shrinking. I've always been short, but ever since I turned
35 last month, I've been getting smaller. Of course, I
did give up the platform heels for more comfortable shoes.
But alas, that's not it. Trying to get my first novel
published has proven to be a humiliating experience thus
far. Feeling small is not always physical.
when I heard about this Women's Wellness Retreat at the
Cliff House Resort and Spa in Maine-three days of spa
treatments at a resort overlooking the ocean-needless
to say I signed up. I had a little extra money from a
recently completed project. The theme was "The Art
of Transformation." I needed to transform before
I disappeared completely.
left my husband and apartment in New York, flew into Portland
and caught a taxi to the resort. If I were going to be
there for longer, I would've rented a car so I could explore
the area more. On the drive from the airport I got a tantalizing
glimpse of the towns of Wells, York, and Ogunquit. But
this trip was all about the spa, so I didn't stop. I bee-lined
to Bald Head Cliff, on which the resort is perched, to
my room in the adults-only "Cliffspa," the relatively
new building which houses the spa and fitness center.
Children are welcome in other parts of the resort, but
I was looking forward to quietly shuffling around in a
spa robe as much as possible. No offense, pipsqueaks.
arrived a day early so I'd have a chance to relax before
the retreat started. First thing I did was settle into
my giant room. The bed was so large I could fit my entire
Brooklyn apartment on it; the dressers were big enough
to hold all the clothes I've ever owned at once. Uh oh.
I was still shrinking. The resort is set on a curving
shoreline, so every room has an ocean view, with a little
private balcony. Mine looked out over one of the pools,
part of the parking lot, and beyond that an endless stretch
of sky and ocean, framed by trees that had not yet acknowledged
I rested on my couch, I read about the history of the
place. The Cliff House was started by Elsie Jane Weare,
yes, a woman, in the late 1800s, and is run today by Kathryn
Weare, her great granddaughter. Transformation has been
a way of life for the resort: over the years it has added
indoor plumbing (this was in the early 1900s), electric
lights, and it was the first place in the area to have
private baths. During WWII, the Weares were actually kicked
out of the resort when the U.S. Army took over so they
could look out for Nazi submarines. The Weares did eventually
get the resort back, and have continued to change with
the times. Since Kathryn has taken over, they've added
the full-service spa (which was the draw for me), among
other things. While I was there, construction on an amphitheater
Cliff House Spa & Resort
I walked on craggy rocks along the shore, and imagined
what it must've been like to watch for submarines, or
to see a natural place like this and have the same vision as
Elsie Jan. Walking along the rocks, I started thinking about transformation. I needed to look at the big picture,
and not get caught up in the small things. I discovered
a metaphor in action; I was so busy looking in the little
tidal pools for critters that I almost forgot to look
up at the glittering horizon, where the ocean and sky
blended. I had to force myself to look beyond the pebbles.
next day I swam in the indoor lap pool next to the spa.
There was a fully equipped fitness room upstairs, but
I enjoyed swimming laps all alone. When I hopped in the
indoor whirlpool, a man appeared, turned the bubbles on
and disappeared. Now that's service! It was sunny and
warm-ish, so to dry off I went outside on the deck, where
the disappearing-edged pool was painfully covered up (it
was too early in the season). I sat, soaked in some sun,
and listened to waves hit the rocks.
After a shower I meandered to the spa for my Atlantic
Well-Being Therapy, one of the spa's signature treatments.
I was so glad I got to the spa early-unusual for me, as
I'm often screeching in at the last minute. I started
off in the right mindset, not harried and manic, but already
relaxed. I went to my locker and donned my plush robe.
The robe nearly dragged on the floor behind me-I checked
the size because it came to all the other women's mid-calf
and here I was a spa druid. It was "one size fits
all." I was still shrinking.
been to spas where the "waiting room" is basically
a foldout chair next to the treadmill. Not this one-this
was a cozy room with refreshments. I sat in an armchair
by the window overlooking the ocean, sipped hot tea and
read a frivolous fashion magazine (filled with oak-tall
models). After a few minutes, Pamela came in and led me
to the candlelit massage room, where I melted onto the
plush table. She put conditioner in my hair, massaged
my scalp, and then scrubbed on an all-over salt glow.
After, I got into the in-room, multi-headed shower (which
Pam had already turned on, temperature perfectly hot),
and rinsed the salt away.
got back on the table and enjoyed a hot stone massage.
I've had hot stone messages before, and I always get to
this strange place between being asleep and awake that
is, well, magical. When the stones are placed on various
parts of your body, say on your chest or belly, and left
there while your arms get rubbed, when the stones are
removed, that body part feels lighter, almost afloat.
After awhile of that, and just when I was about to get
cold, she wrapped me up in a blanket and left me there,
relaxing and listening to the sounds of the ocean (on
a CD player, but still). The whole experience lasted a
decadent two hours.
felt a little bigger after that. I was coming back to
life just in time for the retreat to officially begin.
