News and Press

Natalie Maisel, one of the best yoga teachers I’ve encountered at a spa, essentially leads two flow classes at once, giving technically precise, clear instruction on both levels.  In another class that afternoon, her cliche’-free cues lead me to soften my contention that restorative yoga is a waste of time”.

Luxury Spa Finder magazine describes Natalie Maisel as one “whose massage skills are as outstanding as her yoga instruction” and her massage as “the standout massage being a deep tissue massage from Natalie – as skilled a bodyworker as she is a yoga teacher.”

“I’ve gone from sedentary to 60 mph on my first full day at Cal-a-Vie, and it feels good to get my body revved up. Now I’m taking a break from my strenuous morning schedule —

Day One includes a 6 a.m. wakeup, 6:15 a.m. hike, a fitness talk, a cardio resistance class, a spinning class and water aerobics. I’ve showered, and I’m bundled in a soft terry-cloth robe, taking in the mountain view—and the softly jasmine-fragranced air from my private deck perched 40 miles north of San Diego.  

Cal-a-Vie (Cal-a-Vie means “California life” in French) is both a vigorous and pampering retreat spa frequented by stars such as Kathleen Turner and Larry Hagman along with the well-heeled. I’m only here for a “petite week,” so I’ll miss Paula Abdul, who arrives two days after I depart. One guest who is on a serious weight-loss regimen in advance of her 50th birthday is spending 20 weeks here this year.

The all-female fitness staff’s energy – upbeat, never condescending – makes Cal-a-Vie a standout among its competitors. I am especially fascinated by Leslie, a corkscrew-haired blond glamazon with a fascinating back tattoo and the most streamlined figure—even after two, or is it three, kids. When I comment that it must be great that her job serves as a daily workout, she informs me that all the trainers do their own workouts at lunch, explaining that all the teaching and talking keep them from working in their prime cardio range. That explains the abs of steel.

A Houston mother and frequent guest notes, “We would never meet in real life.” And she’s right. But with only 24 guests on 200 acres, Cal-a-Vie is an intimate environment, made more so by the fact that most of us pad around in our robes or spa-issued gray sweats (which look good on no one). Our predominantly female group includes several mother/daughter duos, a filmmaker, a lawyer, several entrepreneurs, two couples, a few retirees, a foundation director, an architect, a fashion designer, a banker and one very disciplined female dynamo—a CFO; more than half are repeat guests. 

Many of us reveal very personal information during our tenure. We bond over our mutual lack of fitness and admiration of the staff. That’s why when half of us depart mid-week, there’s a moment of genuine sadness, authentic hugs, goodbyes and e-mail exchanges.

While the jumpstart to my (nonexistent) fitness routine is welcome, I must admit I look forward most to the treatments — and the food. There’s hydrotherapy in a deep tub overlooking a ridge covered in succulents. Natalie, who is a prettier, more petite version of actress Lisa Rinna, gives a marvelous deep tissue massage. Sarah gives me a reflexology session, and I drift off into sleep. The Vichy evokes memories of being a kid in a sprinkler. The facial and hot stone massage are top-notch. I even get my roots touched up in the beauty salon one afternoon. There’s also afternoon yoga classes and labyrinth walking.

In between all the activities, I retire to my room. Window boxes brimming with pink flowers flank the wooden door. Inside, the beamed ceiling soars, there’s an armoire, a chaise, a single orchid, an inviting bed (not that I’ll spend much time in it) and a sunny country French décor. There’s no TV and no one locks their door. The room is attended to several times daily and my laundry — the robes, towels and sweats I am plowing through on what seems like an hourly basis — is always neatly folded in three piles on the window seat in the marble bathroom. I never want to leave.

I confess I’ve brought in contraband: a chocolate bar (I contemplated bringing alcohol, but resisted). Turns out I’m not even tempted, so good is the food. There is no decision making: All your meals are served in three courses based on caloric intake (from the profile I filled out prior to my visit and from the intake interview held upon arrival). Chefs Steve and Jason prepare gourmet food that is incredibly fresh (California produce is the nation’s best), flavorful, creative and filling.

My favorite lunch meal includes wild rice and barley chicken salad with tarragon vinaigrette and a smoothie. My favorite dinner is chilled lobster salad and fettuccine pasta. Lourdes’ huevos rancheros is my favorite breakfast (and Lourdes herself my favorite server/cook). A couple of times I challenge the kitchen just to see what happens.  I send back a cookie and ask for “something orange that is not an orange.” I am presented with six slices of a beautiful nectarine that is fanned on a doily atop a white plate. When I crave something salty, I am sent exactly seven sesame rice crackers (I find myself obsessively counting, which I attribute to the counting I am doing in the fitness classes).

Hoping to make a few healthful changes to my at-home dining, I meet with Ileen, who gives me a nutritional analysis after I fill out a typical two-day diary. She avoids “tsk-tsking” me, but rather, takes an accurate read on my personality and career and makes suggestions I could truly implement back home. Everyone is so unfailing gracious and motivational it seems almost criminal to fall off the wagon once I depart.

On my final day, I head to the boutique looking for the spa’s cookbook, but alas, it’s sold out. I smile at the workout togs stitched with the phrase “blissfully unaware.” I haven’t even left the property and already Cal-a-Vie withdrawal has set in. 

If You Go: The greater San Diego area, has the finest weather in U.S year-round, so let your schedule dictate a visit. Cal-a-Vie,, (866) 722-4283.”