Horse Sense

Alisal's Spa and Fitness Lobby

Melissa leads me into the women’s locker room, where I wrap myself in a beige, cashmere-blanket-like robe with the Alisal A-shaped cattle brand on the breast. There is no sauna, steam room or hot tub at the center. “We had limited space and had to prioritize our guests’ needs,” Payne explains. Not a single guest, she says, requested a sauna. What’s more, the Alisal planning committee wanted the spa to be a place for pampering, but not for spending an entire afternoon. “We wanted to complement our existing offerings on the ranch, not distract from them,” she says. Treatment durations are limited for the same reason.

Melissa takes me into one of the spa’s four treatment rooms, charmingly decorated in the resort’s rustic-chic theme, with mustard-colored walls, Pendleton Native-American blankets and pillows on the massage beds, and big wooden stars (like those found in the Central Coast sky) gracing the wall. Soothing acoustic guitar sounds float through the air.

I’m here to receive the Alisal Spa’s signature Nojoqui Mud Wrap & Sage Bliss Massage (90 min./$200). The treatment, named after an iconic local waterfall and featuring many botanicals found in the region, was created to relax fatigued muscles and balance the body and mind. Melissa brushes onto my body a handcrafted blend of algae, Dead Sea mud and sage, then wraps me in a Mylar blanket. The distinct aroma of the mud is soothing and invigorating. As I lie steeping in my mud cocoon and listening to the transporting music, Melissa performs a scalp, face and neck massage. She then plies my feet with a reflexology massage and steamed towels, then steps away to prepare a just-right shower and steam experience for me. After I’ve rinsed off the mud and (partially) come back to earth, she slathers me in the spa’s signature Woodland Sage lotion and gives my back a Swedish massage. I breathe deeply, inhaling the scents of California’s ancient valleys and canyons.