Cuernavaca: Relaxing, convenient to Mexico City

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Associate editor Lori Tenny stayed at Hosteria Las Quintas Resort & Spa outside Mexico City. Her report follows.

CUERNAVACA, Mexico -- Mexico is gaining ground as a destination of choice for seasoned spa goers and first-timers looking to discover the benefits of a spa vacation.

Quintas ResortThe extent of my experience with spas in Mexico had gone no further than a quick facial at a beach resort until I ventured into Cuernavaca on the tail end of a recent trip to Mexico City.

Often referred to as the "city of eternal spring" for its beautiful climate, Cuernavaca and its outlying areas are home to four spas, one of which is Hosteria Las Quintas. During my two-night stay here, the lures of a Mexican spa vacation became clear.

Hosteria Las Quintas is a peaceful garden retreat with cozy accommodations, high-end spa services at reasonable rates and provides the opportunity to explore the area's natural, historic and cultural attractions as part of the experience. A key selling point is accessibility for vacationers as well as business travelers who want to wind down after a trip to Mexico City.

From Benito Juarez International Airport, I took advantage of the daily scheduled service on Pullman de Morelos air-conditioned motorcoaches. I left behind the urban sprawl and was transported on a 1.5-hour scenic drive along mountain roads into the serenity of the lush, subtropical Morelos Valley. Five minutes by cab from the bus station in Cuernavaca, Hosteria Las Quintas is the closest spa property to the center of town, but it is tucked behind stone walls that give it a sense of isolation and seclusion.

The property is centered around a garden area filled with colorful flowers, plants and trees, most of which are labeled for the curious, and exotic birds, fountains and modern sculpture by artist Victor Hugo Castaneda. Accommodations at the 60-room property are situated in two-story Spanish colonial-style buildings.

All of the spacious rooms at the property have a unique character, with such features as tile floors, iron bannisters and terraces; some of the units have fireplaces or Jacuzzis. The property is in the final stages of renovating many of the older units. Each will sport new bathrooms, lighter wood detailing, brighter decors and amenities such as reading lights and hair dryers.

After settling in, I was whisked off to the spa to set up my treatments and receive an orientation on the facility. The goal is to waste no time in making guests feel pampered, according to Orlando Hidalgo, owner of the spa. "Everything here is centered around de-stressing," Hidalgo said. "We try to give every client a massage the day they arrive."

The spa features treatment rooms, a sauna, a steamroom, a hair salon and a gym. Just outside the facility are an inviting pool and Jacuzzi. I perused the dizzying array of spa services available: algae wraps, aromatherapy, body scrubs, reflexology, manicures, Swedish and shiatsu massage and thalassotherapy underwater massage, to name a few.

The experience here could range from relieving aching muscles with a massage to taking in a multiday spa package that includes a medical evaluation, a fitness and body composition analysis and a selection of massages, facials, body treatments and beauty services. The fitness analysis alone is a 20-page report on topics such as fat ratio to lean mass, complete with a specially designed exercise routine.

With a limited amount of time, I only scratched the surface of the options list, but it was enough to leave me rejuvenated. Aside from an excellent Swedish massage that helped to weed out the knots in my muscles, a tingling body scrub was a refreshing treatment using an application of sea salt, oatmeal, apricot and honey to gently exfoliate the skin. I also booked a fangotherapy treatment, utilizing a relaxing body wrap of Dead Sea mud designed to release toxins, relieve muscle pain and oxygenate and mineralize the skin.

The spa staff and technicians were considerate and professional, offering personalized service with each treatment instead of an assembly line approach. All therapists are licensed in Mexico and participate in a continuing education program. "You can't fool people," Hidalgo said. "We have to offer high-quality service to satisfy our clientele."

Aside from the treatments, the spa experience at Hosteria Las Quintas sets itself apart by giving clients the opportunity to immerse themselves in the natural surroundings and culture of the region The spa's Eco-Fitness packages include daily off-site tours that return in time for lunch and afternoon spa services.

Among the excursions are visits to the cities of Cuernavaca and Taxco, the pyramids of Tepoztlan, the lagoons of Zempoala, the archaeological site of Xochicalco, the natural river of Las Estacas and the caverns of Cacahuamilpa.

Despite the array of services and programs offered at Hosteria Las Quintas, clients choose their level of activity and involvement based on personal needs. There are no rules that require guests to stick to spa cuisine, for example.

While the chef has developed a creative spa cuisine menu, it was hard not to splurge on the standard fare, which included excellent selections such as salmon with caviar in a saffron white wine sauce. The restaurant also has a comprehensive wine list and a display of roughly 60 fine tequilas, many of which are special reserves not found in stores.

Before the spa opened in 1994, Hosteria Las Quintas had been hosting travelers since 1965, so there is no lack of experience in servicing guests beyond spa treatments.

The property enjoys a healthy repeat clientele, according to general manager Salvador Castaneda. "We have guests who have been coming back regularly for 30 years," he said.

Spa business at the property is on the rise, according to Hidalgo, with approximately 500 spa packages sold in 1997. Hidalgo said 95% of the spa clientele at the property is American, with an average age range from early to mid-30s. "The U.S. already has the mentality that a spa is for everyone, not just for the elite," he added.

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