This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
When Spa learned about a group of longtime friends who take annual trips to Miraval in Tucson, Arizona, we wanted to know more. So we sat down with the ladies (except Nancy and Barbara, who chimed in by email) over wine and hors d’oeuvres to get the inside scoop on their tradition — and some tips on how to start your own.
Above: One of Miraval’s three swimming pools. All black-and-white photos are from the Spa Girls’ personal collection; in photo at far left, clockwise from top left, are Vicki, Jerri, Ellen, Carol, Nancy, Barbara, Christy and Cheryl. 74 75
Little did Vicki Berman know when she first visited Miraval that she’d be starting a tradition. “In 2003, my brother took me for my first visit,” recalls Vicki, a 51-year-old attorney, as we settle in at the table. “He owed me a favor, and that was how he paid for it.” A Type-A personality, Vicki took on the experience as she does most things: wholeheartedly. “When we walked in, [Miraval] had all these activities listed on the board,” she says. “I think I signed up for all of them!” She had such a great time that a year later she decided to return — but this time she invited Jerri Johnson, a 51-year-old dermatologist and her close friend since grade school, to come along. “Jerri is really active, so I knew she’d love it,” says Vicki. The year after that, they added two more friends, the year after a few more, and before they knew it, the Spa Girls (eight total) was born. Though every member doesn’t make the trip every time, at least some portion of the group returns to Miraval every year to keep the tradition alive.
lies and other travel commitments. But this trip has a unique magic for these childhood friends, giving them time away from their hectic lives to reconnect with each other and themselves. The agenda is always the same: There is no agenda. “We all do whatever we want,” says Christy Delk, a 51-year-old business owner, to nods all around. “It just depends on how you’re feeling that day.” “I’ve got five children and am a fitness fanatic,” says Nancy Habif, a 49-year-old lactation consultant. “This trip is all about throwing myself into my zone of exercise and not feeling one ounce of guilt.” But activity isn’t required if you’re not in the mood. “On the last trip, Carol had an injured leg and I had a bad knee so we just laid by the pool while everyone else did activities,” laughs Vicki as she reaches for the spinach dip. “There’s no pressure to have to do what everyone else is doing.” There is one Spa Girls rule: No matter how you spend your day, everyone reunites at 6:30 p.m. for drinks and dinner. It’s a highlight for them all. “There is such good camaraderie among us all and always lots of laughing,” says Vicki. “We’re not all alike, and that’s good.” Of course, as with any group of diverse personalities, it can get chaotic. “All eight
Like most of us, these women have busy schedules filled with work, fami-
of us were on our last trip,” says Christy. “That first night, we just talked freely around the table. But it’s like a big family — everyone can’t chat at once.” So Ellen Titen-Wojcik, a 52-year-old business consultant who acts as the overall trip coordinator for the group, came up with a solution: the talking spoon. “We pass a spoon around the table,” Ellen explains. “Whoever is holding the spoon has the floor and she has the chance to share her favorite part of the day, or maybe a funny experience that took place during the day — something she knows the group would love to hear.”
The Spa Girls always return to Miraval. “Have you ever considered going somewhere else?” we ask, as the waiter pours
The group roster may shift from year to year, but one thing remains true:
more wine. Yes, one year they experimented and went to another spa resort. (Out of respect, they refuse to tell us which one.) While they had a good time, they all agree — it just wasn’t the same. “After trying the other place, we don’t have that conversation anymore,” laughs Ellen. “When you have something so perfect, why would you feel the need to change it? Miraval feels like home to us.” One thing they love about Miraval is the variety of activities. From cooking demos and hiking outings to yoga and Zen spinning (where the instructor gets you to release calories and tears), there’s something for everyone. “Why High was a great experience,” says Carol Zurcher, a 47-year-old CPA. “There are three poles attached by a tightrope; you climb on the poles and walk toward each other and meet in the middle. Ellen and I did it together, and we definitely bonded over it,” she recalls, sharing a smile with Ellen. Another unique offering is the Equine Experience. “Through my interactions
and body language with the horse, I learned that I have a tendency to focus on the goal instead of the journey,” says Barbara Hill, a 51-year-old CEO whose quest for spiritual growth earned her the nickname The Seeker. (All of the women have nicknames, which the rest prefer to keep private.) The treatments are stellar as well. “I always get a Thai massage,” says Ellen. “I’ve tried it multiple places and none compare. But I’ll also go to my favorite massage therapist and try whatever she recommends.” “I changed up everything this year,” says Jerri. “It was great!” But the biggest lure for the group is something simpler: the staff. “They are fabulous,” Nancy says. “We love seeing them every time we come back,” says Christy. “You can tell that Miraval really works with their staff. There’s a lot of loyalty and longevity there.” Jerri adds, “We stay in touch with them through the year, and they know when we’re coming.” Ellen has strict dietary restrictions due to food allergies, which can be a problem when she travels. “I was nervous about my first visit,” she shares, “so I met with Alberto Laveaga, the food and beverage manager. We went over everything, and he paid such attention to detail. It was beyond perfect. He found creative replacements for foods that I could never have. He even made me lunch for the plane ride home!” When Ellen brings up Alberto’s name, a silence falls over the group. “When I called the next year to make plans to see him,” she continues, with tears in her eyes, “we found out that he’d been killed in a car accident.” “It’s a family out there,” Christy adds. “We were all devastated. Alberto embodied the Miraval spirit.”
Miraval’s tasty, healthful cuisine keeps the ladies coming back. Bottom: The open-air Agave Yoga Center.
