A day at Carmel’s best day spa is just what the doctor ordered
Just a short drive south from Santa Cruz, tucked behind the remote Carmel Valley Athletic Club, is the small oasis of relaxation known simply as Refuge. It’s a day spa, but exists on a realm above most other establishments of the sort. Visitors enter through lavish locker rooms, plush white robe and towel in tow, and, from there, step into the equivalent of a very fancy, very large backyard. The spacious patio-like area is fenced in and lined with pleasant landscaping. Small pools of varying temperatures—cold, cool, warm, and hot—create a checkerboard of water across the co-ed space, where bathing suits are mandatory and the atmosphere is one of quiet relaxation. Spa goers sit meditatively around several fire pits, despite the warm day.
On the perimeter, a roomy cedar sauna and eucalyptus steam room offer other methods for unwinding (and detoxing). The spa recommends a simple regiment to maximize the health benefits of these offerings, and I can attest that it’s worth sticking to: start with five to 10 minutes heating up in any one of the six warmer pools or the sauna or steam room. Then, plunge into a cool pool (or, if you’re feeling adventurous, one of the icy cold pools). Next, take a seat and kick back for 10 to 15 minutes to let the endorphins flow. I suggest nabbing one of the divine zero-gravity chairs in the indoor relaxation room, where the unbelievably comfortable chair and light music in the background make for the perfect spot to let it all soak in. Admission is $39 (plus $12 for a robe)—a more than fair price for such a serene, polished experience. The entry price allows one to stay as long as they please (it’s open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.), although you will find that three hours or so is just right. Make the most of the experience by booking an on-site massage, which comes with a $99 entry price.
27300 Rancho San Carlos Road, Carmel, 620-7360, refuge.com.