Spa and Travel Review: Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa

By on February 1, 2014

By Michele McIntyre −

I’m afraid of heights. It’s not exactly a paralyzing fear but it’s more than a healthy caution. The fear doesn’t stop me from flying on airplanes, climbing and skiing reasonably sized mountains or driving over bridges but it certainly makes me uncomfortable. And yet when I’m perusing Miraval’s activity guide, the rock-climbing wall is one of the first things I sign up for. And I don’t think about it again. That is until my guide, Matthew, leads me to the base of the climbing wall and I look up. Way up. This is when the fear really kicks in and I ask myself, none too kindly, “What the heck were you thinking?”

People aren’t looking to just get away anymore, but to do something, learn something, and experience something new during their vacations. I’m determined to have experiences on this trip, as I often do while traveling, that my home self would never have either because a) I’m too busy, b) I spend money differently – more frugally – at home than when I’m on vacation or c) I’m too darn scared!

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MM2I’m at Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa in Tucson on four-day girlfriend getaway. I’ve set an intention for this trip to make mindful choices that challenge me and take me a bit outside my comfort zone. I’ll pair these choices with doing things I know and love and will throw in a hefty does of relaxation – usually lacking on my getaways – to achieve the ultimate in balance for my stay. Hence, the rock climbing wall.

So why Miraval? In the sphere of destination resorts, Miraval receives a fair amount of attention and is often placed at or near the top of prominent influential lists. Oprah catapulted Miraval’s popularity in 2007 when she famously brought a group of 60 deserving women to the resort for a week. I’ve been curious and a little wistful ever since. More recently, the Real Housewives of New Jersey filmed some episodes there. For me, it’s a bucket list destination. I’m drawn to the desert and to Miraval’s “Life in Balance” tagline. And there’s the fact that Miraval inspires loyalty: 30% of guests are repeat visitors.

Miraval is, after all, a destination resort that is so much more than a spa. You can be as active or as inactive as you like; I opt for middle of the road in terms of my activity level. Most packages include a nightly resort credit that can be used toward guided hikes, mountain biking clinics, spa services and Miraval’s signature experiences. I start most days with a two-hour 7 am hike. I also sign up for a photography class where I hold a real DSLR camera rather than my typical method of photography, if you can call it that, with a point-and-shoot or an iPhone camera. Always feeling neutral around horses, I add the Miraval Equine Experience to my agenda just to mix things up a bit.

MM6After leaving our credit card imprints at Guest Services at check-in, we store our wallets in the laptop size safe and don’t pull them out once. Not once. Not to buy a drink, or to pay for a spa treatment or to offer a gratuity. We inquire about the “no tipping” policy. Really, I say? Really, they say; you might make the staffer uncomfortable if you offer a tip. And so we don’t. And it appears that neither do the other guests unless it’s done with the utmost regard to discretion.

There are no bad choices at Miraval Resort, only mindful and balanced ones. While some destination resorts opt to be alcohol free, Miraval has a full bar. But it’s easy to go your entire stay without imbibing if that’s your choice. The smoothies, iced teas and fresh juices are so good you may not miss the alcohol anyway. If there is any real partying going on, we’re unaware of it.

If weight loss is your intention, the tools are in place with controlled portion sizes, calorie counts listed for each dish and minimal use of unhealthy fats and refined sugars. But the food was utterly delicious and I personally did not lose weight. Menu items are fresh and light and served in a way that is artfully composed to feast with your eyes before enjoying with your taste buds. There was frequent use of such trendy and local ingredients as sunchoke, prickly pear and grass-fed meats. The dish that seems to draw the most attention is the wood fired flatbread pizza served nightly; ask your server what tempting variety is being served that day.

I’m lying outdoors on a cushy chaise lounge next to a roaring bowl of fire. It’s a cloudless night as the moon slips slowly into view in the starry night sky. I glimpse the moon through the branches of palm trees as the smell of eucalyptus from the nearby steam room wafts through the air. It’s October, but the cooler desert night air doesn’t chill me a bit. I’ve slipped into deep relaxation as I await my therapist, Krystal, to call me for my sleep-inducing Tranquil Nights treatment. When Krystal does collect me, we exit the spa and head up a dimly lit path to one of six outdoor treatment tents. I’ve never had an outdoor spa treatment before and having one at night awakens the senses in unexpected ways: listening to the nighttime creatures around you, breathing in the desert scents, climbing into warm, fresh sheets to escape the cool evening air.

MM4The 75-minute treatment involves an exfoliating salt scrub removed with warm towels or a rinse off in the outdoor shower. You’re drenched in eucalyptus infused oil followed by a hydrating massage with eucalyptus lotion. Your massage is combined with gentle rocking to sedate the nervous system, ultimately calming the mind and body. Schedule the last treatment of the day (mine was at 8:30 pm) and head directly to your guest room after to fall into a restful slumber.

Back in the relatively new Miraval Life in Balance Spa with Clarins, no detail is spared. The spa, the whole property really, is decorated in earth tones and natural textures; It’s as zen and tranquil as you want it to be. The changing room offers a wide selection of toiletries so you’ll transition back to the real world in style. And if you want to meander back to your guest room in your robe and slippers with wet hair wrapped in a towel, as I did each night, you can do that too.

