Sundara’s Lifestyle Villas all about tranquility

First came the massage, then the relaxing getaway that included a massage. Now comes the full-time spa residence, in a spa community that insists on tranquility and easy access to spa services/amenities.

About 200 such developments exist worldwide, including one that is trying to gain momentum in Wisconsin. Prices start around $750,000 for a Lifestyle Villa, developed as a part of Sundara Inn & Spa in Wisconsin Dells.

Four of 12 villas have been sold since the concept was introduced one year ago. Like other vacation ownership properties, the buyer can live in the villa or put it into a rental program.

These one-level units are bursting with feng shui touches: a vaulted ceiling with skylights, calming earthtones in paint and furnishings, rich and varied textures of artwork. A wall of windows makes it easy to merge with nature. The views are of pine trees and the Wilderness Woods golf course that is adjacent to Sundara, which means “beautiful” in Sanskrit.

It can be easy – and affordable – to pretend you’re wealthy. The villa rental rate can reach $700 per night on weekends and during the peak of summer, but the cost sometimes plummets as low as $275 per night (and you get a $50 credit for spa services). It all depends on the availability, day of week and season.

That’s what girlfriends and I discovered this month. These elegant and comfortable units sleep up to eight (in four beds, including a sleeper sofa), and there is no obligation to arrange for any spa services.

Up to eight people per unit gain free access to the heated and outdoor infinity pool, the spa relaxation area (the Quiet Room) and the Purifying Bath Ritual (self-guided spa treatments that involve water).

One drawback: There is a penalty for canceling a villa reservation with less than 14 days’ notice. That turned out to be worrisome to our group, which committed to a Thursday night that coincided with one whopper of a winter storm.

So we adjusted our schedules, carpooled as much as possible, took our time and arrived with the ingredients for soups, salads and snacks. It’s important to bring a swimsuit, too, for the steam, aromatherapy, exfoliating and warm/cold pools in Sundara’s main building.

We changed into swimsuits, robes and slippers, then got picked up by the driver of a Lincoln Town Car, which transported us to the spa building, for lounging or treatments. It was an embarrassingly tiny ride but would have been a ridiculous, slick walk.

My 20-minute Champissage, a head/neck/shoulder massage with acupressure, cost $60 and seemed to end fast. More surprising, an hour later, were the effects of hand reflexology for 20 minutes – the palm work had me nodding off in a flash.

The treatments were fine but not a bargain. Friends who opted to use the infinity pool, or lounge with a magazine, seemed just as content. When it was time to head back, our driver reappeared and we again shuffled – as it snowed – from car to villa doorway.

By 6 p.m., I had changed into pajamas and was making soup in the lofty kitchen, as friends sat on barstools and drank wine at the kitchen counter. We had all we needed – sleek table settings and linen napkins, high-end appliances and shiny cookware.

There was room for yakking and for privacy, a fireplace with three glass sides and a plasma TV for showing DVDs that we brought from home. Had it been summer, we could have shifted to the outdoor veranda, yet it was easy to settle into the 1,700 square feet indoors.

Featherbeds, a whirlpool bathtub and bathrooms with shower stream options made this getaway feel decadent and indulgent. Drifting off to sleep was no problem, and the next day began with a snowy hike for about half of us.

When a facility sets the bar this high, in both price and style, customers will have high expectations. That means even the smallest blemish feels magnified.

We had a handful of those: slippers with holes on them, the lack of a customer inventory before rendering services, the bill that included a spa service not rendered, the pre-arranged spa service payment that was not documented.

What we returned home with, though, were grand memories of a snowy night with good friends who felt pampered because of the setting. All for about $40 per person, plus potluck contributions.

For more about the spa service and lodging options at Sundara Inn & Spa, consult www.sundaraspa.com or 888-735-8181.

Sundara’s Lifestyle Villas are one of five Midwestern properties included in Travel + Leisure Magazine’s recent list of the top 100 leisure real estate developments in the world. The other four are in Chicago.

What other trends are expected in the spa service industry? Spa Finder Inc., a worldwide marketing/media company, suggests:

Enhancing the sleep environment, using sound, light, aromatherapy and sleep specialists. New concepts include sleep yoga programs, and convenient places to nap after a spa service.

Redefining “detox” to include more than alcohol and drug abuse. It will become the framework for changing any unhealthful habit, be it diet or stress induced.

Developing “medical tourism,” getaways with spa components that result in surgery or anti-aging procedures. Americans already are traveling globally for “cutting-edge medical procedures for a fraction of the cost … often in beautiful, culturally rich locales like Bangkok, South Africa and India.”

Cutting costs for spa getaways but offering more treatments that can be self-guided, like the Purifying Bath Ritual at Sundara. “Spa menu options, similarly, may change depending on seasons, time of day and other factors affecting supply and demand,” Spa Finder predicts.

For more: www.spafinder.com.