Three Great Places to Take the Waters

Three Great Places to Take the Waters

Spa en Vivo at Hotel Matilda

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

There’s a large painting by Diego Rivera that hangs in the library of this chic boutique property. It’s called The Archer, and it depicts Matilda Stream, mother of hotel owner Harold “Spook” Stream, as Diana, the goddess of the hunt. She stands young and strong and tall, holding a bow and arrow, a steady gaze in her eye. To me, she stands guard over the property — and she is the guiding spirit behind Spa en Vivo, the beautiful, bucolic living spa located outside, in nature.

It was Spa en Vivo that brought me to Hotel Matilda, nestled in the heart of the cobblestoned colonial city of San Miguel. The property is noteworthy for many fine reasons: it supports a thriving local arts scene, with its acclaimed collection of contemporary Latin artworks; it features delicious organic, seasonal farm-to-table cuisine; and it has a jewel box of a city spa, with a tiny apothecary that highlights healing traditions with products that have been handmade from local ingredients. But most important, if you are a lover of spas and nature, it has set itself apart (and perhaps started a new movement) with its prototypal spa concept, Spa en Vivo, located on a private hilltop in the countryside, just ten minutes from Hotel Matilda.

Lush gardens, gorgeous views, and mineral-rich thermal pools are part of the experience here, as is some of the more creative bodywork I’ve experienced. The Aquatic Massage, a gentle series of stretches and movement, is performed in the warm thermal water and is something very special and unique to Spa Matilda. There’s also a yoga pavilion here, outdoor treatment rooms enclosed by bamboo, a temazcal (traditional sweat lodge), and a number of resting places to take in the great outdoors. It’s a simple and special experience, and one that’s best enjoyed with a group of friends. (

The Sea Water Spa at Gurney’s Inn

Montauk, New York

We are drawn to the sea for different reasons. My father came here to deep-sea fish in the 1950s — and smartly so. Montauk, located on the easternmost tip of Long Island, is home to the largest recreational and commercial fishing fleet in the state of New York and claims to have more saltwater fishing records than any other port in the world. Deriving its name from the Montaukett tribe who lived in the area, Montauk is dripping with history — Indians, pirates, buried treasure, tycoons of all types — and boasts the state’s first lighthouse, authorized by George Washington in 1792.

If Carl G. Fisher had had his way back in 1926, Montauk would’ve become the “Miami Beach of the North.” This enterprising gentleman purchased most of the land, hoping to turn it into a seaside destination, but was trumped by the Great Depression. Many hotels popped up in the area around this time, including Gurney’s Inn, but it wasn’t until 1979 that Gurney’s debuted the Sea Water Spa. This is the call I answered. I’ve been visiting Gurney’s since the late ’80s to take the waters. The family-run resort, located about an hour and a half outside New York City, has an unbeatable oceanfront location and the only true thalassotherapy center in the continental United States.

Thalassotherapy, simply put, is the use of seawater as therapy, and this place draws from its very own seawater well at the edge of the ocean. The Olympic-size indoor pool is full of the healing water that has been heated to the perfect degree. The notable Roman baths here also are filled with seawater, and the good-sized sauna and steam rooms nicely round out the rejuvenating experience. On the menu are authentic hydrotherapy treatments, like the therapeutic Seawater Hydrotherapy Massage, and the Thermalism Sea Plunge. (

Orr Hot Springs

Ukiah, California

Leave your laptop at home and your smartphone in the car (which you’ll park a short walk down the road from the entrance). At Orr Hot Springs, an intimate woodland resort set on 27 acres deep in the heart of the Mendocino Coastal Range, you can’t connect to Wi-Fi or even get cell phone reception. Nor will you find a website to peruse before you go, for this rustic getaway is seriously private and wants to remain that way. Would-be visitors need to call the general number and hope for a call back. Reservations are a must, as this is a small and secluded spot with limited capacity.

I stayed overnight in one of five yurts (a simple wooden structure with a bed, table and chairs, and a communal bathroom down the hill), but there are also 21 rooms and cottages, most with half-baths, a two-story creek house that’s a good bet for groups, and campsites. A $25/day pass also is an option. There’s a large and nicely outfitted communal kitchen and dining room in the main lodge (built in the early 1930s from locally milled redwood), and guests bring their own groceries that can be stored in labeled bins. It is also advised to bring your own biodegradable soap and personal care items, as everything eventually ends up in the creek.

The secluded hot springs are at the headwaters of the Big River — a spot where the Pomo Indians passed through on annual trading expeditions. It wasn’t until the late 1880s that Orr’s Hot Sulphur Springs became a resort destination for city folk. According to Orr literature, the waters here were “heralded as bringing great relief in arthritis, rheumatism, and blood, kidney, and liver disorders.” Today, the spot remains popular with San Francisco residents, who come to enjoy the clothing-optional spot, and experienced hot-springs enthusiasts, who want to bathe without the blatant sexuality of places like Harbin Hot Springs. Nice touches include the five porcelain Victorian tubs in private rooms (first come, first served), and the two big old tubs atop the bathhouse deck where stargazing is a must (the baths are open all night). Massages also are available. (Call 707-462-6277.)

Join Us on the Journey

Sign Up

Enjoying this content?

Get this article and many more delivered straight to your inbox weekly.