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March 30, 2010

Spa Report

California dreaming

Since buying the Cal-a-Vie spa near San Diego three years ago, John and Terri Havens, a New Orleans businessman and his wife, have turned what was a sleepy, frayed-at-the-edges encampment into an intimate, beautifully restored retreat. All 24 Provence-style guestrooms have been redone, as have the common rooms, using French and Italian country antiques, many from the Havens' own collection (the 16th-century Italian chandelier in the dining room used to hang in their foyer). The centerpiece, however, is the 5,000-square-foot bathhouse, complete with travertine marble tile, hydrotherapy, a Vichy treatment room, and extra showers for the seaweed-wrap treatment. This spring, construction on a 16,000-square-foot gym with a weight room, pool, and tennis court will be complete (the spa hopes to attract more men).

But perhaps as impressive as the renovation is the extraordinary level of individual attention and commitment to each guest (the staff-to-guest ratio is an impressive five to one). Unlike too many other (less serious) spas, days at Cal-a-Vie are scheduled from dusk to dinner. There's the hike or walk at 6:15 a.m., followed by breakfast, then spinning, Pilates, stability ball, and other classes—all before lunch. Most guests, even the best-conditioned, find the morning sessions strenuous, despite plenty of encouragement from Judy Wood and her motivating team of trainers. Which makes the afternoon treatments come as a relief, especially Ron Hamilton's Hawaiian-Swedish hybrid massage, the magnetic therapy, the trance-inducing scalp treatment, and hydrotherapy with a cooling mint rubdown.

With so much exercise, food becomes almost sacred at Cal-a-Vie. Steve Pernetti, who hails from the Golden Door, monitors every guest's caloric intake, preferences, and allergies. The good news is that he whips up unusually delicious—and healthful—meals, such as baby spinach with orange-ginger dressing (made with sesame oil); Hoisin shrimp with low-fat lobster curry sauce over sweet potato purée (a better source of carbohydrates than regular spuds); and a chocolate mousse that ingeniously uses tofu.

The spa is designed to be social. It's popular with couples and family members (such as mothers and grown daughters), and many guests come to be fast friends. So if a hideout is what you want, this isn't one. Then again, in Cal-a-Vie's holistic vision of wellness, a little bonhomie is good for you.

Seven nights, $5,490; includes meals, fitness classes, and 16 treatments. Three- and four-night stays are also available. At 29402 Spa Havens Way, Vista, CA; 866-772-4283; www.calavie.com.