We can thank the ancient Romans for first having the idea of getting out of town to help restore physical and mental health. When they discovered the natural springs of a Belgian town called Spa -- catchy name, that -- they started a trend that has lasted. Wherever hot springs or mineral-rich water have bubbled -- from Bath, England to Ibusuki in Kyushu, Japan -- people have flocked to partake of the restorative gifts, real or imagined.
Over the years there have been some loony detours. Health resorts have occasionally devolved into unorthodoxy (some might even call it quackery) in the hands of such eccentrics as Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who ran an infamous 19th-century spa in upstate New York. Kellogg believed that everything from impotence to cancer could be cured with the proper diet and exercise -- and even life-threatening amounts of electric wattage.
Today, the term spa embraces far more than the image of grand hotels where well-heeled matrons and fat-cat magnates sip mineral water between rounds of croquet. Spa has come to mean, in the words of one expert, "any health-oriented vacation opportunity." Certainly, some spas exist purely for the pampering and cosseting of guests, with peace and relaxation as the goal. Others have diagnostic and medical functions, while a certain crop offers holistic treatment for both mind and body.
For the HIV positive person, a getaway to a health-dedicated environment can yield untold benefits. Whether it means a yoga workshop to aid relaxation, a series of massage-therapy sessions, a purely self-indulgent beauty treatment or simply a quiet walk in the woods, a respite from the rigors of daily routine can be a wonderful balm. Says physician Jeff F., who has HIV: "Stress plays a huge factor in HIV-related illnesses. Any way you can reduce stress can prolong your life. It's a simple equation. Whatever you can do to help you relax, do it."
The gathering of health-oriented getaways that follows is by no means definitive. In our choices we've sought destinations that represent a diversity of style, ambience, function, geography and price. We've also included two examples of what seems to be a trend: Let's call them "floating vacations" -- opportunities for HIV positive people to travel together to a site chosen for its privacy, discretion and natural beauty.
None of these choices offers specific treatment for HIV-related illnesses; the benefits accrued are primarily ancillary, such as pain relief from acupuncture or yoga for stress reduction. Indeed, some treatments may not be recommended for certain conditions; bathing in hot springs, for example, is potentially harmful to those with KS lesions (high heat can exacerbate them).
For any activity that is out of the ordinary, whether the choice be a mountain hike or a hot-springs bath, consult your physician before undertaking the option.
Each of these sites has a physician on call 24 hours a day, and emergency medical treatment is available.
Tucson, Arizona/Lenox, Massachusetts
The ne plus ultra of holistic health resorts, Canyon Ranch (now in two locations) boasts a bulging portfolio of medical services, among them acupuncture, reflexology, chiropractic, Chinese herbal consultation and a workshop dedicated to "exceptional sex." The behavioral-health services include diet consultation, stop-smoking workshops, hypnotherapy and stress management. There are also programs for spiritual awareness (yoga, tai chi, meditation), not to mention pure fitness: Hiking, aerobics, tennis, biking and swimming. Beauty treatments range from European facials to seaweed wraps.
With a staff-to-guest ratio of nearly three to one, service is exceptional. Staff members include physicians, psychologists, dietitians and physical therapists.
Cost: Prices range from $990 for a three-night package for singles to $3,420 for a seven-night luxury-room double-occupancy, exclusive of sales tax and service charge. Meals included. Packages comprise accommodations, three daily meals, use of all spa and fitness facilities, group presentations by experts, all gratuities, round-trip air transfers and other amenities; guests also get an allowance of $90 to $180 on health and healing services and a number of specialized spa and sports services.
Ambience: Sophisticated and quiet. The Arizona site is a hacienda surrounded by 60 acres of desert oasis at the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, 21 miles from the Tucson airport. Its less secluded Massachusetts counterpart is based in a historic mansion on a 120-acre estate in the Berkshire Mountains. There are also 20 major parks within 30 minutes' drive.
Getting There: Both locations provide free transfers from nearby airports.