I rise early my first morning without an alarm clock and without intention. I head to Palm Court to see if space is available in the 7am hike; it’s a very popular activity and all 24 spaces are filled with several guests already on the waiting list. I’m not worried though; there are plenty of options. I grab a fresh squeezed juice from the juice bar and head to the Body Movement Center (BMC) in search of some activity. I’m in luck! Morning stretch has just begun and I squeeze in and take my place on a mat in the back row and follow the queues of the instructor, Randy, that twist and turn my body into deep, satisfying stretches. Whereas stretching is normally relegated to the first and last few moments of a fitness class, it feels luxurious to devote an entire 45 minutes to stretching here at Miraval. When the class ends, I’m mindful that my body feels less aches and pains than I can recall in recent memory. As luck would have it, TRX Endurance Circuits is next in the fitness studio right next door. Again Randy is our instructor and he leads seven of us through a Tabata-style circuit alternating between stationary exercises and the TRX Suspension Trainer. Randy is on his A game when it comes to spotting proper form and the fact that I have a tendency to hunch my shoulders up towards my ears. Mindfully, I lower them down with gentle encouragement from Randy.

Breakfast, in a word, is lovely and I feast heartily knowing I’ll miss lunch. From the egg menu I order the Spa Benedict. From the breakfast buffet guests choose from skinnied down and yet tasty versions of classic breakfast favorites. Fresh fruit is plentiful and so are Miraval-made fruit spreads and preserves.

I have two hours before my next scheduled activity and I’m mindful that I need some time at the pool to relax, journal and maybe take a swim. I close my activity schedule and pop it into my bag. I gaze in awe at the Catalina Mountains as the light changes throughout the day; Miraval certainly puts its surrounding splendor to good use. The rich hues leave one with the impression of being in a watercolor painting.

MM5My afternoon activity is the Miraval Equine Experience where participants groom a horse while learning about dealing with fear, frustration and emotional baggage that you may be bringing to the relationship with the horse. The task is to pick up the horse’s hooves and clean them with a pick. It sounds easy enough but many guests become emotional and find themselves dealing with feelings they didn’t anticipate facing. This is not for everyone, but if you want to tackle what’s really going on in your life it’s a safe environment to do so.

My favorite way to start the day on any wellness vacation is with a morning hike and Miraval is no exception. Hikers can have a quick 6:30 am breakfast before they meet up with their hiking guides. 3 to 4 medically trained naturalist guides are assigned to a maximum of twenty-four hikers to accommodate all levels of hiking ability. The guides provide everything: packs, water bottles, extra water and cactus extractors (i.e. tweezers). The reality of desert hiking is that sometimes a guest will wander a bit to close to a cactus; you’re guides are prepared for that.

I’m grateful that the rock climbing wall is somewhat hidden down a lesser-traveled path. I expect a group session but it’s a huge bonus when the session becomes private because I’m the only guest signed up. It’s a lot harder physically than I expected and my muscles scream the next day. Matthew, my guide, offers strong encouragement and expertly coaches me to the top. I return home determined to find a local rock-climbing wall so I can introduce the sport to my family. We’ve ascended our first 33-foot climbing wall and I can’t wait to find another. And so it goes at Miraval: Rest, nourish, challenge, relax, repeat.

Getting here: Fly into Tucson and take the Miraval shuttle (included) to the resort. A uniformed driver will pick you up near baggage claim and escort you in an air-conditioned van or bus to the resort.

MM1Rooms to book: Standard, deluxe and premium guest rooms are supremely comfortable but not luxurious; more plush options exist. Catalina Rooms offer unparalleled views, private outdoor showers and large soaking tubs. You have to see Miraval’s ultra-luxurious private villas to believe them, with some boasting more than 6,000 square feet of combined indoor/outdoor living space with plunge pools, whirlpools and windowed walls that slide complete away to reveal killer views. No matter what room category you choose, the beds are fluffy like marshmallows with feather bed toppers, airy down comforters and the best pillows I’ve ever slept on.

Why go: Activities are abundant, the programming is mostly exceptional and Miraval Life in Balance Spa with Clarins is worth the trip alone for it’s wide range of unique treatments, stunning indoor/outdoor setting and excellent facilities.

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About Michele McIntyre

Michele McIntyre is a freelance writer who covers spas, travel, fitness, wellness, beauty and healthy living/eating. She is happiest when lying face up on the treatment table, writing about her spa and travel experiences or testing new products to share with her readers. She lives near Syracuse, NY with her husband and son. Michele is a regular travel contributor to LivingBetterat50+ and has written for Today’s Central New York Woman Magazine and online at Tripology, TripAtlas, and Splash Magazines Worldwide. Michele blogs about the spa and travel industry, and anything else she can think of, at When she isn't writing about or visiting spas, Michele loves traveling, hiking, skiing, camping, yoga and reading. If any of these pursuits can be combined with a visit to the spa, even better! Michele can be reached at [email protected]

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Spa and Travel Review: Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa