Nancy Cetel, MD and Joseph Weiss, MD discover the numerous health benefits offered by the luxurious and charming Cal-a-Vie Health Spa located in southern California.
Photo courtesy of Cal-a-Vie Health Spa
We have embarked on an invigorating experiential journey to identify the world’s best health and wellness destination resorts. After our recent column on the value of expressing gratitude, we are fortunate to have a bountiful supply following our magical experience at the luxurious Cal-a-Vie Health Spa in southern California.
Ancient limestone gate monuments mark the path from the peaceful and bucolic coastal hills of southern California to an idyllic retreat nestled in what feels like the lilac meadows of Provence, France. While its exclusivity has established it as a favorite hideaway of celebrities and notables, within the gates life-enhancing experiences unfold for all those fortunate enough to have discovered its magic.
Upon arrival, we are warmly welcomed with a delicious garden lunch set alongside a babbling brook and other water features. This was followed by a short walk to the guest services lounge, through manicured landscape features including a pond and stream with a large working water wheel. Our personal scheduler reviewed the many options and our individual preferences guided the diet, fitness classes and mind and body treatments selected to optimize our experience. We were immediately impressed by the thoughtfulness, charm and relaxing atmosphere that embraced us. Every day included several fabulous treatments and a tremendous variety of fitness classes designed for mind, body and spirit. Any requested changes to our schedule were accommodated without hesitation.
The Perfect Location: Provence, France Meets Southern California Bliss
With the ideal climate and topography of its locale in the countryside of northern San Diego County, Cal-a-Vie consists of 600 sprawling acres of luxuriously planted gardens, ponds and streams, antique landscape features and ornaments, all set within romantic rolling hillsides. The grounds are ideal for blissful hiking, contemplative walks or just basking in the subdued elegance of the romantic countryside.
There are 32 thoughtfully designed French country villas, and all of the equally beautiful Cal-a-Vie facilities have rich interior design details with authentic period antiques and artworks. Even at full occupancy, with a staff-to-guest ratio of 5 to 1, the ambiance is that of a very private paradise. The grounds include historic architectural jewels imported stone by stone, and seamlessly transplanted as an oasis of Provence. Complementing the landscape are over sixteen meticulous acres of vineyards producing Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes that are transformed into the notable “Château Cal-a-Vie” Wine.
The entire resort is a cornucopia of picturesque scenes. Several of the buildings are centuries old and have been gracefully transplanted from their native France, with their history and charm fully intact. The iconic 400-year-old French chapel was imported from Dijon, France, and rebuilt on the premises. Other architectural gems include the parish house with an elegant wine tasting room and the L’Orangerie with a luxurious banquet room adjacent to a state-of-the-art cooking demonstration kitchen. An authentic imported stone windmill, running stream, water wheel and meditative stone labyrinth walkway, all add to the experience of feeling transported not just thousands of miles to Provence, but back in time as well. An unusual nighttime experience that allows for traveling unimaginable distances, is a state-of-the-art telescope observatory, for a memorable celestial experience under the guidance of a professional astronomer.
Transformative Vision for Cal-a-Vie
Under the guidance of its humanitarian and philanthropic patrons, Terri and John Havens, the sophisticated wellness destination resort of Cal-a-Vie has reached new heights of luxury with a focus on a holistic approach to health, wellness and vitality. Prior to their stewardship, many celebrities would come to Cal-a-Vie primarily as a weight loss measure. The Havens have passionately transformed Cal-a-Vie Health Spa, and it now fulfills and exceeds its stated mission to be a “life changing wellness retreat.” Its welcomed and very fortunate guests have found an exceptional resource that offers a lifestyle reset for the mind, body and spirit in a luxurious setting.
Natural francophiles, the Havens are from New Orleans with French Quarter influence. Much of Cal-a-Vie has been hand-selected by them from their frequent exploratory and antique hunting visits across France. They have succeeded brilliantly, not only in recreating an architecturally authentic French retreat in California, but more importantly in their effort to “create an environment that lives and breathes health and wellness by delivering the best of everything—making life feel easy.”
How did Cal-a-Vie evolve into the one-of-a-kind resort it is today? According to Terri Havens, “John, my husband, wanted to run a marathon. I suggested we do the one in San Diego so that we could go to a health spa after the race. In fact, we both fell in love with it. It was that visit that inspired me to buy the spa. John really felt that health and wellness was the future. He was right. We always do thorough research on food, nutrition, fitness, as well as investigate information on treatments in order to always be up on the latest and greatest.”
