Some travelers visit resorts and spas for the indulgence; others crave the pleasurable pummeling of massage therapy; still others swoon over the gourmet cuisine.
But increasingly, guests are asking for destinations that offer a little something extra beyond the traditional amenities. It may be educational, such as a language class, or interactive, say, an adult version of arts and crafts, complete with handmade souvenirs.
Whatever your idea of a “hands on” vacation experience, there’s probably a resort with activities to suit your interests.
We scoured the country and discovered five sites whose offerings stand out for their unique activity, or simply because they’re plain `ole fun.
Activity: Learn How to Sail
Where: The Inn at Perry Cabin; St. Michaels, Maryland
Built in 1816, the historic Inn at Perry Cabin is located in a quiet little town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a place that can be described as “Ralph Lauren meets Mayberry.”
Here, the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways are so close you can practically smell the salt and feel the spray. So where better to learn how to sail? That was the idea behind these classes, launched last year.
“We’re seeing friends, girlfriends having getaways and couples who want to take this course,” says the Inn’s general manager John P. Volponi of the classes, one of many offerings at the Inn, which boasts Colonial architecture and manicured grounds set against a backdrop of the Miles River, a tributary of the Bay.
The five-day “Learn to Sail” package features certified instructors and a basic sailing course that gives guests the skills and confidence to take the helm. Guests stay ashore each night and learn to sail each day aboard a Colgate 26 sailboat, a vessel also used by the U.S. Naval Academy.
The “Bareboat Cruising Preparation” takes guests a step beyond, offering skills and techniques for chartering or handling cruising boats up to 46 feet. Guests spend five nights ashore and five days sailing aboard a Hunter 45-foot yacht. One can earn Basic Cruising and Bareboat Cruising Certification.
Those who really want to immerse themselves, can take both of the above courses together for what’s known as the “Fast Track to Cruising.” The sailing school course takes guests from beginner to ready to cruise in nine days and offers a chance to earn Basic Keelboat, Basic Cruising and Bareboat Cruising Certification.
“Most people are surprised they can learn basic sailing techniques in such a short time,” says Doris Colgate, who with her husband Steve (a lifelong sailor who took part in the 1968 Olympics) runs Offshore Sailing School, which contracts with the Inn. “It’s not as hard as you may think, and it’s great fun. Many people take the course and decide they want to sail regularly.”
After a day on the water, guests can chill out in rooms that boast Frette linens and large soaking tubs. There’s also the new 6,000 square foot Linden Spa, named after the large Linden trees that line the long (and dramatic) brick driveway of the hotel.
Linden Spa focuses on the botanical art of wellness, relying on the healing powers of local plants and herbs—including plants grown in the inn’s own garden. The Inn’s spa facilities also include indoor/outdoor relaxation rooms, an infinity pool, yoga studio and spa cuisine at the poolside café. The Inn’s signature restaurant, Sherwood’s Landing, features with regional American fare and a wine cellar with some 12,000 bottles and 400 varietals.
Activity: Talk with a Hawk
Where: Red Mountain Spa; St. George, Utah
Ever wonder what it’s like to see one of Mother Nature’s most magnificent creatures up close?
At the Red Mountain Spa in Southwest Utah’s Mojave Desert—a haven for those seeking a vacation with fitness, health and adventure at the core—guests will meet Sable, a rescued hawk.
It’s all part of the resort’s “Talk with a Hawk” program, which promotes a hands-on experience with Sable, whose fast flight, keen eyesight and massive wingspan help guests understand her critical role in maintaining nature’s balance.
“I was scared of birds, but when the instructor put a glove on me, and put Sable on my arm, it was amazing,” says Tracey Welsh, General Manager of Red Mountain, nestled at the foot of red sandstone cliffs adjacent to the 10,000 foot peak of Pine Valley Mountain.
The instructor brings the hawk (who does not live on site) out at night for the course, says Welsh. “It’s quite a life-changing experience for people who come here who aren’t accustomed to anything but the city. You see this powerful animal, you see so many stars overhead,” she says, adding that the resort also has an astronomy program.
To keep the nature vibe going, Red Mountain also offers a large variety of outdoor programs, such as daily guided hikes, rock climbing, kayaking, cycling, horseback riding, and geology walks. More than 50 fitness classes are offered each week, including a variety of cardiovascular workouts, including the hip cardio salsa.
For the mind body connection, there are spirit hikes, self-awareness workshops, daily cooking classes and creative expression classes. Finally, the resort also features spa and salon, Sagestone at Red Mountain, which offers treatments range from anti-aging to mud detoxifying. Indulge and follow it up with the resort’s Southwest inspired fare–everything from Green Cuisine (vegetarian) to the aptly named Call of the Wild, which features a plateful of game for adventurous palates.
The price of the Talk with a Hawk class is $25 per person and a maximum of 20 guests are allowed. The course lasts about an hour. Red Mountain offers a complete spa vacation with rates ranging from about $259 to $709 per person, per night for inclusive room, meals and programs.
