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Soaking up the good life in Carmel

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Heat up. Cool down. Relax. Relax some more. Repeat.

Following the thermal cycle is an age-old healing ritual in places where naturally heated pools boil and bubble. In Carmel, California, hot/cold therapy is relatively new, and it’s happening at America’s first co-ed relaxation spa, the Refuge.

At the Refuge, silence is golden. In fact, it’s required from the dressing rooms (separate for men and women) to the co-ed eucalyptus steam room, expansive dry sauna and fabulous outdoor therapeutic pools.

About those pools

The ten pools are made to look natural, with rock formations built near the edges. Most have waterfalls you can sit beneath for a neck and shoulder massage. What sets the pools apart is temperature. First, there’s cold at 37 degrees, said to be like an icy stream. Then comes cool, rather like the Pacific Ocean. Next is warm, and finally hot. Thankfully, they are well marked, so no surprises. I personally found the warm pool to be the most soothing on a hot, sunny day in Carmel.

The idyllic setting for all this peace and quiet lies down the road from the luxe Quail Lodge Resort (no connection). The Refuge complex consists of the indoor check-in area, dressing rooms and massage treatment rooms. Outdoors, the soaking pools face a brick patio dotted with fire pits surrounded by Adirondack chairs for kicking back. The oak covered hills of the Santa Lucia Preserve encircle the patio and pool area where the only sounds you hear are tumbling waterfalls and whirlpool bubbles.

Tips for getting the most out of your spa day

The Refuge supplies towels, a locker and lock. Use of an amazingly soft robe costs $12. You’re welcome to bring a robe from home as long as it’s white. Do bring your swimsuit, flip-flops and a water bottle. You can refill the bottle for free. No cell phones or radios are allowed. Bring a book if you like, and be prepared to be quiet.

Admission to The Refuge is $39 per person for the day. Admission plus a 50-minute massage costs just $99. It is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and is located at 27300 Rancho San Carlos Road. Phone 831-620-7360. www.refuge.com

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