Destination Spas

Few things are as relaxing as a couple of days at a top-notch spa.


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Cliff House Resort & Spa, Ogunquit, Maine

You could best describe Ogunquit, Maine’s Cliff House Resort & Spa as a gracious old soul with a 21st-century heart. When established atop the oceanfront Bald Head Cliff in 1872 by Elsie Jane Weare, it exemplified simple operating principles: clean rooms, fine food and personal hospitality, in a setting that could conservatively be called “scenic.” The 70-acre resort has since had its ups and downs (as any hostelry staring down its sesquecentennial is likely to), but now seemingly stands at its peak—pardon the pun—while remaining in the hands of Elsie’s great-granddaughter Kathryn, and still adhering to those three original principles. Meanwhile, “clean rooms” have evolved into 194 accommodations with unfettered Atlantic views, private terraces, high-speed Internet access and flat-screen TVs.

Location is, obviously, the resort’s key asset. Though it’s only three miles from Ogunquit’s bustling, tourist-driven harbor, it feels a world apart. At night, the sound of the wind blowing off the water may convince you that you’re on the Welsh moors. Adding to the Gothic ambience is the descent you can take, via ladder, from the clifftop to the waterfront (more adventurous souls are often seen clambering out to the edges of the rocky coastline); I half expected to see Heathcliff’s ghost.

Thanks to extensive recent renovations, one can get anywhere in the resort buildings without setting a foot outside. A connector that unites the spa facilities with the original main house, Cliffscape, is windowed like an ocean liner and leads to the Ocean Terrace, the hot spot for lunch (do not miss the too-modestly-named Jumbo Maine Lobster Roll) and predinner cocktails. Just beyond is the white-linen dining room, which serves breakfast and elegant dinners (I began mine with a blueberry martini and continued the theme with seared blueberry halibut).

But aah, on to the spa. Established in 2003, it offers 40 or so truly creative, even unique, treatments that revolve around indigenous, natural elements: wild roses, stones from Bald Head Cliff. A session of seashell therapy incorporates a warm shell massage and crushed seashell and shea butter exfoliation. Blueberries are food for the soul in the antioxidant blueberry body wrap and Cliff House Signature Facial, utilizing a whole series of spa-made blueberry skin-care products.

As something of a spa curmudgeon—I’m not always comfortable being prodded, examined and fussed over—I adored the Cliff House experience, perhaps because it was more interactive than passive. One of our sessions, an Abhayanga massage with Shirodhara (a warm stream of oil to the “third eye” that soothes one’s senses) and Tibetan foot-balancing treatment, was an existential coffee klatsch, involving enlightening spiritual discussion as well as indulgence. You can treat yourself to the adjoining state-of-the-art fitness center featuring a 75-foot lap pool, whirlpool, Star-Tac treadmills (each with its own mini flat-screen TV), Cybex and Nautilus weight-training equipment and, yes, those windowed ocean views.

For further spiritual enrichment, a “must-walk” is the Cliff House Labyrinth, located outdoors on the spa terrace. Designed after the famed labyrinth located on the floor of the cathedral at Chartres, it’s composed of cliff stones and beach sand, and it’s pretty darn trippy to undertake its challenge while hearing the ocean roar and seagulls call. For a similarly meditative yet more expansive experience, try Ogunquit’s famed Marginal Way, a 1.25-mile oceanside cliff walk that stretches from the town’s beautiful public beach to its quaint commercial center, Perkins Cove. I can attest it never grows old.

Shore Road, Ogunquit, Maine. For more info on rates and special packages, call (207) 361-1000 or

Destination Spas

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