Contact: 800.621.9777 (Lenox) 800.742.9000 (Tucson)
The Omega Institute
Rhinebeck, New York
As much a think-tank as a vacation spot, the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies operates summer and fall in the Hudson Valley, two hours from New York City. Guests register for weekends or five-day workshops that cover the whole gamut of topics in the areas of personal health and development; gender, relationships and family; arts, creativity and sports; nature and society; and spiritual understanding. Individual components may cover subjects as disparate as yoga, myth and shamanism, African wisdom, fly-fishing, the Tao of boxing, and self-esteem for women.
A five-day "Wellness Week" touches on nutrition, lifestyle, diet, and exercise and fitness-including low-impact aerobics, muscle strengthening and creative movement.
Omega is currently developing an association with AIDS, Medicine and Miracles -- the nonprofit organization that sponsors workshops on AIDS issues throughout the country.
The 80-acre wooded property also includes a wellness center featuring massage, bodywork, a flotation tank and other therapies. Recreational possibilities include tennis, basketball, volleyball, jogging and a lake for canoeing, swimming and sunbathing.
Cost: Weekend program, $155 to $270; five-day program, $250 to $375; Wellness Week, $290. Includes three meals per day, mostly vegetarian.
Ambience: Casual, campus-like, even spartan: Guests live in tent sites, dorms or cabins with private or shared baths. (Towels and linen not supplied.) After-hours activities are limited to the Hudson Valley area, which is home to first-rate restaurants and charming shops. The Institute itself presents films, dances, concerts and lectures in the evening.
Has on-staff RN; and Rhinebeck Hospital, for anything more serious, is 10 minutes' drive away.
Getting There: Rhinebeck can be reached by train, bus or commuter airline (Stewart, New York, is the closest airport). Omega also charters a bus from New York City; call for schedule.
Contact: 914.266.4444 or 800.944.1001
Hawaii's Big Island is the backdrop of this 20-acre retreat center -- whose name means "Harmony of Heaven and Earth" -- set in a huge conservation area marked by dense tropical forests and ragged, dramatic cliffs. Kalani Honua emphasizes the arts, healing, and native Hawaiian culture. Services include stress reduction through tribal drumming, meditation, sweat lodge, deep-tissue massage, yoga, hula, contemporary dance and psychic readings. Warm springs, beach, and natural steam baths are nearby.
Guests can check in as individuals, in groups, or as part of regularly scheduled 2- to 14-day festivals or workshops. At least one group of HIV positive gay men has held a successful retreat here, early in 1995 (see "Floating Resorts").
Cost: $15 to $85 per night, exclusive of (largely vegetarian) meals and program fees. Three meals a day cost approximately $25. Certain amenities, such as massage, are extra.
Ambience: Laid-back, unpolished. Pool/spa area has a clothes-optional policy after 7 pm. Lodging is in two-story cedar lodges, private cottages or campsites. No electricity between 11 pm and 6 am.
Getting There: Free transfers to/from Hilo Airport on the Big Island (a 45-minute drive).
White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
One of the last surviving examples of the kind of spa that flourished during the Gilded Age. First discovered in 1778, the sulphur springs in the Allegheny Mountains became so popular for their supposed healing powers that a hotel quickly sprang up to accommodate the afflicted. By 1910, the present-day Greenbrier was completed, in the style of a huge Southern mansion, on 6,500 acres. Retouched and expanded over the years, the Greenbrier still attracts the well-heeled and celebrated.
Spa treatments include massage, skin care, facials, body wraps, aromatherapy, beauty treatments and many other options. There are also a number of exercise opportunities, from weight-training equipment to aerobics. Outdoors, there is golf, tennis and scads of other recreation, from carriage rides to falconry (!), hiking to skeet shooting.
The adjacent Greenbrier Clinic, with 10 physicians on staff, assures prompt medical attention.
