On a recent trip to Southern California, I checked out two spas, one a hip, brand-spanking new spa, the other, a time-tested, Old-world style getaway. And I can't lie: at both places I had the best of times.


Ciel Spa at the Philippe Starck-designed SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. While the SLS is the hot hotel of the moment, with a daunting waiting list for its Bazaar restaurant and a crowd that, in my opinion, had far too many smokers (this is California, people -- you're supposed to know better!), Ciel, only one flight above the scene, feels worlds away.

The spa is ultra-modern, mostly white (white curtains, white carpeting), and very serene, with the exception of the disembodied ceramic hands sprouting from the walls. In the waiting lounge the expected healthy almonds and berries are on offer, as well as a refreshing agua fresca, whose flavor changes daily. (On my day, it was peach).


Cal-a-Vie in Vista (left), about 90 miles south of LA. A destination spa, Cal-a-Vie has been around since the late 80s, but it somehow doesn't feel dated. The whole resort feels like a little bit of Provence, with stucco and terracotta architecture, lavender fields and an imported 17th century chapel on the grounds.


We also took an aquatic class that was the first one I've seen that wasn't geared toward the 65-and-over-crowd. Called Hydro Rider, it's basically spinning under water, using a bike specifically designed for pool use. The resistance from the water obviously makes the pedaling somewhat slow going, but it was a great workout and I definitely felt it in my legs the next day.

The minimum stay at Cal-a-Vie is a half-week "La Petite Session," which starts at $3,795. Weekly rates start at $7,295.