I changed clothes and went to meet the other women on
this adventure. Unfortunately I was rendered mute by my
massage; fortunately I would get a chance to talk to these
women more over the next couple of days. We had wine,
water, or whatever, and chatted before we went in for
dinner at the main dining room (no sweats or jeans). There
were about 16 of us total, and that included women who
were going to speak or teach a class during the retreat.
There was a range of ages and backgrounds, and I could
tell that anyone would be welcome. It was an open crowd.
dining room was filled with old and young couples, and
a few families, all out on a Saturday night. Most of the
diners were resort guests, but the restaurant is open
to anyone. This was not spa food; it was decadent and
delicious. Each dish was presented with a flare. I didn't
sample the fresh Maine lobster or straight-from-the-sea
Halibut, but based on other observations, everything was
as tasty as it looked. I indulged in a spinach, tofu,
and eggplant manicotti. We ate most of our meals in this
dining room. There is a spa café, but I didn't
get a chance to sample that. In July and August, lunch
is served outside on the terraces. If I had to do it again
I'd have liked to go into town for a meal, to get the
full-on Maine experience.
next morning, I knew the retreat had really kicked off
because I was at a journal-writing workshop at 7:30. Here's
the thing that was great about this retreat-there were
all kinds of activities to try, but there was no pressure
to do anything. Some people had spa services to enjoy
and skipped the journal writing. We lit candles and wrote
in our beautiful journals (that were ours to keep), and
read out loud. I read something silly about my dad, and
I listened to other people read what they'd written. We
laughed, we cried-really. A few women there had or were
having close calls with cancer. Afterwards everyone made
me feel so good about what I'd written, I felt like a
writer again! I was beginning to stand up straight.
who goes to these things? The other women there turned
out to be one of the highlights of the trip. I was amazed
at how strong these women were, and how you can scratch
the surface of anyone and find tragedy, strength, humor.
Anyone worth scratching, that is. I loved hearing about
how Alycea raises her young daughters, or how Bertrice
takes care of the five children she's adopted, or how
Betty used to sing and drive her sister (who was also
there) crazy, or how Mary Beth had wine and frosting for
dinner the night before she came; and saddened to hear
about cancer, lost spouses and sons. It certainly put
things in perspective.
the journal writing, I missed a yoga class so I could
get a Microdermabrasion Pedicure. Now I have sparkly sea-green
toes as a souvenir. I returned in time to met Kathryn
the owner, and listen to the keynote speaker, Dr. Bertrice
Berry. Normally I wouldn't have thought I'd like something
like that, but she was so open and honest, and most importantly-funny,
that I enjoyed her talk so much. I was already enamored
of her after the journal writing session where she wrote
about all of us, the women she'd just met, with such openness
that everybody got teary eyed. Her talk was on the theme
"The Art of Transformation." It was working-I
was taking up more space.
the last day, after enjoying the journal writing, a cooking
demonstration, and exercise classes all punctuated by
massages, facials, and manicures, Alycea Ungaro the Pilate's
teacher looked me and said, "This is exactly what
men think we're doing when we're alone."(If there
are any men reading this, there were no pillow fights.)
It's true, we were doing a lot of nurturing, "female"
type things, but it wasn't called Men's Wellness, was
it? Many of us who had husbands or children at home, relished
the time to ourselves. It was short enough that you didn't
have to pine for your loved ones, just appreciate them
from a distance. We all got to sleep in our giant beds
any way we wanted.
though on the last night at dinner, one of the other women
kept pinching my arm and telling me to eat because I was
too small, I knew I had grown. I felt more self-assured.
I felt like if these women can handle something like cancer
with strength and humor, I could handle a couple rejection
letters before I get a yes. I felt hopeful, which is a
difficult feel one you've lost it. If I came
in a Lilliputian, I walked out Gullivar.
not just telling you this to make you jealous.
The Cliff House plans on offering other Women's
Wellness Retreats. Or you could make your own.
It would be a fabulous place for a family get
away, to meet your girlfriends, or even a have
business conference-they're set up for that. Men
are allowed, of course. There's even a "Gentlemen's
Pedicure" on the spa menu.
more information or to find out when the next
retreat is, check out the website at
Cliff House Resort and Spa
P.O. Box 2274
Ogunquit, Maine 03907
Phone (207) 361-1000
Fax (207) 361-2122
The Cliff House is on Maine's South Coast, about
hour-and-a-half drive from Boston.
I flew on USAir (800) 428-4322 from New York to
Portland, Maine and called Front-Line Taxi (207)
490-1214 or (866) 490-1214 for a ride to the resort.
Phone (877) 275-3363
Spa Director at the Cliff House
(207) 361-1000 Ext. 288
locating additional spas in the U.S. go to: