past rolling green pastures, lily ponds, ornate benches, and random modern looking statues… And all I kept thinking was like, omg, this is exactly like one of those “institutions” on Mrs. Fisher, Midsomer Murders, and Poirot, where the hysterical women go to treat what ails them by using the giant vibrator machines (and get electrocuted – true story, it was an episode of Mrs Fisher)! I didn’t see any catatonic wheelchair bound nonagenarians wheeled around by dubious nursing staff, or any closet nymphomaniacs doing calisthenics on the lawn, but to be fair, it was too cold. Otherwise, I’m sure they would have been out. And I kept expecting someone to get murdered this weekend. Also, I kept hearing this in my head over and over:
We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files
We’d like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home
2. Complete unplugged disconnect
When we sat down with the reception lady, she very seriously told us that she needed to go over the cell phone policy with us. Already in the mindset that I was about to check myself into one of “those institutions,” I had a brief trepidation and flashback to my days at The Shattuck, where you had to give your phone up before entering in case of a “hostage situation.” Fortunately, the policy isn’t as restricting as all that: you just can’t make any phone calls except for in the privacy of your own room, the reception area, and the special phone booth located in the second pavilion from the left past the third circular fountain, with the door hermetically sealed (or something. I never found the place I could go to make a phone call). Relax: texting is ok, but it must be silent. They had no policy on sexting.
3. All natural and organic everything
We had rooms in the East Wing, and as we walked down the hall towards our quarters, there was a definite odor wafting up from the lower level, where the demonstration kitchen is located. I feel like they probably made fish that day. It made the hallway smell overwhelmingly like the hallway of my grandmother’s old folks home. It was no goodsky. And we never make trouble (usually), but this was bad enough that we went back to the front to ask to change rooms, and the lady told us, “You’d actually probably really enjoy the demonstration luncheon if you took part it in.” We said, “It really smells right now though!” and she said, “I know, we are trying our best to take care of that with our all natural organic deodorizers and incense.” Lady, I don’t give a shit if it’s all natural… get the nuclear strength stuff… In the end, it dissipated, but it left a bad taste. (ha ha. Pun intended.) And I never went to a demonstration luncheon because I was afraid.
4. All-inclusive stay
It’s true! All the meals are definitely included! But here you have me, who is used to the Caribbean (RIP), where the term “All-inclusive” means you can pretty much get anything anywhere and at any time. Here, it means breakfast is from this hour to this hour, and dinner is until 8, and if you show up at the cafe at 8:02, the doors will be locked. The dining room has seatings, and you need a reservation to eat there. The good news is, you can get snacks any time. You just walk up to the counter and say, “Do you have any cheese?” and they say, “We have Babybels.” and you say, “Can I have some?” and they say, “How many?” and you’re caught off guard, so you blurt out “FOUR!” And they go into their cheese safe and count off 4 Babybels into your hand. I jest, of course. Partially. There isn’t actually a cheese safe… that I saw. And snacks are a-plenty. But meals are strict.
5. World class cuisine and a carefully curated healthy menu
The food actually is quite tasty. All the items on the menu have this longass code of numbers underneath, and took me forever to figure out that this is the calories, fat, gluten, protein, and carbohydrate exchange they were listing (there is a legend at the bottom of the menu if you need help). Once I figured THAT out, I set to trying to figure out how the heck a meal of duck breast, sweet potato puree, roasted asparagus spears, and raspberry gastrique could be only 390 calories… but that mystery was solved very quickly when they brought the meal and it was about 2 oz big. It was very delicious though. The good news is, you can “Macgyver” the menu all you like, and order 2, 3, 4 entrees, and/or combine sides and ingredients. So, don’t stress, you won’t go hungry.
The waiter will find out how many of you at the table are gluten free, and how many are REALLY gluten free, so that’s all set.
However, take my advice: do NOT ask for salt. They have grinders on the tables; one definitely has peppercorns in it, so that makes sense. The other one, though, where you would expect salt, actually contains what looks and smells like potpourri. I dared not ask what was it in, but I did recognized corn kernels, seaweed flakes, some sort of flowers, possibly ground up pine cone… We did ask the waiter if there was salt available:
us: Excuse us, do you have salt?
waiter: (pause) It is really not recommended.
us: (pleading look)
waiter: (big sigh) (brings salt)
5 minutes later
waiter: are you still using this? Another table needs it.
us: is there just one salt grinder for the whole cafe?
waiter: (long gone with our salt)
So, don’t ask for salt, lest you be judged, and judged harshly.
They will rid you even of the toxins you like: there is no alcohol. I thought this meant that alcohol wasn’t included, but no. There is actually no alcohol, like in attendance at the resort. They have this long explanation on the website (that I didn’t read before I came, but should have) that they don’t judge you for consuming alcohol and you are free to bring your own and consume it (in the privacy of your own room, presumably as you make your phone call and suck down some salt straight from the shaker), but they are certainly not going to enable you. We consumed our own alcohol in the privacy of own very special Canyon Ranch “water” bottles that were part of our swag when we checked in.