“Same with our speakers. You can trust that everything has been well thought out so that you enjoy your stay, have fun and start your journey to health and wellness. We hope to truly provide a life-changing experience for every single guest.” After the pandemic, the Havens’ addressed the desire of the guests for a greater focus on the mind and body. They launched a Refresh & Renew Program, adding to the over 120 fitness and spa offerings with 60 new class options with mindfulness and mind/body programs.
Holistic Approach to Wellness with Fitness of Mind, Body and Spirit
The five pillars of Cal-a-Vie Health Spa are fitness, nutrition, mindfulness, relaxation and reflection. Each morning starts with an offering of gentle stretch exercise followed by either an escorted and vigorous hike through the breathtaking hills and countryside, or a casual walk through the picturesque grounds and gardens. A delightful selection for breakfast is then presented along with a personalized daily schedule, including customized spa services and treatments. A wide variety of classes are scheduled throughout the day, with swimming pools and court games including Pickleball, championship golf on the adjacent course designed by Ted Robinson and other activities offered as open schedule options.
There are over 120 varieties of fitness classes, cutting-edge body treatments, advanced laboratory nutritional testing, personal consultations and meal planning with their on-site registered dieticians. Trying out new classes with master instructors was one of the many highlights. A sample of just the very first hour of daily fitness class offerings included the following: slow flow yoga; Cal-a-Vie bootcamp; dance variety spin: tread and shed; yoga sculpt; interval weight training circuit and introduction to Pickleball. More innovative classes include their aqua circuit, waterworks, stretch, trapeze yoga, origami, detox & cleanse and guided meditation. In addition, there are bountiful nutrition breaks in the morning and healthy refreshing smoothie breaks in the afternoon.
Mindfulness, emotional, spiritual and mental well-being are addressed with a diverse assortment of stress-reducing and contemplative options. Some of the offerings include face yoga, heart-opening yoga, Ayurveda yoga, meditation sessions in the chapel with a crystal bowl sound bath, ‘love letter’ meditation, ‘deepen your senses’ meditation and ‘compassion’ meditation. An aquatic tai chi class was a delightfully relaxing yet moving novelty, which served as an experiential bridge between a mind and body activity.
The aesthetic and spa treatment services are also excellent, with a wide variety to select from. In addition, the more traditional treatment services including facials, massages and reflexology were all delivered with the care and skill required to make the experiences transformational. The Cal-a-Vie experience goes beyond pampering into the realm of rejuvenation and healing. Some of the signature spa therapies include: Vinotherapy massage, grape skin wraps and Vichy scrubs. A vast assortment of massage therapies are available as well, including thermal therapy back mud treatment, bamboo massage, poolside massages, herbal poultice massage and many more. Wrap therapies included lavender honey, thalassotherapy seaweed, CBD Himalaya Coffee and algae jam. Additional body therapies were readily available on the extensive menu services.
Several educational programs, as well as diagnostic laboratory health and wellness panels, are offered by the dietitians and various specialty weeks throughout the year have notable presenters. The evenings after dinner are very quiet and peaceful, with activities limited to the weekly astronomy observatory program. While we would have enjoyed an educational program each evening, or more frequent observatory sessions, we readily agree that getting refreshing rest and a good night’s sleep is equally important to health and wellness.
Focus on a More Holistic Approach to Wellness Beyond Physical Fitness
Overall, the physical grounds, atmosphere and ambiance are superb. The fitness facilities and instructors are world class with a staff to guest ratio of 5 to 1. There are 32 gorgeously designed French country villas and the maximum capacity is 64 very fortunate guests. There are a multitude of classes to select from and the attention and level of instruction are consistently excellent. The Havens have elevated the facilities and quality of programming to the highest levels with virtually unlimited support. Their commitment has provided an amazing return on investment for the guests by providing a remarkably restorative and revitalizing experience.
Indeed, Cal-a-Vie has evolved from what was once known as just a pampering boutique retreat focused on weight loss. It has been transformed into the pinnacle world class destination health resort and spa with a holistic approach to health, wellness and vitality. Those who are fortunate enough to experience this life enhancing destination resort will likely return many times. To the Havens, we offer a grateful Merci Beaucoup for making their vision a reality, and for allowing all of us the opportunity to harvest the benefits.