When it comes to outdoorsy getaways, New York City urbanites suffer no shortage of options. Upstate New York, with its lush orchards and quaint B&Bs; the mountain retreats of the glorious Catskills; and the pristine sand beaches of the Hamptons are all within a 150-mile radius of NYC.
Which is why, when Big Apple residents plan a weekend escape, the Pocono Lake Region in Pennsylvania may not immediately spring to mind. But at just 90 miles—about a two-hour drive—from Manhattan, the Poconos make for an easy, scenic getaway. The area is a nature lover’s paradise, proffering miles of unspoiled woods punctuated with hiking and biking trails, and dozens of lakes and streams perfect for fishing and water sports. The region also has a legacy of conservation that goes back to the days of Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), the first director of the U.S. Forestry Service under President Theodore Roosevelt. Nowadays, in addition to wooing environmentally minded thrill-seekers, the area lures sophisticated city slickers eager to switch off and let go. And that’s thanks toThe Lodge at Woodloch, a $42 million destination spa resort that opened by Woodloch Springs in the small borough of Hawley, Pennsylvania, in 2006.
“Our guests typically hail from the New York City and Philadelphia metro regions, but we have a growing market in the Washington, D.C./Maryland area too,” explains Brooke Jennings, The Lodge’s director of marketing and PR. “But wherever they’re from, they’re all in search of a fully integrated experience of health, relaxation and personal growth… in other words, some serious ‘me time.’”
Situated on 150 acres of woodland, The Lodge at Woodloch boasts 57 guest rooms and suites, each with a balcony featuring views of the resort’s private 15-acre lake or Rock Garden waterfall. Modern touches such as marble bathrooms with walk-in showers and rain shower heads, high-speed internet and fl at-screen TVs prevent guests from experiencing complete culture shock.
But what really separates The Lodge from neighboring woodland retreats is its highly sophisticated, 40,000-square-foot spa. The three-level structure is home to a whopping 27 treatment rooms on the first and second floors. The third floor is devoted to a 3,500-square foot cardio and weight studio, which hosts dozens of daily exercise classes, from spinning to yoga. Here, as in the spa, directors are always on the lookout for the next hot trend. “Our clients demand it!” says Jennings.
Admittedly, along with these top-notch facilities come ticket prices that could give even jaded New Yorkers sticker shock, so guests are encouraged to book appointments during the less-crowded weekdays, when services are generally offered at a discount. However, emphasizes Jennings, this isn’t the place for a quickie manicure or 15-minute chair massage.
“We appeal to a city audience by doing two things,” she explains. “First, we keep up with the latest trends in skincare treatments and product lines that are results driven. In the information age, spa guests are extremely savvy and know what’s out there—and they want to see results. Second, we stay true to who we are: Allowing nature to truly nurture always provides something unique to those traveling from urban destinations.”
Not surprisingly, treatments inspired by The Lodge’s natural surroundings figure heavily on the service menu, with many of the protocols showcasing seasonal ingredients and, at certain times of year, herbs grown on the property. Most popular are the Lodge Massage, a standard Swedish rubdown with choice of aromatherapy, and the Lodge Facial, which follows the classic European technique but employs enzyme peels of sweet cherry, pear and fig. However, reports Jennings, the most talked-about service is the Rosemary Awakening (100 min./$260), a signature treatment that includes a rosemary and citrus body polish, full-body massage using rosemary-infused oils and herbal heat packs, and warm seaweed wrap and scalp massage.
The Woodloch spa experience doesn’t end when the therapist leaves the room. Both day and overnight guests have access to The Lodge’s Aqua Garden, featuring multiple soaking pools, heated hydro-massage waterwalls, and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. The men’s and women’s changing rooms (“Retreats”) are fitted with luxurious amenities such as fi replace lounges with tea bars, custom saunas, steam rooms, additional whirlpools and screened-in porches. There’s also a Whisper Lounge, where talking is kept to a mandated minimum.
Given Woodloch’s emphasis on well-being, it’s fitting that its 100-seat restaurant, TREE, focuses on nutrient dense organic menus including vegan and gluten-free dishes, many of which call upon regional ingredients and herbs from the on-site gardens. As with the rest of the facility, the food service is a mix of wellness and “unpretentious luxury,” notes The Lodge’s managing director Paul Fitzgerald. There’s even wine tasting on Friday and Saturday afternoons—for over-21s only, of course. (The entire resort is adults-only, in fact, providing an extra incentive to get away from it all!)
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
Guests at The Lodge tend to come from three demographics: Single travelers looking for a health boost (“ ’Soul-ohh’ vacations,” quips Jennings), groups of girlfriends, and couples. Interestingly, there’s a higher-than average male-to-female ratio of clients than at many day and destination spas, with men comprising about 40% of visitors. While this is partly due to the guest list’s high number of lovebirds, Jennings notes that The Lodge has more to offer a “guy’s guy” than more traditional destination spas. “Male clientele are drawn to our activities like fly fishing, outdoor adventures and unique offerings such as our Craft Ales weekend,” she adds. And once on the premises, many of these recreating men can be persuaded to indulge in a massage or two!
The resort’s offerings are a hit with the fairer sex too. To celebrate Mother’s Day last year, it promoted a mother-and-daughter package featuring additional cooking demonstrations and arts activities. And with the spa’s extensive menu of pre-natal treatments—including the Gentle Belli Facial (25 min./$90), designed to encourage skin elasticity and prevent stretch marks—Woodloch is clearly going after the “babymoon” market.
While the majority of The Lodge’s visitors are overnighters (the average stay is two nights), a full 30% of clients are day guests. Packages for day guests allow for use of the facilities, a meal or two at TREE, and various treatments. They range from the Demi Day (5½ hrs./$230), which includes a spa service, gourmet lunch, select fitness classes and use of the men’s or women’s Retreat, pool and fitness studio, to the Ultimate Retreat (10 hrs./$565), which includes two additional spa treatments and dinner. “We’ve also added a Day of Adventure option for day guests, because in addition to treatments and a spa lunch, some people want to try kayaking, fitness classes and other outdoor adventures like botany walks or geo-caching [a high-tech treasure hunt game using a GPS for navigation],” says Jennings.
However The Lodge is attracting visitors, it’s clearly doing something right, with its enviably high repeat rate of more than 20%. One of the ways the resort inspires multiple trips is by tempting guests with a revolving roster of specials and new treatments, packages and activities. Summer, with its endless water sports, is by far the busiest time of year, but each season brings a new reason to visit.
“Fall is a spectacular time to come,” says Jennings. “Unique to our facility is a private cranberry bog on the lakes. Guests can kayak and pick their own cranberries, we host cranberry cooking demonstrations, and there’s also the return of the Cranberry Body Polish treatment in the spa.”
And while Mother Nature may well be the star of the show, resort and spa staff labors intensively behind the scenes to make sure she can truly shine. Year-round, the facility employs about 150 people, and that number swells during the busy summer months. “We look for passionate and talented service providers and put everyone through extensive on-site training to ensure the highest degree of guest service,” says Jennings. And when it comes to spa therapists and activities’ coordinators, staff members have received advanced training in their specific area of expertise.
Looking ahead, The Lodge plans to keep switching up its seasonal offerings and to expand its in demand gardening program and Creative Discovery program, which currently includes everything from equine therapy to journaling classes. No doubt these efforts will keep the Lake Region and The Lodge at Woodloch on the short list of getaway destinations for East Coasters seeking a temporary antidote to city living.
–by Shari Goldhagen