Starry nights, morning hikes and good intentions

A happy hunting ground for destination-spa lovers, the state of Arizona has long been “the place” to mindfully unwind. Millions of traditional and new-age spa goers flock to the state’s cult-like destinations in search of everything from a healthy pick-me-up to innovative treatments and curated recovery programs.

They come for mother/daughter getaways and replenishing couples’ retreats. Nervous first-timers and spa veterans muddle in with excited groups of friends, all ready to indulge at Carefree’s latest destination spa.

With two reborn tech entrepreneurs and their investors holding the purse strings, and several Miraval alumni in key roles (including the chef), all eyes and spa bucket-lists were focused on Civana Wellness Resort & Spa when it officially opened this January. Having risen from the ashes of the well-known but tired Carefree Conference Centre, the property’s $50 million rebranding, site renovations and grand 22,000-foot two-spa build have been an injection of positive energy.

Love your facelift

The new Civana is not quite as large, or frenetic, as some of the area’s other notables and that’s just fine with us. Plus, the resort’s programming is refreshingly different. Here, you can build your own experience: Simply rent a hotel room, use the pool and gym, and nosh at Café Meto. Or take the waters on the Aqua Therapy Circuit and book à la carte spa treatments as you like. In other words, as Director of Marketing Dana Wendell suggests, “We have no forced all-inclusive packages. Our guests enjoy choice across the board. Each day and each stay is customized to them and their personal needs. It eliminates that ‘got to get my money’s worth’ tension that we have seen at other spa and wellness destinations.”

Heal. Relax. Revive

In the ’60s and ’70s, when Carefree was a movie-making and arts hub, the building that is home to the new Civana was an opera house where Hollywood greats such as Lucille Ball and Dick Van Dyke performed. Today, there are nicely equipped rooms with dreamy décor, state-of-the-art therapies and a sweet little boutique called “Retail Therapy.” Blissfully soothing cream-curtained relaxation areas and a majestic terrace with views of the lap pool and Black Mountain add to the feeling of divine decadence. But best of all, the therapists here seem to have taken “happy pills”—they’re calm, pleased to be here, and treat with graciousness and wisdom. I’m a person rather than an appointment and that, my friends, makes all the difference.

And although the spa is still experiencing a few growing pains (the stones in my hot-stone massage were just a little too hot, and my wellness cocktail didn’t arrive to accompany the signature pedicure), it’s just what us city-stressed guests have come for.

Bedrooms are spacious, recently renovated and have picturesque sunrise/sunset mountain vistas. Nice touches: Moon Drops on my pillow at night, softer-than-soft sink- into pillows, a deep soaker tub with bath bombs and a mini lavender exfoliating pouch.

Move. Sweat. Flow

The vibe here at Civana is convivially calm. Gone is the familiar hectic rush for coveted space in overflowing classes

and the pretentious dining-room hustle for preferred sittings. Lost, too, are the gaggling crowds in locker rooms and rest areas.

Despite its youth, Civana boasts a good variety of meaningful classes on the weekly menu, with the occasional workshop and more on the way. Polite, welcoming coordinators (who remember my name) are present to set up and greet guests, while veteran instructors teach in a way that makes both novices and masters alike feel at home. Morning intention setting and evening gratitude ceremonies with fellow guests open our hearts to possibilities and bring closure to the very satisfying days.

Eat. Nourish. Enjoy

Wellness wouldn’t be wellness without healthy eats. One look at the blackboard at Café Meto on my first morning (at 6 am, I might add) and there was no turning back. This is my version of seventh heaven: A cinnamon raisin granola bowl for breakfast with the daily to-die-for fresh juice. Lunch: Avocado toast with “broccamole” (yes, it’s a thing!), simple salad, goat’s cheese crumbles, yuzu vinaigrette, chia seeds and grilled avo with roasted red pepper coulis. And for dinner at Terras, the plain but comfortable main dining room, a caramelized onion corn polenta lasagna with veggie ratatouille sauce.

Many of the servers and kitchen and hotel staff are, we’re told, still here from the conference days. They’ve got one thing in common: They’re evangelically on board with the chef’s healthy cuisine and, because they’re treated to free lunches, they know of what they speak. It’s fun to share in their enthusiasm for what not only looks and tastes fabulous, but is ultimately organic and the best for our bodies.

The desert air is morning crisp, the birds are calling and the sun is shining. Every reflective moment here simply does a body good. Civana has earned its place on the local spa circuit and is certainly a welcome breath of fresh air.

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The Hess Collection 19 Block Mountain Cuvée 2016, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, United States (LCBO: 18879, $54.95). A terrific, juicy Californian red wine blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot grapes from vines planted at 2,000 feet