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A popular treatment at the Apuane Spa in Mexico keeps guests in high spirits.
Photos courtesy Four Seasons Punta Mita
When I informed friends that I was spending a week in Mexico, I inevitably received the following advice: 1. Stick to bottled water; 2. Moderate your tequila consumption.
Margaritas in moderation?
To make matters worse, the delightful signature treatment at the Apuane Spa at the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita made sticking to this mission an impossible task, thanks to its key ingredient: tequila!
The Apuane Spa, located about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, is nestled amid the 1,500 acres that comprise the resort, and bordered by white sand beaches and lush jungle peaks. Situated off the Banderas Bay, the 12-year-old hotel was the first premier destination willing to invest in Punta Mita (Spanish for “resting place”), an area best known as a sleepy fishing village. The five-star Four Seasons is anything but sleepy, boasting 173 rooms, 32 suites, two award-winning Jack Nicklaus–designed golf courses and several gourmet restaurants—all of which has proven an irresistible lure to both well-heeled Mexican nationals and international travelers craving modern luxury and a respite from the big city.
As guests enter the spacious Apuane Spa lobby, smiling attendants greet them with cool glasses of fresh-squeezed pineapple juice (the options change daily), while reminding them to frequently imbibe fluids to battle the dehydrating effects of the strong Mexican sun. The spa’s lounge area is dotted with beige rattan couches and oak side tables that are piled high with homemade cookies and chilled cucumber water.
“Apuane” translates to “healing waters” in the native Huichol dialect, and the spa has made it a mandate to include the rich history of the region in its services, even creating treatments in honor of native plants and fauna. “It is very important that there is a link between the past and the present,” explains spa manager Dania Cerda. “We are very proud of how we incorporate the best of modern amenities and treatments—but always with a nod to where we have been.”
In addition to such standard massage fare as Thai (80 min./$225), Shiatsu (80 min./$200) and Swedish (80 min./$200), the spa also offers the Hakali massage (80 min./$245), which uses indigenous cactus blossom and nopal paddies; the Temaztac wrap (50 min./$170), which combines an elixir of roses and almond oil with a milk of vanilla, corn, wheat and orange; and the Mayan Mud pedicure (80 min./$97), which incorporates a floral fango foot masque.
After reading through the long list of treatment options available—everything from a mother-to-be massage to lymphatic drainage—I was sold on the signature Punta Mita (80 min./$225), oft-referred to as the “margarita massage” (probably not what Jimmy Buffett had in mind).
The Punta Mita is by far the most popular treatment on the menu. Four Seasons managers in Mexico and the U.S. have been sending their own therapists here to learn the secrets behind the raved-about boozy rubdown ever since it was first created in 1999 by physical therapist Elvira Pecero, a veteran of Spa Apuane.
The tequila used in the Punta Mita massage, a blend called Reserva Especial de Tequila Apuane, was custom-made by a distillery in Jalisco, the state that produces the majority of tequila consumed worldwide. But no asking for shots in the middle of your treatment: “As a spa, we are not allowed to offer or sell any alcohol,” says spa manager Ana Magno. “But, if it is just to try... maybe we can make an exception!”
After changing into one of the plush white robes I find neatly folded in the men’s locker room, I am escorted into a private room filled with more fresh juice and copies of The New York Times and other international periodicals. A glass door opens to a lush, private patio.
The spa, which employs 15 full-time therapists, has 11 treatment rooms, including a trio of couples-only spaces and a single suite with a private Jacuzzi, shower and terrace. The feeling is intimate and exclusive—a pleasant alternative to the bigger, bustling resort spas I’ve visited. Cerda notes that despite having only one room devoted to couples’ treatments, love birds can sign up for special services outside the spa, such as a watsu massage inside the warm waters of a private pool, followed by a sumptuous seafood dinner under the stars ($985 per couple).
Guests here are treated quite warmly, receiving undivided attention from the therapists, who greet them by name. “Not only do we hire persons with talent for treatments,” says marketing manager Claudia Silva, “but we continue to train them every few months in new techniques and how to provide the best customer service possible.”
According to Cerda, the philosophy behind the service is: Be prepared to provide a guest with whatever is needed. “Guests want to forget the outside world for a while,” she says. “This is where it is OK for someone else to take care of you.”
My therapist, Juliett, ushers me into a sparsely decorated room where the soft sound of wind chimes plays. I revel in the feel of the hot towel draped across my body and the sweet aroma of tequila mixed with indigenous sage.
I’m also a bit surprised that the liquor-infused elixir doesn’t burn as do treatments that use rubbing alcohol as a base. Instead, the Mexican salve imparts a slow, warm sensation that spreads across my skin as my therapist moves from my neck to my feet and back up to my shoulders.
Juliett gently asks if the pressure is acceptable as she shifts her weight, kneading her forearm across the knots in my lower back. All I can muster is a grunt in the affirmative as I think to myself, “Cheers!”
My massage is finished with a final smear of balsamo naranja vainilla lotion (made in Mexico, of course). Afterward, I glide back to the changing room for a warm shower and hot steam, finally to emerge feeling like a new man.
Completely at ease, I decide to treat myself to a post-spa beverage by the infinity pool overlooking the Pacific. As I sip my freshly shaken margarita and gaze out at the water, I realize that the Apuane Spa has done something that millions of college students on Spring break have been unable to do: Create a foolproof way to enjoy copious amounts of tequila—no hangover required.
Paul Katz, the editor of Details.com, has also contributed to Budget Travel, Men’s Fitness and Entertainment Weekly.