Ticket to Weight Loss

If you think a vacation is an excuse to forgo your fitness routine, think again.
Here are four fun (and wallet-friendly) places to lose weight and get fit.

Mountain rest stop for 2 hikersHave you ever started a diet one week, only to comfort yourself with an entire pan of brownies the next? Or maybe you kicked off 2005 on the right foot by joining a gym – only to find yourself on a lengthy, if not permanent, hiatus within weeks. You’re only human. Sometimes all you need is renewed inspiration to get moving; a little extra motivation to help you stick with a healthier lifestyle. Here are four Shape-tested (and budget-minded) spa-based programs guaranteed to rev you up as you peel away pounds!

Rates are double occupancy and do not include transportation, tipping or taxes unless stated otherwise. Meal-plan calorie counts are guidelines and not mandatory unless noted.

NUTURED BY NATURE
Birdwing Spa, Litchfield, Minn.

On the Map A two-hour drive west of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

Sneak Peek If you’re looking for a gentle nudge to start your journey to weight loss, Birdwing Spa’s Life Enhancement Program can help ease you into the peoper mind-set for achieving your fitness goals.

Your week begins with a fitness and life-coach consultation, complete with a VO2 max test to determine your resting metabolic rate. Coupled with soothing spa treatments, the compassionate staff’s hands-on counseling buffers any burnout potential during your weight-loss program.

Calorie Busters Fitness classes range from step aerobics to qi gong and yoga. After a 30-minute lunch, the remainder of the afternoon is a mix of exercise classes and outdoor activities. There’s canoeing, kayaking, biking and hiking in warmer months, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter (gear and instruction included). Try the resort’s three-mile walk/canoe combo where you’ll ply Birdwing Bay, take a brisk trek along Deer Trail and then paddle back to shore for dinner.

Guilt-Free Gourmet Meal plans range from 1,200-1,500 calories a day (for those counting), but you won’t even realize you’re eating low-cal fare. The chef’s flavorful, elaborate (yet low in fat, sugar and sodium) spreads will surprise you. Typical dishes include oatmeal pancakes or breakfast burritos with fresh fruit; spinach and feta pie with a mandarin orange salad for lunch and apricot chicken with basmati rice, steamed broccoli and a spinach and strawberry salad for dinner.

Rest A cozy Tudor-style home that serves as the centerpiece of this peaceful 300-acre estate with 2 ½ miles of private lakeshore (Star Lake and Birdwing Bay), 35 acres of prairie grassland and 15 wooded miles of walking and cross-country ski trails. Stay in the main house or in the vintage red barn’s spacious suites with oversized hot tubs. Included in the price is one 30- to 60-minute spa treatment per day (try the herbal body wrap or European facial).

Bottom Line From $1,690 weekly includes the Life Enhancement Program (body composition analysis, personal fitness and life-coach consultation and a detailed take-home program), lodging, all meals, classes, outdoor activities and seven spa services (320-693-6064; birdwingspa.com).

ALIGHT IN THE FOREST
Tennessee Fitness Spa, Waynesboro, Tenn.

On the Map A two-hour drive southwest of the Nashville airport (shuttle available from $75 roundtrip)

Sneak Peek Am I there yet? This is a common question as your drive beyond marked freeways and wend along hickory- and oak-tree-lined back roads to get to this rustic 100-acre property adjacent to a waterfall, an ice cave and the only double-span natural bridge in the world (where Davy Crockett made his first political speech).

After kicking off the week with a complimentary fitness assessment – including flexibility, weight, measurements and body-fat percentage – as well as receiving pep talks from friendly staffers throughout the week, you’ll be totally equipped to reach your personal weight-loss goals.

Calorie Busters A typical day’s activity schedule features a two- to 10- mile morning hike (divided into groups according to fitness level) through historic surroundings along wooded trails and gravel roads with names like Kutch Holler, Moaning Mountain and Heartbreak Hill.

Class offerings, which are available throughout the day in the resort’s 2,500-square-foot fitness center, include Pilates, yoga, stability-ball exercises, cardio and resistance training and aquatic stretching an aerobics in the indoor junior Olympic-sized pool.

Guilt-Free Gourmet All guests are put on a 1,200- to 1,400-calorie meal plan that is low in fat, sugar and sodium (based upon American Heart Association and American Dietetic Association suggestions). While no one keeps strict tabs on your personal consumption, there is an unspoken motto here: If we don’t serve it, don’t eat it.

Rest Sink into a rocking chairs or relax on a porch swing surrounded by hanging baskets of flowers on the deck of Tennessee Fitness Spa’s modest, yet cozy, multi-level wooden chalet and gaze at bucolic scenery. There’s a small pond favored by mallard ducks and a covered bridge from which you may spot cows grazing in an adjacent pasture.

Bottom line The Sunday-to-Sunday stay starts at $740 per week for a standard double/$650 for a quad (includes accommodations, all meals, hiking and fitness activities; 800-235-8365, tfspa.com).