Ambience: Staid, if not downright stuffy. This is a decidedly Southern facility, where the young, trendy and hopelessly hyper need not apply. The clientele is largely conservative, older, and unlikely to balk at the jacket requirement for men in most public areas. Gay couples in particular are not likely to be comfortable here, unless discretion is their middle name.
Cost: Three- to five-night packages range in price from $1,190 to $1,500, single occupancy; breakfast and dinner included. Many of the spa and recreational options are extra.
Getting There: Fly to Charleston, West Virginia, or Roanoke, Virginia, via major airlines; both are less than two hours from the resort. Air taxi and limo charters are available to White Sulphur Springs.
Brenner's Park Hotel
A supreme example of the Old World spa, Brenner's is set on the edge of Bavaria's Black Forest, a velvety cathedral of natural beauty. Bäden-Bäden's waters have provided a popular retreat since the days of Julius Caesar, and today Brenner's includes both the Lancaster Beauty Farm and the Schwarzvald Clinic, which specializes in internal diseases. Whole-body programs include massage, mud packs, reflexology, cellulite treatment and facials.
When you're not being pampered in the salon, you can take hikes in the Black Forest, play golf, tennis, shoot skeet or cross-country-ski in season. In the evening an adjacent casino is European-style (Translation: Think James Bond, not Vegas).
Ambience: Sophisticated and elegant. The hotel provides fresh flowers daily in guest rooms and floor-to-ceiling French doors open from bedrooms onto terraces. Attracts some of the super-rich of the Continent, but more likely old money than new.
Cost: Seven-night packages are $1,900, with certain spa options extra.
Created several years ago by Page Wight and Cynthia Lindway, the tour company Destination Discovery has taken groups of HIV positive gay and bisexual men (although, says Wight, all HIV positive people and partners are welcome) to various destinations, including Hawaii and the Yucatán peninsula. Emphasis is on community, stress reduction and fun. Facilitators and instructors create a menu of options -- yoga, acupuncture, intimacy workshops -- and sites are chosen to allow guests optimum privacy.
Says Wight: "It's important for an HIV positive person to be able to bond with others with similar problems. Those with KS can take their shirts off and not be embarrassed."
In addition to a weeklong December trip to Kauai, Wight and company are also planning spring and fall weekends at a retreat site in the Napa Valley. Set on 160 acres among vineyards and rolling hills, the retreat offers complete privacy.
Cost: The Kauai trip will cost approximately $1,175 per person, excluding airfare; airport transfers are free. Use of the Napa retreat can cost as little as $100 per day; weekends will be $375 per person.
Prior to any trip, Wight always contacts the local AIDS foundation, finds a physician and RN, and has contingency emergency medical services available.
An HIV Positive Men's Week
So new it didn't have an official name at presstime, this organization plans its first travel venture in June. Says cofounder (with publisher Sasha Alyson, who also runs a popular getaway for gay men called Alyson Adventures) Philip Dearborn: "I wanted to lead a group that would have fun and not spend a lot of time talking about The Cure or alternative medicines. There are no major messages here. Just HIV positive single gay men bonding."
First stop: Sedona, Arizona. The group will choose from a number of possibilities: Hiking, touring the Grand Canyon, balloon rides, horseback rides, trout fishing, golf or tennis, and sightseeing. (Pending the success of the June venture, further trips may include a bike ride along the Mississippi, and a nautical jaunt to the San Juan Islands off Seattle.)
Accommodations are in lodge cabins, each with two bedrooms, two full baths, living room, and complete kitchen.
Cost: $995 per person (for a shared bedroom), excluding airfare. Some activities, airport transfers and meals are not included.
Dearborn has arranged for a standby physician to be on call in Phoenix, which is two and a half hours away. He has also enlisted two on-call clinics in Sedona itself; they have no particular HIV expertise but are fully qualified.
Getting There: Phoenix airport, a two-and-a-half hour drive from Sedona. Ground transportation available at the airport.
Contact: 800.825.9766 or e-mail mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.