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California Shangri-La

By Sara Fiedelholtz
Posted On Jul 21, 2011

Like the principles of Feng Shui it follows, the Four Seasons Hotel Spa and Wellness Center is a place where you can re-align your deepest energies

WORDS: Mary L. Hughes

As my car climbed higher into the mountains above Malibu, the clouds and mist lingering from a light morning rain were clearing. It was a “slow reveal” in Hollywood lingo, like a veil lifting, gradually exposing the vast Santa Monica mountains in 180-degree splendor. Only 40 miles from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, I was in another world. No wonder the area had been used for outdoor shots of fabled Shangri-La in the classic 1937 Capra film “Lost Horizon.” The people who inhabited that paradise were said to be immortal and never age.

What better place for one of the most unique and inspired spas in the world? The lavish Spa and Wellness Center in the palatial Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village is the brain child of Dole Chairman David Murdoch, as is the world renowned California Health and Longevity Institute in the same complex. Both blend western medicine with eastern philosophy and tradition.

The entire 20-acre hotel compound exudes an East-meets-West feel, from the imported pagoda, to the waterfall and serene gardens, to the decidedly Asian inspired furnishings and fresh orchids in every room.

Décor here is guided by Feng Shui philosophy. Many rooms are painted a soft yellow, reportedly Murdoch’s favorite color. The grounds have gardens and a greenhouse where vegetables and herbs are grown and used in the hotel’s three restaurants. The complex is a feast for the eye, including indoor and outdoor pools, state-of-the-art fitness facilities and classes, healthy cooking, yoga, a full-scale salon… everything you would expect of a world-class hotel-cum wellness center.

The partnership between The California Health and Longevity Institute and the hotel’s Spa and Wellness Center also takes the experience up a notch. Both are geared toward overall life balance, guided by a holistic and personal approach to each individual. Some guests come soley for the medical services of the California Health and Longevity Institute, which offers everything from nutrition and exercise programs to chiropractic and dental services. Others come for a day or a weekend retreat at the Spa and Wellness Center, as I did.

At 41,000-square-feet, this mega spa is the largest of all the Four Seasons hotels, with 28 treatments rooms and four luxury private treatment suites you can rent for a half or full day. There are steam rooms, dry saunas, whirlpools and outdoor cabanas by the pool. Order from the light spa menu and nap in the lounges. Lest you think this is going to be over-the-top expensive, consider that you can enjoy the entire spa with other day-spa regulars for $50 all day, sans treatments. However, I highly recommend a splurge to experience one or two of the spa services. It doesn’t get better than this.

The spa offers a menu of traditional and exotic treatments, including Swedish and Thai massage, reflexology, unique body treatments and facials that do everything from microderm to anti-age, courtesy of some expensive equipment. So you can mix and match to create your own “perfect day.” Here’s mine: I asked for the most iconic of their treatments. Having said I was particularly interested in body contouring, the Seaweed Thermal Contouring Wrap was highly recommended to detoxify, target cellulite and eliminate dead skin. Who knew cellulite was merely toxins trapped in fat cells? They’ll tell you.

I was guided into a luxurious private treatment suite, complete with living room, bedroom, TV, fireplace and private patio, “so celebs can have privacy,” I was told. Who, they won’t tell you. New Age and relaxation music plays softly. A massage table has been set up in the outer room. I was asked to choose the aromatherapy oil that is used for the facial massage portion. After smelling four, all exquisite, I chose what Roberta, my therapist, called “a fennel-based” oil. I love fennel, but who knew? Then she showed me the potions she would be using on my body: a gritty concoction of coffee grinds, pumice and sea kelp that would be used to slough off the outer layer of skin all over the body. An oil would be used to soothe the skin and relax my body in a light massage. The whole thing promised exfoliation, detoxification, stimulation of endorphins, cellulite reduction—and relaxation, too!

After the sloughing of my entire body, I was wrapped in light cotton muslin so the ingredients would penetrate. Light aromoatherapy oils were massaged over body and face. And as Roberta performed all her ministrations I sank into sweet oblivion. It took 80 minutes but when she was done, my dry skin was glowing and hydrated, I felt like a wet noodle, and all I wanted was to lie down on that sumptuous bed by the fire for a while.

But Roberta had just softened me for the kill. I was ushered into the Thai massage room where Laura, dressed in a colorful Asian dress, had made offerings and lit incense before the little “spirit house” amid the flowers on the patio to bless the massage. I was asked to exchange the best hotel bathrobe I’ve ever had for an airy, white cotton Thai outfit, drawstring pants and shirt, “because of the stretching I am doing,” Laura explained. What did a Thai massage have to do with body contouring, I asked, and was reminded of the guiding philosophy here: wellness must be approached holistically.

The Thai massage, Laura explained, is meant to realign the flow of energy in my body. That, of course, affects everything from your state of mind to how your body functions. And realign she did.

Thai massage can best be explained as a kind of passive yoga, in which the masseuse uses her whole body (elbows, feet, knees and hands) to stretch you into positions you might never venture on your own. Tight muscles and stress points are kneaded and pressed into submission. It is not the kind of ‘feel-good’ massage that makes you purr, like a deep Swedish, which is also offered. But it is deeply therapeutic, releasing toxins in the body while it liberates the energy flow.

Fifty minutes later, I am guided back to my private suite. Everything is beautiful, everything seems a conscious choice, no corner unconsidered, every detail an opportunity to make a statement. Serenity and simplicity everywhere. Impeccable. I had been at the spa less than five hours, yet I had been transported, transmuted, tranquilized, detoxified and realigned. I had shed dead skin, stress and cellulite. And I was already imagining a return.

I drove off reluctantly, down through the mountains, folding into the highways back to the city. Of course I didn’t want to leave. Then again, now I know where Shangri-La is.

Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village
Two Dole Drive
Westlake Village, CA 91362
Telephone: (818) 575-3000

California Health & Longevity Institute
Two Dole Drive
Westlake Village, CA 91362
Telephone: (888) 575-1114