Hiker in woodsGREEN MOUNTAIN SLIM-DOWN
New Life Hiking Spa, Killington, Vt.

On the Map A 90-minute drive southeast of Burlington International Airport

Sneak Peek Located in the land of covered bridges and white picket fences, this Green Mountain National Forest-area gem was founded 27 years ago by Jimmy LeSage, a fitness/nutrition expert, as an off-season/on-site program at the Inn of the Six Mountains. More than 500 guests arrive annually between May 13 and Oct. 21 in pursuit of back-to-basics, kick-in-the-pants approach to self-renewal: no caffeine, low salt, no refined sugar, no seconds.

Calorie Busters Days begin with a stretch class or qi gong in a 1,200-square-foot pavilion overlooking the Green Mountains, followed by breakfast (where you’ll discuss hiking choices) and a 9 a.m. departure for a three-hour hike. There are 25 different hikes – you’ll tackle three per day – available for guests of every level of fitness, from beginner (countryside hikes of two to four miles), intermediate (trekking four to eight miles along the Appalachian and Long trails) and advanced (climbing peaks as high as 4,000 feet in elevation).

Activities such as body toning, water aerobics and yoga round out your day. In the evenings, sit in on seminars addressing topics such as nutrition and cooking, reflexology and the healing power of laughter.

Guilt-Free Gourmet All meals (1,400-1,600 calories per day) follow the principles of LeSage’s own New Life Diet, which promotes mindful eating of organic, unprocessed, unrefined and whole foods that are low in sugars, salt, simple carbohydrates and fat. Entrees include oatmeal pancakes and mushroom-cheese omelets for breakfast; salmon cakes and freshly carved turkey sandwiches on multigrain sprouted bread for lunch; and sautéed shrimp with herbs and spices, chicken Marsala and vegetarian lasagna for dinner. While portions are restricted to one dish/one helping per person (served restaurant style), desserts (e.g., carrot cake) also are served.

Rest After a long day of exercise, you’ll look forward to the spacious, cozy confines of your private suite, decorated in rich, warm hues and patterns.

Guests are welcome to take an afternoon or even an entire day to unwind at the spa with a complimentary treatment (check out the reflexology or a deep-cleansing and hydrating facial). Or take a dip in one of the pools or hot tubs.

Bottom Line Five-day Jump Start Getaway from May 13 to Oct. 21 begins at $1075 (includes accommodations; all meals; hiking and fitness classes; gear such as backpacks, trekking poles and water bottles and one spa treatment; 866-298-5433, newlifehikingspa.com).

B.C. BOOT CAMP
Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat & Health Spa,
Ainsworth Hot Springs, British Columbia

On the Map An hour’s drive north B.C.’s Castlegar Airport and four hours north of Spokane, Wash. Complimentary transfers to and from Castlegar on Mondays and Fridays (otherwise, $180 round trip)

Sneak Peek The tranquil Kootenay Lake and jagged Purcell Mountains frame the surroundings of your weeklong chalet home. Hiking (at least 500 miles of well-maintained wilderness trails) is central to Mountain Trek’s “FitPlan Plus Weight Loss 1200” retreat, which is a highly structured, energizing daily regimen. The spa is a free zone: no perfumes, no alcohol, no cigarettes, no televisions, no radios, no newspapers (and consequently no stress).

Calorie Busters You start the program with a fitness assessment, a nutritional assessment by a registered dietitian and a metabolic test and weigh-in by a staff kinesiologist. The day begins with a 6 a.m. wake-up knock, followed by yoga in the modern, window-lined studio overlooking the lake and mountains. After breakfast, you’ll hit the hiking trails in one of several groups across a variety of terrain – from moderate climbs to extremely steep ones.

Guilt-Free Gourmet While the suggested caloric intake is 1,200 calories a day, “the big picture is metabolism,” says spa dietitian Jeff Krueger, R.D. “Rather than depriving guests, we advocate the ‘food = energy =.activity’ weight-loss formula. The priorities are losing fat weight and maintaining or building up muscle mass.” To fuel your daily hikes, Krueger serves hearty, yet low-cal fare like Northwest pancakes, spinach-pepper frittatas, poached herbed halibut, Thai chicken and peach-vanilla smoothies.

Rest Rooms are small but homey, with down-filled duvets and handmade quilts. It’s a five-minute walk to the nearby hot springs. Or simply lounge next to the main lodge’s big stone fireplace or gather around the outdoor fire pit.

Bottom Line FitPlan Plus (typically Friday to Friday) starts at $2770 (includes private accommodations, hiking program, gym activities, all meals, daily laundry service, use of sweat suits, backpacks, three massages and the FitPlan Plus Weight Loss Meal Plan and body-composition analysis; hiking gear package is $260; 800-661-5161, hiking.com).

After visiting these four weight-loss spas, freelance writer Cynthia Dial returned home to San Diego 10 pounds lighter and four inches trimmer.