Cal-a-Vie: A High-end California Health Spa

In a famous exchange, F. Scott Fitzgerald once said to Ernest Hemingway: “The rich are different from you and me”, to which Hemingway responded drily, “Yes. They have more money.” To add a modern twist to Hemingway’s quip, it could also be said that they have less cellulite. At least those who visit Cal-a-Vie, an exquisite, upscale destination spa nestled in the secluded valley of Vista, California, just north of San Diego.

Landscape - Cal a Vie

The gorgeous landscape

Despite the ritzy setting, Cal-a-Vie provides a very warm and unaffected environment for its guests. The service is phenomenal: with a maximum of 32 visitors and a staff-to-guest ratio of 5:1, there is virtually no room for error here. And although Cal-a-Vie does not offer as strict a regime as some other destination spas, the fitness program is still effective. With daily hikes and a wide array of exercise classes, most guests succeed in shedding at least a few pounds during their stay. But at approximately $8,500 for a full week’s stay, let’s face it: this is not a holiday for recessionistas. For those lucky enough to vacation at Cal-a-Vie, however, what awaits them will be glorious.

The drive up to Cal-a-Vie is not unlike a drive through the Tuscan countryside; complete with rolling hills and vineyards (the region has also been called “the avocado capital of the world”). In keeping with this European feel, the Cal-a-Vie property features historical structures brought over from France, including the 400-year old chapel and dining room where all meals are eaten. Antique pieces are peppered throughout the common areas as well.

Massage Forum

Living area at Cal-a-Vie

Upon arrival, guests are led to their private Mediterranean-styled stucco villas, which are rustic chic and sparkling clean but sans TVs. To take the worry out of packing, a generous supply of grey sweat suits is also provided to guests (though many opt to bring their own workout clothes). Guests are then taken to be interviewed by a concierge to figure out a customized meal plan, fitness class and spa treatment schedule, all of which is tailored to their specific health and wellness goals. Whether they choose one of Cal-a-Vie’s three-, four- or seven-night packages, guests will experience a good balance of strenuous activity, luxuriating treatments and delicious spa cuisine.

A typical day at Cal-a-Vie begins at 6:00 a.m. with a challenging guided hike lasting about an hour, followed by a healthy breakfast of either scrambled egg whites with spinach and a side of oatmeal; the omelet of the day; or a muffin and fresh fruit. By 9:00 a.m., guests will begin a succession of four, fifty-minute classes that alternate between high-intensity cardio (cardio kickboxing or spin classes held either on land or in water, courtesy of the spa’s underwater cycles); strength training (circuit or barre classes); and yoga or stretch classes. And while the amenities are lovely and the atmosphere collegial among the small group, make no mistake about it: guests will be working their Lululemon butts off.

Somewhere in between this marathon there is a ten-minute “revitalizer” break, when a small cup of vegetable broth and steamed vegetables are served. This will hold everyone until lunchtime which features dishes prepared by Executive Chef Jason Graham. These might include the main lobster Thai-style green curry bowl with English peas, toasted peanuts and brown rice; or the Asian salad with chicken and edamame. Since the number of guests is so few, meticulous attention is paid to individual needs: each guest’s food allergies, restrictions and daily calorie count are set out on a large whiteboard located in the kitchen for staff members to follow.


Cute guys on hydro riders 🙂

Everyone breathes a heavy sigh of relief at 2:00 p.m., when they realize the hard work is over for the day and the decadent part is about to begin. Depending on one’s plan, two or three European-style spa treatments will be scheduled during the afternoon, which treatments can range from deep tissue massages; a Yonka facial; hair and scalp treatments with the Phyto Botanical line of products; hydrotherapy treatments or reflexology. In between appointments, guests may fit in a mid-afternoon nap in their room or by the pool, depending on the weather.

By 7:00 p.m., dinner is served. Menu items may include butternut squash soup and char fish with buckwheat; or grilled marinated shrimp with celery root puree and roasted root vegetables. Dessert may be a chocolate peanut butter cake or a creative combination of sorbets. (Incredibly, we were assured that the sum total of each day’s meals, including dessert, was 1200 calories. Well who was I to argue?)

As for extra-curricular activities, there are lectures on nutrition and stress management as well as a cooking demonstration scheduled at different times throughout the week. And for those who absolutely can’t do without television, there is a large screen TV available in a communal area (during my stay, a large throng of women made a beeline for the TV room when it was announced that Downton Abbey was about to start). Thereafter guests crawl into their beds, which had been seamlessly turned down in advance.

This is how the One Percent sweats; with a perfectly-balanced regime to work out all of their trouble spots. Having someone else to count your calories, apply coffee bean extract to your thighs and do your laundry on a daily basis makes the business of getting healthy a lot easier. But in the end guests at Cal-a-Vie will, quite literally, have to do the same heavy-lifting as everyone else in order to meet their fitness goals. And there is something quite reassuring about that.


Lynn was a guest of Cal-A-Vie in February 2013. Photos are courtesy of Cal-a-Vie.

About Lynn Burshtein

Lynn Burshtein is a lawyer and freelance travel writer. While thoroughly committed to her “day job” as an entertainment lawyer, she equally enjoys using the other side of her brain when writing about her globe-trotting experiences, which have taken her from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico and Europe. She is a regular contributor to, along with other Canadian- and U.S.-based publications.

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