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Supremely Personal, Utterly Transformative

by Kristin Vukovic

When resorts can pivot on the spot and offer the ultimate bespoke experience, an ordinary visit becomes extraordinary. The new definition of luxury is catering to the individual.

Around five years ago, I had an experience that redefined the way I viewed luxury and changed the way I wanted to travel. In my second trimester of pregnancy, my husband and I visited Morocco—our last overseas trip together as a couple before our daughter was born. We splurged on a night at the Aman Amanjena in Marrakesh, which offered a unique culinary excursion that involved eating at a Berber family home in the Atlas Mountains: “Lunch at L’Arbaa Tighdouine, Berber House.”

Nestled in the foothills of the snow-capped mountains, the steep path up to the Berber’s house was rocky, with ochre-hued soil endemic to Marrakesh and its environs. After a 40-minute uphill hike to Ibrahim’s centuries-old home, our sneakers were covered with a thin coating of red dust. Perched on the side of a hill, the mud-walled structure blended into the earth.

Ibrahim, a man with a weathered tan face wearing a traditional white caftan, greeted us. Ibrahim led us into an earthen-floored room with sweeping views of the valley and mountains. His wife, Fatima, was cooking our meal over a fire. He gestured for us to sit on the patterned cushions lining the walls. We removed our shoes, stepping on colorful overlapping rugs handmade by the women in his family. Two silver trays were set up to make Moroccan mint tea: Ibrahim mixed fresh mint, absinthe, green tea and palm-sized chunks of sugar together in the pot. He served it to us with a flourish, the green liquid arching high above the small glass. Miraculously, he didn’t spill a drop.

As we ate chicken and vegetable tagines with our hands, Ibrahim explained that generations of his family had lived in this house, where he had been born and raised his own family. When it was time to leave, I was offered a ride down on Mina, the family donkey. We were so enthralled with the experience that we asked if we could explore more of the area and meet more locals, and our translator was happy to oblige and pivoted our itinerary.

Photo credit: Genti & Hyers

I have always been drawn to immersive cultural experiences, but the Berber meal got me wondering, how do we define luxury? Isn’t true luxury tailored to the individual, like a bespoke suit or a piece of couture? Travelers are seeking more meaningful, authentic journeys that are closely tied to the destination—which often means discovering something you can only experience in a particular place. But the new definition of luxury takes that idea one step further. It’s all about attention to detail and creating a guest-specific, situation-specific “wow” factor: something you don’t expect that blows you away in a deeply personal way.

As a mom and longtime resident of New York City, luxury is increasingly defined by what I lack in my everyday life: connecting with nature, silence and spending time solo. During a two-night stay at Dawn Ranch in June, I would relax in the majestic redwoods of Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, home to one of California’s most unique microclimates.

A 22-acre creative retreat nestled at the foothills of this expansive redwood forest, Dawn Ranch is surrounded by a veritable sea of green. The recently revamped 88-key resort of individual chalets, cottages, cabins and bungalows is a sprawling property which dates back to 1905 and today encourages you to “author your own luxuries.” As an exhausted mom, my first order of business was sleep (another underrated luxury).

The following morning, I indulged in some freshly baked pastries and headed to outdoor yoga, my practice enhanced by a natural soundtrack of gurgling water punctuated by woodpeckers and birdsong. Afterward, I readied myself for treatments at Dawn Ranch’s new spa, which is housed in the former owners’ residence, with redwood accents and moss and earthy tones throughout. The spa therapies, which are designed to connect with nature and increase mindfulness, are inspired by the surrounding natural elements of the Russian River Valley.

“It’s my intention—and the hotel’s intention—to make this a wellness retreat, a mindfulness retreat,” says Heidi Bartholomew, spa and wellness manager at Dawn Ranch. “And with the spa, I’m hoping to create a space for wellbeing—infused with some Ayurvedic practices like panchakarma—to cultivate whatever experiences the guest requires in this moment. It’s not one-size-fits-all.”

Inside the spa, I basked in the steam room; outside, I sweated out toxins in a standalone infrared sauna. A melt-into-the-table signature massage and forest bathing scrub erased any lingering stress. The forest bathing scrub, which began with dry brushing and used a blend of sea salts and black sage, mugwort and redwood essence along with Douglas fir, black spruce and balsam fir essential oils to exfoliate and nourish skin, promotes lymphatic drainage and cell turnover. These, in turn, support a healthy immune system.

The al fresco redwood soaking tubs on a deck adjacent to the spa looked alluring, and I’d asked if it was possible to have a bath after the treatments. On the sun-dappled deck, I experienced a “letting go” bathing ritual under a clear blue sky, gazing at trees swaying in the gentle breeze. The water—infused with Naturopathica sweet birch magnesium bath flakes, fresh mint, lime and lemon—was no ordinary bath. A ritual bath works with salt to cleanse and calls on the healing powers of flowers and herbs. On a stool near the bath, Bartholomew left a dish of pink rose petals (divine, feminine, creative, inspiring); as I dropped each petal into the water, I silently let go of what was no longer serving me. To conclude the ritual, I drained the water, letting the petals collect near the drain. Afterward, Bartholomew gathered them for me to burn, bury or scatter in the river. I opted for the latter, a final and satisfying release that completed my journey.

