Health + Wellness: Thermal Pool Therapy at Refuge Spa – Carmel, CA


*Photo courtesy of SFGATE

I’ve been to many different spas in the last few years, but nothing quite like “The Refuge” in Carmel, CA. Tucked away in the beautiful mountains and lush greenery of Northern California is a therapeutic silent oasis. My husband and I were graciously given gift certificates as a wedding gift to experience the healing powers of this unique spa.


Here’s what you can expect when visiting “The Refuge”

To make the most out of your trip, arrive early and book a treatment. Our gift certificates included entry and a massage. When you first arrive, you’ll check-in at the front desk where the spa staff will greet you with your locker key, tip envelope (if you’re getting massage service) and a brochure on the spa. If it is your first time, you’ll be given the option to have an orientation of the spa and how the thermal cycles work best to maximize health benefits during your stay. Since the spa is “silent,” it’s encouraged to leave all of your electronics in your locker. This message was clearly directed towards my husband, who showed up with laptop in tow ready to ask for the wifi password.

The spa is co-ed which makes it a perfect couples get-away or it can equally be a really relaxing retreat with close friends. Before entering the facilities, you can slip into your swimsuit in the locker room and also retrieve your robe, towel and complimentary bottle of water. One thing to remember is to bring your own sandals or else you’ll be walking barefoot (like I did -__-). The locker room isn’t anything too lavish, but comes equipped with the basics to shower off and get ready afterwards. After placing your stuff in your locker, you’ll walk out to the thermal pool area and have a brief consultation on how to effectively complete the cycle for maximum results (it is also printed handy on your water bottle).

Basically, the goal is to get your body to it’s highest heat tolerance and then to the lowest cool temperature you can withstand. It sounds painful and it can be at first, but like most things it’s mind-over-matter and the benefit outweighs the temporary discomfort. The purpose for this you may be asking yourself (as I did) is to: eliminate toxins from your body, improve blood circulation, reduce stress, alleviate pain and inflammation among many other healing benefits. It is the same reason that athletes take ice baths to heal muscles soreness and wounds. It also has similar effects to cryotherapy. If you’ve ever been to a Korean spa (my favorite), you’ve probably noticed that they also practice “contrast bath therapy” also known as “hot/cold immersion therapy”.


Photo Refuge Facebook

The 1st stop in the cycle is a choice between the eucalyptus steam room or the dry cedar sauna. I prefer dry saunas, but it’s nice to try both while you’re there. After sitting in the sauna for 10-15 minutes, you’ll go immediately into 1 of 2 cold water options: “cool” (Pacific ocean water temperature) or “cold” (ice water temperature). The goal is to stay submerged for at least 10-60 seconds or as long as your body can handle. The longer you can stay in the cold, the greater the healing effects. I was convinced from the beginning that I would not make it in the cold pool by the end of our trip, but I couldn’t resist the dare from my husband!


*Photo Refuge Facebook

Although it was extremely hard to handle, there was power in my self-control and endurance to overcome the chilling temperatures. I eventually got the hang of out it and learned that the key is once you get in, not to move around too much. After emerging from the cold pools, you have an option to relax by the group fire pits, hammocks or in 1 out of 3 rooms that have anti-gravity lounge chairs. The suggested time in these areas is 15 minutes. Many people take time to read or fall asleep in these areas.

After relaxation, you’ll enjoy warm or hot thermal pools with jets and natural looking waterfalls. This was by far my favorite part of the cycle. Again, you can spend as much time here as you’d like. After you’ve finished enjoying your time in the thermal pools, you’ve officially completed 1 cycle. The average time per cycle varies based on your pace. It is recommended you complete 3-5 cycles in your visit at the spa and to drink 1 full bottle of water per cycle (yes, you’ll probably be using the bathroom frequently which is why you should definitely bring sandals). The average stay at the spa is around 2-3 hours. I think we were there about 3 hours including our massage treatments and it was plenty of time to get 4-5 cycles in at our leisure.


*Photo CopyCatChic

The best way to break up the cycles is to arrive early and book a massage in between. My recommendation is that you don’t come when it’s too hot. You’ll really crave being in cooler weather with all of the heat you’ll be putting your body through. If you choose not to book a massage, you can have access to the facility for $44. Massage treatments start around $119 for a 50-minute massage which include access to the facility and a robe. The spa offers three different types of aroma therapy massages: swedish (the relaxing one), deep tissue and sports. If you want complete and deep relaxation while falling asleep drooling — go for the Swedish!

*Important things to know before you visit (which are also available on the website’s FAQ’s):

  • Spa is open from 10am – 10pm daily — rain or shine
  • Complimentary water bottles are provided (or you can bring your own)
  • No glass water bottles
  • There’s a station to refill your water bottle between cycles
  • Bring your own sandals
  • 2 towels are provided in your locker, robe is available for $12 rental or you can bring your own white one
  • Swimsuits are required
  • Must book your massage treatments in advanced

To read more FAQ’s and visit the spa website click here.

Rancho San Carlos Road, Carmel. (831) 620-7360


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