Mexico's Growing Spa Scene: Spas in Morelos
For the last three years I have been visiting spas in Mexico and each time I return I am reminded that there is nothing like the hands-on treatment of a professional masseur (or masoterapeuta, as some spas like to call them) to make one feel defined, relaxed and pampered - a favorite spa promotion word.
Especially when it is combined with something exotic: A body wrap in seaweed or mud, an exfoliation with a mysterious sweet-smelling natural concoction that may contain coffee grounds for example, followed by a warm hose-down; Janzu (a sort of aquatic dance/meditation) or a temazcal (Aztec steam bath) or other treatments more indigenous to this country.
The concept of "health by water" (the original definition of spa) is not new in Mexico. The Aztecs bathed and worshiped spirits at the country's numerous natural springs, and other native peoples also believed the waters had curative powers. The name of the Temascaltepec Valley in the Sierra Madre came from the Nahuatl tribe, which combined the words temazcali (house of baths) and tepec (hill).
Throughout Mexico travelers can find balnearios (mineral water baths), popular weekend haunts for families who want to splash around and get away from the urban dust, traffic and stress. One example for those of us in Mexico City is Las Estacas in Morelos state. A two-hour drive south east of the capital, Las Estacas is a traditional balneario that is still a verdant paradise, with playing pools and idyllic river, changing rooms, restaurant and cabins.
However, balnearios are immersed in popular culture and not always a good choice for outside visitors who have little or no Spanish. At the other end of the spectrum are destination spas that offer luxury pampering and packages for visitors from abroad, often with airport transfers available, and cultural activities tacked on to the list of spa services.
Morelos, with its delicious climate of perpetual spring, is increasingly a haven for such spas. Two of the best known, that cater to outside guests and have English-speaking staff, are the Misión del Sol Resort & Spa and Hostería Las Quintas Eco Spa.
An immediate hit with Mexico's young and beautiful jet-setting crowd when it opened over six years ago, Misión del Sol, "Un Espacio de Luz," has had no problems maintaining its legendary status, keeping its own helicopter pad for national guests the likes of Salma Hayek and Santiago Creel, and international figures from Ashley Judd to Deepak Chopra (who's going to be giving courses again here this month).
This is unique among Mexico's spas, with its beautiful Oratorio (meditation center with Zen garden), feng shui-adapted adobe architecture, ubiquitous new age piano music and mammoth temazcal. No TVs blight your attractive deluxe rooms (there are 40, all with a double shower for back massage), named after signs of the zodiac, planets or precious stones.
Described by its owners, who are of German origin and come from a long tradition of naturist and homeopathic medicine, as a "holistic spa," Misión del Sol's activities are conducted with an admirable ecological consciousness and rigor. The immaculate gardens bursting with herbs and fruits are a fine advertisement for the self-proclaimed "profound philosophy," even if hackles of skepticism may rise at the comment that "plants die if you play rock and roll" to them!
Even a critical visitor cannot but be impressed at this working example of efficiency and quality. A memorable anecdote exemplifying the possibility of a hybrid response is one guest's comment: "Here they made me think" and another's: "I learned to stop thinking."
Prices are on the high end of the scale but therapists are gentle and treatments are never rushed. Finally, the restaurant "El Sol" is outstanding, offering a nouvelle cuisine that includes salads of flowers and sunflower seeds, shrimp with vanilla. Even the tofu kebab is delicious, and all is presented with exquisite flair.
Of equal importance as a world-class destination spa, but with a larger percentage of Americans and foreigners as guests, as well as many from Monterrey and the north, is the delightful Hostería Las Quintas right in the center of Cuernavaca.
Less precious and more wholesome and upbeat in its style and image, this was the first spa to include eco tours to nearby places of environmental interest and beauty, such as the mountaintop Tepozteco pyramid in Tepoztlán.
Las Quintas has recently been expanded with a pretty and intimate new spa restaurant overlooking a fragrant herb garden and new temazcal, as well as spacious deluxe accommodations by a pristine blue, heated pool.
This is where water aerobics (effective, if a little comical to watch) and Yantzu (also spelled Janzu) therapy goes on, in the capable hands of Enrique Castells. Yoga teacher Castells also leads the temazcal rituals, which take place on Wednesday and Saturday at 6 p.m. with a minimum of four persons (each person costs 420 pesos). Private sessions can be arranged, and sessions last from one-and-a-half to two hours.
Hostería Las Quintas has seen international trends feed into the Mexican spa industry in recent years. Director Orlando Hidalgo explains: "The spa industry took hold in the U.S. in the 80s. Then, 98 percent were women and the average household income of spa goers was over 100,000 dollars per year. In 2001, 70 percent were women. There has been a big men's health and lifestyle change. And the average household income of spa goers dropped to 46,000 dollars. Spas are more routine now."
This is filtering through south of the border. Formerly Las Quintas clients were elderly or retired, but now "young Mexican executives with harried lifestyles are looking for healthy vacation options," and the average age is from 45 to 65 years. It used to be that the men took the eco tour options while the women went for the pampering, but that is changing too, Hidalgo says.
"A lot of men get facials. You just don't tell them it's a beauty facial, but say it's a sports facial, or deep cleansing from stress, smoke, shaving. And you know what? Give men a pedicure and they are hooked for life!"
Hidalgo says that with his spa, as with any destination spa, the longer guests stay, the more they reap from the experience. Five different weekly packages are currently available at Las Quintas, ranging from 1,400 to 2,100 dollars (double occupancy). However, there are some very attractive 4-night options, especially the "Supreme Pampering" (US$ 1,100) and a good value weekend option in the two-night "Stress Relief Program" (just under US$ 600). Group packages make for very attractive corporate options.
www.misiondelsol.com Tels: 01 777 321 0999, fax: 01 777 321 1195, toll free 01 800 9999 100. In Mexico City: 5616 3727 Av. Gral. Diego Diego González 31, Col. Parres, Cuernavaca, Morelos, CP 62550.
www.hlasquintas.com and www.spalasquintas.com Tels: 01 777 318 3949, or 318 3877, Fax: 318 3895 Reservaciones: 01 (800) 990 1888 Blvd. Díaz Ordaz 9, Cuernavaca, Morelos, CP62440.
Finally one spa, that offers less support for non-Spanish speakers, but excellent prices (for spa and golf) in a fantastic historic setting is the Hotel Hacienda Cocoyoc: www.cocoyoc.com Tels: 01 735 356 2211 [Spa extensions: 1645, or 1745] or 356 -1211, Fax: 01 735 356 1212 Carretera Federal Cuernavaca Cuautla Km 32.5, Cocoyoc, Morelos, CP62739
By Barbara Kastelein
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