“The Spa at Dawn Ranch where we have a Japanese tea garden is an example of how we can create bespoke moments. We have redwood tubs underneath the stars where custom herbs are chosen for each guest’s bath ritual depending on their needs. Even better, the herbs are picked from the resort’s garden right before each bath.”

– Heidi Bartholomew, spa and wellness manager at Dawn Ranch

“Dawn Ranch wants to inspire guests and let them have a hand at co-authoring their own experiences,” says Atit Jariwala, chief executive officer, Bridgeton. “The Spa at Dawn Ranch where we have a Japanese tea garden is an example of how we can create bespoke moments. We have redwood tubs underneath the stars where custom herbs are chosen for each guest’s bath ritual depending on their needs. Even better, the herbs are picked from the resort’s garden right before each bath.”

Co-authored experiences at Dawn Ranch extend beyond the spa. Guests can fish on the river and have a meal cooked by the F&B team, or pick ingredients from the property’s kitchen garden and have them incorporated into a meal. Dawn Ranch’s Picnic Basket Pairing experience features a hand-selected bottle of wine customized to the guest’s preferences from a local Sonoma County winery in a custom Dawn Ranch picnic tote, along with bites from The Lodge at Dawn Ranch, a new Argentinian and South American concept by Chef Fernando Trocca.

Gangtey Lodge in-suite massage

Opened in December 2022, Naviva, A Four Seasons Resort of 15 luxury tents nestled amid 48 forested acres on a private peninsula overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Punta Mita, Mexico, is an adults-only nature retreat offering signature and unscripted experiences. Prior to staying at Naviva, someone from the property reaches out to learn more about your preferences to assist with creating a personalized itinerary of experiences that meets your needs and desires, ranging from wellness activities such as custom spa services and meditations to outdoor activities such as hikes and ice baths, or diving into the local culture with inner liberation dances. At House of Heat, a temazcal (sweat lodge) designed specifically for Naviva, guests can tailor their experience by choosing from several focus areas, such as gratitude or devotion.

A private island is a prime location for bespoke wellness experiences, and The Aerial, BVI, located on Buck Island with over 43 acres of pristine grounds in the British Virgin Islands, provides the perfect environment for tailored rejuvenation. Practitioners work with guests pre-arrival to cater each retreat to goals and desires, and bookings include a personal island concierge. World-class wellness practitioners are on hand to shepherd guests through activities such as guided writing, presence training, red light therapies, immunity-boosting treatments, acupuncture, nature hikes, yoga and ocean water therapy. One signature treatment, the Superfood Massage, uses oils handcrafted with local produce from a local company called Sage Roots.

The Aerial, BVI is also home to rescue animals from around the world including horses, miniature horses, tortoises and zebras—Redemption Ranch is a cherished part of the island experience where the animals receive their own healing, and also play an integral part in the healing journey of guests during their stay. A therapeutic equine experience called “Painting Love Back In” is centered around self-love: Guests write down negative thoughts such as “I’m not worthy” or “no one loves me,” then read these phrases back to the horses in the second person, and finally use nontoxic paints to write positive words and images on the horses.

At Gangtey Lodge Bhutan, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year, mental health and healing journeys are prioritized in its Five Keys to Wellbeing Program, which focuses on wellbeing through nature, culture, spirituality, culinary and other experiences. “Bhutan is a journey of reflection,” says owner Khin Omar Win. “Many of our guests do not know what to expect when they visit the Kingdom and often find themselves questioning their life and their relationships as their stay progresses. It is at these [moments] when they raise questions that we tailor their stay to help them gain answers through wellness and spiritual experiences.” A traditional hot stone bath in a local pinewood tub utilizes foraged forest herbs with a wealth of medicinal benefits, and guided meditation classes with a lama delve into ancient traditions that open the door for spirituality.

At Gangtey Lodge, the team focuses on surprising guests with gestures based on their observations and conversations. One guest loved the Morning Prayer Ceremony but had not decided in advance to do anything more spiritual during her stay. “We suggested that she participate in the Spiritual Cleansing and Evening Meditation although it was something she had never done before, and we changed her schedule to include that,” Khin Omar Win says. 

“Bhutan is a journey of reflection. Many of our guests do not know what to expect when they visit the Kingdom and often find themselves questioning their life and their relationships as their stay progresses. It is at these [moments] when they raise questions that we tailor their stay to help them gain answers through wellness and spiritual experiences.”

–Gangtey Lodge Bhutan owner Khin Omar Win

The Aerial located on Buck Island, BVI

Zebras at The Aerial

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