Cal-a-Vie Health Spa, Vista California

Cal-a-Vie Health Spa, Vista California

Life is a wake-up call at the Cal-a-Vie Health Spa. If you think the spa culture is entirely too sedate, too precious, maybe even too feminine, Cal-a-Vie could change your mind. It did for Rick Holton, a venture capitalist from St. Louis, whose wife Kristen came back from a visit with a friend and made a request. Or was it an order?

"She and Stephanie went last year and came back and said you guys are going with us next year," says Holton. "I was not really looking forward to it. It turned out to be an amazing experience."

Cal-a-Vie is the creation of Houston businessman John Havens and his wife Terri, a more than 200-acre property in the low coastal mountains an hour north of San Diego and a light-year away from everyday life. The passionate Francophiles built a tiny French village with a purpose: to provide a complete environment of physical and mental well- being in a charming, caring and invigorating atmosphere.

While you could come to Cal-a-Vie and indulge in nothing more than power pampering, that's not what its guests seem to want.

"I didn't realize that half your day was exercise and working out," says Holton. "I always envisioned them just hanging out with cucumbers on their eyes and towels on their heads."

A look at the extensive menu of workouts and therapies complemented with a flock of massages and wraps and skin treatments shows a lot going on. And boy, can you get a workout.

It can all start very early, with a long walk before 7 a.m., followed by a communal breakfast followed by workouts from mild to wild with exuberant instructors. The list includes regimens titled Muscles on Fire, No Guts No Glory, R.I.P.P.E.D. (for resistance, interval, power, plyometric and endurance), and Piloxing (combining pilates with boxing and dance). There is a two-hour triathlon workout (running, swimming, cycling) and aquatic regimens that include submerged cycling machines for resistance spinning.

Afternoons see a change from sweats to robes, from working out to being worked on. Among the many therapies is vinotherapy, in which the by-products of the spa's vineyard, said to be antioxidant rich, are used on the skin. Different scrubs and buffs and wraps can fill an entire week.

Nutrition is an equally important component of the Cal-a-Vie experience and executive chef Curtis Cooke plucks from his own garden and orchard along with locally obtained products to produce his communal meals. Everyone eats the same food together (some individual requests can be accommodated), and Cooke will put on demonstrations in the spa's L'Orangerie, a 17th-Century building from Dijon, France, that was disassembled and erected stone by stone, as was the chapel on site.

The French influence is everywhere, including furniture and tapestries from Louis XIV and XV in public spaces and some furniture and accoutrements can be purchased in the spa's store, as can the spa's wine, a red blend of the property's cabernet, merlot and cabernet franc vines.

Cigar smokers have a real perk. The spa owns the Vista Valley Country Club right next door, and guests have playing and smoking privileges there. The clubhouse has three outdoor terraces that can accommodate cigar smoking and offers a nice range of cigars.

The spa offers three-, four- and seven-night packages (starting at $4,150), and there is plenty of planning before the visit and upon arrival to assure an experience tailor-made to each guest.

It's nothing less than Cal-a-Vie's way, which is c'est magnifique.