My personal view of wellness travel shifted during the pandemic. I now want to take shorter trips, more often, as a routine method of self-care. I also want my travel to be as effortless as my time away. A weekend retreat on the new Alabama spa trail is a great way to feel rested, recharged, and inspired.
My first visit to Alabama was timed perfectly. I quickly navigated my two-and-a-half-hour drive from New Orleans to The Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa, just outside beautiful Fairhope, Alabama. Located in Point Clear, a town of about 2,000 residents, this historic hotel has hosted presidents and lovers of luxury travel since 1847. The main draw to this part of the country is the natural beauty and the mild temperatures which affords year-round outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, and golf.
New to living on the Gulf Coast, driving in, I was not expecting lush rolling hills with beautifully manicured green spaces so close to the coastline. As I made my way to the resort, each hill offered a different view. I caught glimpses of gorgeous, large estates, historic candy-colored Victorians, vacation cottages, and expansive views of Mobile
The Grand has recently undergone a thirty-five million dollar renovation which focused on building out the 20,000 square-foot European-designed spa, a new suite of spa rooms in a dedicated spa wing, and beautiful and modern conference facilities perfect for weddings, family reunions, corporate meetings, and now retreats.
The Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa, now a Marriott property, has partnered with Heather Thomson, CEO, and co-founder of Beyond Fresh organic supplements. Thomson has designed a series of wellness retreats unique to each destination on the RTJ Spa Trail. Each retreat will feature sustainable, farm-to-table meals along with evidence-based mind and body programming. Pure Freedom Retreat guests experience an interactive, immersive weekend that is more of a reboot than a boot camp. Thomson was recognized by many guests on the property from her time appearing on Bravo’s popular unscripted drama, Real Housewives of New York. It was somewhat surreal for me to spend the weekend with a recognized celebrity, but her warm and open heart put me at ease immediately. Thomson, also a certified integrative health coach, clothing designer, and entrepreneur, has been hosting adventure travel expeditions and wellness retreats since 2013.
Each morning, as a group, we begin the day with breathwork, gentle yoga, and a mantra. Thomson, with her curated faculty, guides participants through her own best wellness practices over the retreat weekend. Retreat guests live these practical strategies for the weekend in an immersive and approachable way. Away from our typical busy
schedules, surrounded by a professional team, retreat guests are able to slow down and really rethink our daily routines and make meaningful edits to our lives.
Afternoon fitness classes were fun, with guided walks on the extensive resort trails. My favorite fitness class was water aerobics, taken in the spa’s indoor pool. This class was easy on the joints but filled with heart-pounding music. We had lots of laughs and shared plenty of joy. Each participant could work at whatever level they felt was best for them.
The Freedom-themed retreat weekend hit a sweet spot for me. I had packed on extra pandemic pounds and was experiencing grief due to the recent loss of a family member to COVID. Thomson collaborates with experts and best-selling authors for her Pure Freedom retreat workshops. Nutrition, sustainability, and whole foods are a focus, as well as offering guidance through life’s challenges such as grief within workshops. From Grief to Grace author, Seth Eliot Santoro introduced his intuitive approach to healing from the trauma of grief in a session on how to break painful mental patterns. Santoro also led a session based on his first book, S.M.I.L.E, to us help identify ways to let go of the past and heal trauma. Through the introduction of new mindsets, Santoro created a gentle way to meet guests where they are and help them embrace each moment as a new opportunity to enjoy life.
Expertly-crafted meals were inspiriting. Dining as a group in an informal setting allowed for lively discussions of our delicious and nutritious meals. Conversations were guided to discuss strategies for how we source foods, what we consume, and how we nourish our bodies. Traveling solo, I never felt alone or left out. Participants shared a common
purpose, a desire to learn new perspectives and skills to realistically shift or edit our own daily routines.
What I really liked about this retreat was the overall relaxed vibe. The hospitality at The Grand was warm and friendly, the attendees were well-traveled and like-minded. Our host and retreat leaders were knowledgeable, approachable, and fun. The small group easily allowed friendships to blossom. Block scheduling offered free time at midday and
in the afternoon. Guests could explore the property, spend some time at the pool, or indulge in spa services. All-inclusive pricing also includes a $200 spa credit which was used during the retreat. After dinner, we spent the evening enjoying some wine, around a fire pit, on the beach.
Over the weekend, I was able to enjoy a relaxing 50-minute CBD Massage and a 50-minute Hydrafacial that left me feeling like a new woman. My skin felt smooth, soft, and vibrant. My pedicure included a locally-distilled glass of Dettling Bourbon from Big Escambia Spirits. Experienced therapists helped me feel relaxed and pampered.
Each of the six spas located on the RTJ Alabama Spa Trail offers large, European-designed facilities with bespoke therapies such as HydraFacials. Spa menus offer signature therapies for facials and massages at all locations as well as unique treatments specifically tailored to the history and amenities of each property. Guests on the RTJ
Spa trail can find Ashiatsu massages, Bayshore body scrubs, and a soulful CBD massage. While many of the properties are historic, each has undergone extensive renovations or is in the process of being remodeled. Thompson will be scheduling unique retreats throughout the trail. The next retreat is scheduled in the fall at The
Auburn Grand Opelika Resort & Spa at The Grand in Auburn, Alabama.
For more information on upcoming retreats please visit the Robert Trent Jones Spa Collective. To keep up to date with Heather Thomson, be sure to tune into her weekly podcast, In my Heart.
~ Erin Wolfe is a New Orleans-based freelance journalist and wellness writer. She has been sharing her love of wellness and spa travel for nine years at Enlightened Spa Review.