Unexpected Oasis

Seeking wellness and reprieve at Cal-a-Vie Health Spa.

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  • Written by
    Darren Elms

Having grown up in California, it’s difficult for me to uncover a new location that truly transports me to another part of the world. Our state is magnificent without comparison … beautiful, breathtaking and varied. So naturally it was with great surprise and pleasure that I drove a mere two hours south and suddenly found myself in the South of France. Did I take a wrong turn at Escondido? Nope. 

This is Cal-a-Vie—a 200-acre spa haven tucked away in the hills of northern San Diego County. To say Cal-a-Vie resembles a French village is no coincidence. It was all part of the plan. The grounds are dotted with natural and manmade treasures, from vineyards and a lavender grove to a windmill and vintage chapel, transported from France and reconstructed brick-by-brick. If you went to bed and dreamed you woke up in Provençe, that’s the idea.



The destination is the vision of Terri and John Havens, who first visited the spa back in 1998 and invested into its current glory. Beyond enjoying a relaxing and tranquil setting, the Havens encourage guests to seek a healthy mind, body and soul during their visit. 

A regular stay at Cal-a-Vie includes nutritional, gourmet meals; daily fitness programs; health education; and plenty of spa treatments. From an early-morning hike to a nourishing yet delicious after-dinner dessert, a day at “The Havens” feels both productive and satisfying.

After arrival, you’ll be escorted to one of 32 Mediterranean-style villas or suites, each lovingly appointed with fine Frette linens and handcrafted antique furnishings. Enjoy a relaxing nap on your sundeck or balcony, or indulge in a wonderful shower or soak. Just leave your Netflix at home. There are no televisions in the rooms at Cal-a-Vie.

Guests may book packages for three, four or seven nights, with arrivals and departures scheduled for Wednesdays and Sundays. You choose how long you’d like to enjoy the programs and facilities, each offered daily with variation. 

A typical daily itinerary would include breakfast, followed by a few hours of fitness training in the Pavilion. After lunch, a series of spa treatments awaits, followed by relaxation time and dinner. Then, unless there’s a special talk or entertainment planned, it’s lights-out for most of the guests.



Under the guidance of an executive chef, the menu at Cal-a-Vie is not only totally healthy but incredibly delicious. Using locally-sourced ingredients, many found right on the property, the daily dishes feed the senses and prepare your body for the workouts and cleansing ahead. The chef will often host a cooking demonstration so you can take some of his expertise home with you, and a registered dietician is also on hand for consultation and information of food-sensitivity testing.

Down at the Pavilion fitness center, expert trainers await your arrival for a few hours of serious sweat. Even if you’re not a gym bunny, there are plenty of classes and programs on the daily schedule. Options include cycling, Pilates, core focus, stretching, weight lifting, TRX, dance and much more. 




We highly suggest heading to the chapel for some gentle yoga first thing in the morning. The gorgeous setting and easy movements help get your day off to a great start.

You dined, you sweated and now you indulge. Welcome to the spa, your reward for all that hard work in the morning. Facials, scrubs, massage, hydrotherapy, wraps … you name it, they do it. There’s also a salon on-site for hair care, waxing and all those beauty extras.

Private, beautiful, all-inclusive and boasting a 5-to-1 staff-to-guest ratio, Cal-a-Vie delivers on all fronts. Whether you’re looking to shed a few pounds or just need to get away from it all, I highly suggest getting away to the South of France … I mean Southern California … for a few days. You will not be disappointed.