Breathwalking for Wellness is one of the programs offered by the acclaimed Andrew Weil, M.d., Integrative Wellness program.
Now whenever they visit, they make a point to pay their respects at the tree planted in Alberto’s honor. After a moment of silence, the mood lightens again as the girls talk of other staffers, many of whom have been favorites for years. “I always request Peter Bird for Thai massage,” says Vicki. “It’s awesome, and I can’t get that treatment at home. And every night Emilia Cajigas brings me my favorite gluten-free peanut butter cookies.” Aside from the staff and delicious cuisine (which comes with calorie, fat and carb counts for every dish), the group also loves Miraval’s commitment to nature. “We saw a bobcat walk by the picture window during a pilates class,” says Christy. “And then there was the hawk situation ... ” As she says this, warning glances are exchanged all around. “What hawk?” we ask. They decide to share. In keeping respect for its surroundings, Miraval does its best not to interfere with the natural habitats of its neighbors — even if those neighbors
happen to be a pair of hawks that built their nest between the dining room and a block of guest rooms one year. “It was a gorgeous day, and I was walking to breakfast when a giant hawk landed on my head!” recalls Jerri, instinctively putting her hands to her head. “I could feel the claws in my scalp. They got Ellen too — steps from her room!” “I think they enjoyed challenging us,” chuckles Carol. Rather than disturb the hatchlings by moving the nest, Miraval came up with another solution: They gave all of the guests umbrellas to put over their heads when they walked through the hawks’ territory, warding off any protective dive bombs. “We didn’t mind, though,” says Vicki. “They are committed to the ecosystem, which is very important.” And it carries on to the guests. “One day I sat for 10 minutes watching an ant carry a feather,” Vicki says. “I love it there so much, when I die I want my body thrown into the woods so the critters can eat me!” This kicks off an uproarious group laugh.
The Ties That Bond
municate more with their eyes than with words. That’s the kind of bond only true friends can understand — one that comes from years of shared experiences and acts like a secret language. But they did share some personal stories with us. Such as the one year when, just prior to the trip, Christy was diagnosed with cancer. “I never considered not going,” says Christy, thankfully now cancer-free. “I was with friends that I trusted, and I felt safe. I think that trip was a huge part of my healing process.” “What is there to life that really matters except our experiences and the memories we create?” adds Ellen. “Being part of a group of girlfriends who have known each other for so long, it adds color to the family of memories we share. This may not be our family of origin, but truly it is a family of choice.”
When it comes to the heavier conversations, the women tend to com-
“Though our lives have traveled in different directions, there’s an instant reconnection that occurs when we’re at Miraval,” says Barbara. Christy agrees: “We share things there that we don’t share with other people. It’s a safe place where nothing leaves. That’s why we weren’t even sure we wanted to talk about the hawk!” The effects not only strengthen their friendships but carry through to their daily lives. “I fill up spiritually and physically from these trips,” says Cheryl Orlansky, a 55-year-old registered dietitian, “but they also help me to help my patients by reinforcing the message of mindfulness.” “So does one trip stand out above the rest?” we ask as the evening winds down. “No,” they all emphatically agree. “Every year is the best one ever,” says Vicki. “It never gets old.” “I feel so blessed to be a part of this group,” says Nancy, a sentiment they all share. While others have asked to be a part of an upcoming Spa Girls trip, one thing is certain: The tightknit clan won’t be adding another member anytime soon. “Eight is enough,” pronounces Ellen, to cheers all around. (It also happens to be the size of the largest dining table at Miraval, so if they added more, they’d have to spread to two tables — something no one wants.) Jumping back into her role as coordinator, Ellen asks the group to raise their hands if they intend to never miss another Spa Girls trip. A unanimous show of hands hits the air followed by laughter, smiles and hugs — all the things special friendships are made of.
Once the Spa Girls expanded beyond a few people, trip planning became an issue — so Ellen Titen-Wojcik became the official trip coordinator, working with the rest of the women to figure out timing, organize flights, assign roommates and handle any other needs. Here are her time-tested tips for arranging your own spa tradition.
Assign a coordinator. “You need someone to be the go-to person, organizing reservations, flight times, etc. Otherwise, it gets too unwieldy as emails fly back and forth. This way, if anyone has an issue or question, they can just go to the coordinator.” Group size matters. “For us, eight is enough. Too many people would impact the chemistry and the ability to all be together for meals. However, saying no to a new Spa Girl is not easy.” Be selective. “Look for invitees who are independent and active! People need to be comfortable being on their own so everyone can do what they want without pressure. You also want safe people, those who you can share your inner heart with and know that the sharing will stay within the group. The experience of the spa, the classes or the challenge course can bring out a host of emotions.”
Ellen’s Tips for Planning a Group Spa Trip
The Spa Girls Roster
Vicki Berman, 51, attorney, Winter Park, Florida Christy Delk, 51, business owner, Orlando, Florida Nancy Habif, 49, lactation consultant, Atlanta, Georgia Barbara Hill, 51, CEO, Superior, CO Jerri Johnson, 51, dermatologist, Altamonte Springs, Florida Cheryl Orlansky, 55, registered dietician, Atlanta, Georgia Ellen Titen-Wojcik, 52, business consultant, Winter Park, Florida Carol E. Zurcher, 47, CPA, Winter Park, Florida
Want to start your own Spa Girls tradition? Miraval is making it easy for you by offering any group of friends a fifth-night-free package, available now through the end of the year. Mention Spa and you’ll also get a free room upgrade* when booking.
*Based on availability
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.