America's Best Spa Values: Midwest and South

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Gilman, Ill.

Heartland Spa
Though only 90 minutes south of Chicago, Heartland Spa leaves city life far behind. Its 32 acres, with rolling pastures, woods, cornfields, and a spring-fed lake, create the kind of peace and quiet you can find only in farm country. Plus, where else can you do cardio-kickboxing in the hayloft of an old dairy barn? With a two-to-one staff-to-guest ratio, Heartland exudes true Midwestern hospitality. Even if you're the only person signed up for a particular activity, the spa won't cancel--whether it's a morning walk, a cooking demonstration, a wellness lecture, or an aerobics class. Beverly Rogers of Country Club Hills, Ill., first visited 11 years ago, after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 51. She and a group of women also fighting cancer were in search of "introspection and reflection, away from the doctors and hospitals," she explains. "Heartland is such a mind-body-spirit kind of a place." And, says Rogers, it's charming without the pretense of some spas. Each guest can borrow a sweat suit to work out in. When you leave it on your doormat at the end of the day, "laundry fairies" magically replace it with a clean one. Rogers has returned annually with cancer survivors ever since.

Best Deal: Five-Night Midweek Perk from $1,025, includes four 40-minute full-body massages, one facial, and all taxes. 800/545-4853,

Litchfield, Minn.

Birdwing Spa
Surrounded by gently hilly farmland, Birdwing Spa is on 300 pristine acres about 70 miles west of Minneapolis. "I love the hominess and sense of true wilderness," says Brenda Williams of Minnetrista, Minn., who has visited Birdwing five times with her friend Claudia Pilot. A maximum of 25 guests stay either in the bedrooms of a former private home or in the 100-year-old barn, renovated to house eight suites. The fitness-centric spa offers aerobics classes, a 24-hour gym, and low-cal meals, but most people come to kayak on the lake or to hike the 15 miles of trails. The less adventurous read in the screened gazebo, choose a hammock for an afternoon nap, or indulge in any number of treatments. Birdwing's specialty is the Decadent Rose Body Glo, which features a foot soak with rose petals and essential oils, a face and scalp massage, and a body exfoliation and mask (90 minutes, $145). But even the basic massage is heaven: "Last time, I was so relaxed I left feeling like a jellyfish," says Williams. 

Best Deal: Two-night package from $515, includes a full-body massage (60 minutes) and choice of European facial (60 minutes) or herbal body wrap (30 minutes). 320/693-6064,

Waynesboro, Tenn.

Tennessee Fitness Spa
Two hours southwest of Nashville, the Tennessee Fitness Spa has more in its favor than just bucolic views. The remote location means the nearest McDonald's is 10 miles away, a blessing for the many guests who come to kick-start their fitness regimen. "It's a working spa," says Margaret King of Philadelphia, who regularly visits Tennessee Fitness with her sister in order to escape the pressures of her at-home business. "It gets me out of my routine and gives me a new perspective." The six chalet-style buildings have simple rooms, all with private bathrooms and decks. (Deluxe rooms also have TVs.) The aerobics gym and heated indoor pool are open 24 hours, hiking trails snake around the property, and about 30 classes are available each week. The spa chefs prepare a different low-cal menu daily and they teach hands-on preparation-useful lessons for when guests return home and want to continue their regimen. Body treatments include the standard massages (30--60 minutes, from $35), facials (from $35), and wraps (from $80). People primarily come to get healthy, but all the relaxing is a definite plus. "It's so informal," says King. "No one dresses up or bothers to put on makeup."

Best Deal: Overnights from $165 (two-night minimum; stays of two or three nights can't be booked more than a week in advance). 800/235-8365,

Kohler, Wis.

Kohler Waters Spa
If the name rings a bell, that's because Kohler is a manufacturer of top-of-the-line bathroom fixtures. But many people don't know that the company runs a spa that showcases its products. Based on the fact that our bodies are composed of two-thirds water, spa therapies here focus entirely on H2O's healing properties. Kohler engineering created the RiverBath (a hydro-massage, 50 minutes, $95), Rain Water Experience (Swedish massage under a warm rain-like shower, 50 minutes, $135), and Cooler-Near-the-Lake, a bath that mimics nearby Lake Michigan's warm and cool temperature patterns (50 minutes, $135). A waterfall cascades into a long relaxation pool in the central spa area, and guests can hear the calming sounds of rushing water from the treatment rooms. "It's one of most relaxing places we've ever been," says Jodie Scordo from Milwaukee, who has visited Kohler with friend Kelly Hruska every year for the last three years. And while Scordo comes for the spa experience, she adds, "We also love taking walks to the boutiques at Woodlake," a mall with more than 25 shops.

Best Deal: Girlfriends' Get-Together from $213, includes one night at the American Club Carriage House, continental breakfast, evening beverages and hors d'oeuvres, 20 percent off any midweek spa service (Sunday--Thursday), a complimentary in-room movie, and a spa gift (candle, lotions, etc.). 800/344-2838,

Rhinelander, Wis.

Woodwind Health Spa
Built from local timber and sand by owner Marj Champney and some volunteers, Woodwind Health Spa is a 40-acre B&B-style retreat on the banks of the Wisconsin River, about 150 miles northwest of Green Bay. Champney, a designer, chef, and natural healer of Pennacook Indian descent, develops and administers many of Woodwind's services. Her specialty is the Eagles Touch Massage, a negative-energy cleanser that combines heated essential oils, a cedar-and-sage smudge, a full-body massage, and crystal healing (90--120 minutes, $110). The spa, which averages a dozen visitors at a time, has only six employees, two full-time, and they handle all the cooking, cleaning, yoga and meditation classes, and body treatments. But Elisabeth Arthur of Hayward, Wis., is quick to point out that despite the small staff, "there are healing hands all over the place." For her, a recent trip to Woodwind helped bring her closer to her family. Visiting with her mother and two sisters, Arthur, who had been to the spa four times before, took part in a drumming-and-chanting ceremony: "It made us all aware of how much love there is between us. We shared things that had been kept in for ages." 

Best Deal: The Woodwind Stress Reducer, $1,200, includes five nights' lodging, four yoga and meditation classes, six spa services, taxes, and all gratuities. 877/362-8902,

Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

Sundara Inn & Spa
What's the loudest sound you'll hear during a stay at Sundara? Pine trees rustling, a waterfall dribbling from the heated infinity pool, or maybe the Bose Wave CD player on your nightstand...if you turn it on. It was this tranquillity that Susan Andringa and Joy Gardner, friends from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area who were each grieving over the recent loss of a parent, sought when they visited last October. On 26 wooded acres in central Wisconsin, Sundara (which means "beautiful" in Sanskrit) has an East-meets-Midwest vibe: a fluid feng-shui design, homeopathy-inspired treatments, and healthy, flavorful organic food. The 26 suites--furnished with king-size featherbeds, gas fireplaces, and whirlpools or jet showers--are "rustic romantic," as Andringa describes it. Treatments include the Sundara Body Boost, featuring a body polish that uses sandstone unearthed during the spa's construction (60 minutes, $135), and the skin-soothing Shea Body Butter Indulgence (90 minutes, $210). Guests spend mornings on silent hikes or in one-on-one yoga classes; afternoons, lounging in the aromatherapy hydro-massage tub. Sundara believes in helping people slow down and "unplug," and the adults-only, no-cell-phone policy makes that much easier. "We stayed in our robes for two days straight," Andringa confesses. 

Best Deal: Overnights from $199 per suite. 888/735-8181,

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