INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Long ago, before Bob Hope, Desi Arnaz and Frank Sinatra brought golf and celebrities to the California desert, the makings of the first spas bubbled beneath the ground here.

The native Indians of the area's Cahuilla tribe used the natural springs for health and spiritual purposes. And, today, resorts are using them to cater to the growing market of spa vacations.

The latest development is at the Miramonte Resort & Spa, which is scheduled to open a major facility on April 1.

It is called the Well, a name chosen to reflect the ancient history of the area. (Many of the hot springs were wells used by the Indians of the desert.)

The grounds of the Miramonte Resort include one of the three wells in the city limits of Indian Wells, the city named for the wells.

The resort, built in the 1960s and known as the Erawan for decades, was renovated in the last few years with a $28 million investment from its owner, Milwaukee-based Marcus Hotels and Resorts.

The spa will be 12,000 square feet and contain 10 outdoor and nine indoor "relaxation suites" for massages and other treatments.

In keeping with the Tuscan theme of the rest of the hotel, the spa will have several Italian touches.

"There's an Old-World feel, and we want people to feel the relaxation based on the Italian way of life," said Jennifer Di Francesco, spa manager. Examples of the Italian-themed treatments include an olive oil scrub and a grape seed scrub.

Di Francesco has years of experience in running spas in the California desert. She opened the spas at La Quinta and Westin Mission Hills and is a licensed aesthetician, massage therapist and Pilates instructor.

She said the spa will offer unusual features such as the "pittura festa," where guests are encouraged to use brushes and paint colorful mud and clays on themselves or a partner's body.

They can then bask in the sun in their private cabana as the mud detoxifies the body and soothes muscles as a therapist massages the scalp and does press-point facials while the mud dries.

Two "river benches" enable couples to lie on sculpted stone chaise lounges in a shallow stream of water.

There are also planned fitness classes, including yoga, Pilates, tai chi and meditation.

"Spa-savvy people are always looking for unique experiences," said Di Francesco. "This will be intimate, a sanctuary from 21st century living."

The spa area opens to the Miramonte's swimming pool area, which contains several cabanas available for private relaxing.

The patio of the hotel's restaurant, Brissago, a California-Italian restaurant, is also adjacent to the spa.

The $2 million spa is part of an ongoing expansion for the Miramonte. In addition to building the spa, the hotel renovated its 216 guest rooms with new bedding and beds in the last year.

The owners plan to add 10,000 square feet of meetings space, including a new free-standing ballroom, which will bring the total meetings and events space to 20,000 square feet, said K.C. Kinsey, director of sales and marketing.

The hotel's strongest selling points are its lush landscaped grounds, with bougainvillea-draped balconies; herb, citrus and rose gardens; and views of the Santa Rosa Mountains, he said.

The property's small scale is a contrast to some of the local megaresorts and draws guests and meetings planners, Kinsey said.

"There are some great resorts in the area, but they don't offer the intimacy that our grounds offer," particularly to small groups and corporate retreats of 100 or less attendees, he added.

The hotel's Villa d'Este is designed for high-level executive retreats or small groups.

It is a private enclave with four one-bedroom suites and a 3,000-square-foot Presidential Suite. Each suite has three whirlpool tubs, three TVs, four telephones and Bose Wave radios.

The spa services extend to meetings services. Meetings planners can take advantage of such offerings as fitness breaks with tai chi instruction and invigorating tea and fruit breaks.

Guest-room services include marble bathrooms, terry bathrobes and slippers, a separate dressing area, cable TV, telephones with data ports, wireless Internet access, twice-daily maid service and 24-hour room service.

The hotel offers a one-night spa package for $419 per room, including a 60-minute massage per person.

For information, contact the hotel at (800) 237-2926 or

To contact reporter Laura Del Rosso, send e-mail to [email protected].

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