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Find Your Inner Confidence at the We
Cliff House Resort and Spa in Maine

The Cliff House Resort and Spa's beautiful coastal scenery could help anyone feel good.

I'm 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.

So 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.

I 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.

I 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 spring.

While 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 was underway.

Cliff House Spa & Resort
outdoor whirlpool.

Outside, 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.

The 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.

I've 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.

I 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.

I 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.

The 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.

The 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.

So 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.

After 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.

On 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.

Even 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.


I'm 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.


For more information or to find out when the next retreat is, check out the website at

The Cliff House Resort and Spa
P.O. Box 2274
Shore Road
Ogunquit, Maine 03907
Phone (207) 361-1000
Fax (207) 361-2122

The Cliff House is on Maine's South Coast, about an
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.

Wende Gray
Phone (877) 275-3363

Julie Morse-Patuleia
Spa Director at the Cliff House
(207) 361-1000 Ext. 288

For locating additional spas in the U.S. go to:

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