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The Spa Solution : Relief for the stressed-out, from low-cost to luxury : Northern California: Luxury splurge in Sonoma

July 14, 1991|JUDI DASH | Dash is travel editor of The Record in Hackensack, N.J. and

SONOMA, Calif. — There are those who don't even think of the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa as a fitness resort. For them, the pretty pink Spanish-colonial buildings and the gourmet dining room are cocoons in which to nestle away from the real world.

The 7 a.m. daily hike in the Sonoma hills? The 9 a.m. killer aerobics workout? The spa menu with tasty-but-low-calorie meals and sparkling water in the wineglass? You must be kidding. Better a late, late breakfast in bed, perhaps a soak in the whirlpool, a leisurely lunch, a massage (if energy permits) and a multi-course dinner with a local Cabernet or Chardonnay and something creamy for dessert.

You can do that here. After all, this is a romantic inn in wine country--as well as a spa--where at any given time, about half the guests will be there with health and fitness objectives, while the other half want to be pampered and mellow out.

But if you're doing my trip, put down that fork and get thee up at dawn. I was there on a two-night spa program that started right after afternoon check-in, with a stretch-and-relax class at 5 p.m. and low-impact (but high-effort) aerobics at 6.

All classes are in a large mirrored room in the spa building, down a short path from the main inn. Fluffy white bathrobes, pink towels and individual locker keys are issued upon arrival, and are yours for the duration. No need to bring deodorant, body lotion, shampoo, soap or hair blower. The ladies' lounge and shower on the second floor has them all. And themen's lounge across the hall has comparable conveniences.

While the spa program attracts mainly women, the inn hosts numerous corporate retreats, and a substantial number of businessmen take advantage of the spa facilities, some even braving the intimacies of a facial or manicure and sampling an aerobics class.

On the main floor of the spa building, a fountain provides soothing background noise for exercising on stationary bikes, rowing and weight machines and other state-of-the-art equipment, and a whirlpool provides a soothing respite after a workout--or after nothing at all. Also on this floor are sauna, steam and hydrotherapy rooms, a beauty salon, aerobics areas and a spa boutique.

Above is a lounge and men's and women's locker rooms.

Walls are the palest pink, lighting is soft and recessed or directed upward--no harsh glare here--and behind the rows of doors on both floors, masseuses and beauty technicians wait to knead your aching muscles or treat your dry scalp or tired face with scented oils.

On both levels, pots of hot water and herb teas, ice water and fresh lemon and lime slices are always at hand.

For those who want even more exercise, there's a 7 o'clock hike every morning. The hikes, just a few minutes' van ride from the inn's front door, vary. One day you may be walking along the vineyard-lined slopes of Nun's Canyon, the next through the lushly forested hills of the Mayacamas Range. All routes are mildly hilly--for a good aerobic workout--and last about an hour, and are a beautiful way to start the morning. Two fitness instructors go along--one to lead, the other to pull up the rear.

Huffing your way down the road, it's easy to fall into conversation with your walkmates. The fresh morning air, the golden quality of the early sunlight, the desire to get your mind off the effort to move one still-sleepy foot after the other, make for easy intimacy and by the end of the hour, the group has broken up into pairs of walkers, previously strangers, now consoling and advising each other about love lives, job crises, diet setbacks.

After the walk, the bus takes you back to the inn, where a breakfast of bran muffins and fruit, or a yolkless omelet with basil filling, or some other high-fiber, low-calorie selection gets you set for the ensuing seven hours of exercise classes, generously punctuated from noon to 4 by lunch and beauty treatments. The day's classes include yoga at 8 a.m., aerobics at 9, body sculpting at 10, low-impact aerobics at 11, stretch and relax at 5 p.m. and body sculpting or endurance low-impact aerobics at 6. Of course, you needn't take every class; this is a spa, not a boot camp.

By dinner in the candle-lit dining room, cheeks glow pink from exertion, skin tingles from the day's massage or facial treatment. For some, all that noble sweat is enough to justify a calorie splurge (both spa and regular menus are available in both dining rooms), but that would be a waste. The spa meals, presented decoratively on sparkling white plates--a duck dish has three pretty fingers of meat draping down from a scoop of shredded vegetables, a pink flower off to one side--are every bit as good as the no-nos. And, wonderful as the regional wine is, the spa's sparkling water, served in crystal goblets with fresh lime, looks festive enough to make you almost not miss the alcohol.

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