7. Spiritual wellness
We were waiting for our car, and there was a lady there at whom we just couldn’t stop staring because she had the most phenomenal Michael Jackson quality facelift, which would have been fine, except that she was also having a very involved discussion with another woman about her spirit animal and getting in touch with her patronus or something along those lines. And it wasn’t even surprising; in fact, it was totally the type of thing you’d expect. After you find your spirit animal, you can also take a class on re-uniting your female and male selves. For small fee, you can also take Basketweaving, and Advanced Basketweaving: basketweaving under water. I missed out on that in college when I was pre-med, and was really looking forward to finally learning how to weave a basket, but the timing didn’t coincide.
9. Focus on fitness
There is a very large spa/fitness complex, and every hour or two, you have different classes and fitness activities you can participate it, including but not limited to: Abs on the ball; balls on the wall (could have be Wallyball, I’m not sure); crawl through the hall (that one isn’t real but it rhymes); upside down yoga in a sling; right side up yoga in a sling; extended yoga in a sling; regular yoga without the sling (their least popular class); pilates at a bar (or was it Barre pilates?); fitness for playing footsie; Tibetan bowl chanting (toldja); Soulcycle, funkcycle, and rapcycle; waterobics; kick your instructor’s box; and tennis. Probably. Actually, I didn’t see tennis. There may have been tennis upside down in a sling, but I don’t recall. I’ll have to make that suggestion.
10. Luxurious spa
Indeed! The options for pampering are many and all are expensive enough where you know they’ll be good. I had a massage and the HydraFacial. It was fantastic. Mine was a regular hands on massage, but my friend paid to have a guy hang from the ceiling and walk on her back. I didn’t think you needed to pay men to walk all over you, but… (that joke HAD to be made, I’m sorry.) They have a full service salon, and so many choices of services, it would make your head spin, but are not part of the all inclusive stay. You do, however, get a credit towards a service, which is great, and lures you to continue getting more. You can sit in a jacuzzi overlooking a view of the grounds as you wait for them to call you. I can’t say anything sarcastic about that, because I really enjoyed that part, and after the HydraFacial, my skin is like a baby’s bottom.
11. Medical evaluation
In addition to luxurious self care, you can also get legit medical services here. And I’m not talking about Accupuncture, although this is also available. I was startled to find that you can get a “Cardiac metabolism” profile done (I have no idea what that is), a bone density scan, and even more surprised to find that for a mere $2,900, you can actually get an all night polysomnography test, also known as a sleep study, a legitimate indicated medical test covered by insurance. Note: this sleep study will not interpret your dreams or give any indication of how your bones are aligned or what type of mattress you need. This is a sleep study that diagnosed obstructive sleep apnea, a serious disorder that needs medical attention. A bone density scan, by the way, is also covered by insurance.
12. Attentive and caring service
Sure, I mean, when we asked the lady about switching rooms, she talked to us for a long time about the enjoyable whitefish salad they made at the demonstration kitchen. Also, when we called at 6 to ask for our car to be ready at 7, we were attentively informed that we are calling too early, and that the best thing to do would be to call back 15 minutes before we actually want the car. And since we were going to be in the jacuzzi at that time, we asked the Spa staff to call for our car, but she looked at us like a deer an headlights and said that she didn’t “DO that.” They did offer turn down service, and when we asked if there will be a mint left on our pillow, the lady said, “No… Everyone keeps asking that multiple times per days for years now…So weird…” Do ya think people might want a mint on their pillow??
13. Continuing medical education opportunities
Every day there is at least one. I took “Food and Inflammation,” thinking that for sure I could learn some buzzwords to say to my patients who are interested, and actually, there was some truth to what the nutritionist that was leading the discussion was saying vis a vis omega-3 oils, and gluten, but I felt very much like a wolf in sheep’s clothing sitting there waiting to catch him on a mistake. I only spoke up once to help him classify Celiac as a gluten allergy. But when the question and answer section started, I sort of lost track, because people seemed to really want to know what type of yogurt was best for their eye health, and the carcinogenic potential of cooking with Canola oil, and I… well, I just don’t care.
14. Emphasis on self care
We went to the boutique in the spa complex just to check out what they have, and I was bemusedly surprised to find a section with a display of several vibrators. I did wonder about vibrators at the beginning of this article, but I wasn’t expecting to actually find some, although I am not sure why I’m so surprised; for a long time they were the most widely accepted anti-depressant, and it makes sense, as far as I’m concerned. They weren’t even masquerading as self-massagers. No, they were straight up vibrators of several shapes, sizes, and destinations, displayed along a book entitled “The Guide to Loving Yourself.” I was with a friend, or I may have been very tempted to love myself even more than I already do this weekend.
Don’t misinterpret. I had a phenomenal time doing female bonding, yoga, massages, jacuzzi, ordering whatever I want from a fancy menu, while also sipping on wine from a water bottle like a college student. It was great. I got to go on a big discount though. Without the discount, you have to be REALLY dedicated to your spirit animal to splurge. If you can, it’s definitely an experience to try at least once.