435-673-4905; 877-246-4453, www.RedMountainSpa.com
Activity: Gourd Pottery making
Where: Enchantment Resort/Mii Amo Spa; Sedona, Arizona
Surrounded by the towering red rock walls of Northern Arizona’s Boynton Canyon, the 70-acre Mii Amo Spa is bordered by the Coconino National Forest—all at an altitude of 4,600 feet.
It’s amidst this space that instructor and local artist Robert Brunner teaches guests how to create beautiful works of art out of Arizona grown gourds.
He brings a variety of medium sized gourds to the class, along with hand tools and drills for woodworking since dried gourds have a texture similar to wood.
“Some complete their gourds here, others take them home to finish,” says Brunner, an artist whose work can also be found at nearby galleries. “People love that they can create art from a simple Arizona grown gourd.”
The creative craft class encourages guests to use a variety of techniques and materials, from colored ink and small fish and snake bones, to feathers and porcupine quills, the latter a nod to the area’s Native American culture.
Besides individual instruction on gourd crafting, Brunner also talks about gourd horticulture-growing requirements, pollination, hybrids, and even gourd history.
When finished their creative endeavors, guests can try hiking, tennis, swimming, golf, croquet and more. They can also visit Mii amo, a destination spa at Enchantment which offers some 24,000 square feet of space for a wide range of treatments, from aromatherapy massages to Aura-Soma readings.
Dining choices include the Yavapai Restaurant – a AAA four diamond rated establishment, with a Wine Spectator Award-winning wine list.
Last but not least, guests can simply enjoy the resort’s Southwest landscape, which conjures aspects of Native American culture, with private, one-story adobe accommodations and panoramic views of rock formations and pine forests. A rooftop deck provides an ideal vantage point to view the countless stars in Arizona’s clear night sky.
The pottery making class is one of many activities included in the resort fees. Room rates range from $350 to $1,525.
800-826-4180, 928-282-2900, www.enchantmentresort.com
Activity: Food and Wine Camp
Where: Lansdowne Resort; Lansdowne, Virginia
Bordering the Potomac River, Lansdowne Resort is situated in Virginia’s famed “hunt country” and just 25 miles from the nation’s capital.
That proximity to Washington, D.C., makes Lansdowne a popular sanctuary for city dwellers seeking a respite from the corridors of power, as well as people from all over the country. And how do they want to blow off steam? They wanna eat, drink and cook.
“Our food and wine classes are immensely popular,” says Mary Watson DeLauder, the resort’s longtime master sommelier and founder of its Food and Wine Camp, in its 10th year. “Many guests return year after year.”
Working with Executive Chef Jason Lage, Watson DeLauder provide a series of fun, informal classes over one weekend that incorporate regional and American cuisine and utilizing fresh, local ingredients.
They pride themselves on offering guests the best of everything the Virginia countryside has to offer, skillfully prepared and presented in a casual, yet elegant setting. Watson DeLauder has an herb garden on site, filled with everything from marjoram to lemon verbena. Classes can take place here or in the resort’s professional kitchen.
“We may start with a Friday night cook-out, we grill everything from whole fish to peaches. I explain the various wines–what goes with what. We drink lots of champagne and have a wonderful time.”
Guests are encouraged to determine their own menu, and really participate in cooking techniques, such as learning to sauté. “The best part is we eat all the results,” says Watson DeLauder, who says class sizes are typically small–about two dozen people tops.
Loudoun County is also home to 12 wineries (all within 30 minutes of the resort) and attractions such as The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and antique shops.
The Food and Wine Camp is held several times yearly; the next class in September. Rates are about $1, 200 per couple, which includes accommodations in the 259-room property.
703-729-8400, 877-509-8400, www.lansdowneresort.com
Activity: Make Your Own Scent
Where: La Playa Beach & Golf Resort, Naples, Florida
Sweeping white beaches with private butlers, waterfalls and stunning sunsets. If that’s not enough sensory overload, then here’s one more thing that draws guests to LaPlaya: creating your own fragrance.
The “Make Your Own Scent” features the Zents line of fragrance and body care. Guests can mix and match Zents signature scents with their own individual touches, blending unique fragrances with lavish spa rituals.
Guests can experiment with an array of Zents scents such as “sun” and “water,” to invent the perfect combination, producing liquid memories.
SpaTerre‘s specialists focus on incorporating Zents fragrance into treatments that range from a Caribbean Seaweed Body Mask, to the Javanese Lulur Royal Treatment, a luxurious Balinese massage with essential oil, herbal exfoliation, cool yogurt splash and aromatic shower.
If you can’t get enough of the sweet smelling experience to end, you can always stay longer for an aromatherapy ritual, which begins with a warm soak, followed by a salt scrub and a massage.
The price of making your own aromatherapy blends is $15 when you add it to any treatment. Rates at LaPlaya and the SpaTerre vary by season; packages are also available.
By Donna M. Owens for PeterGreenberg.com.
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