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There’s Magic in These Woods

By Christine Delsol

Forest bathing, like most activities at the new Canyon Ranch Woodside — the former Skylonda Lodge — is an indoor-outdoor pursuit. (Aubrie Pick)

After navigating the redwood-fringed curves of Skyline Boulevard, you’ll wonder if the new Canyon Ranch Woodside is not in fact a place dreamed up by Lewis Carroll. You don’t need a magic potion to feel yourself shrinking in the presence of the ancient forest giants, and the more wood-and-glass treehouses you discover entwined in the boughs overhead, the curiouser and curiouser you become. It seems perfectly natural, then, to encounter a series of stones along the walkway, each stamped with a single word that add up to the question, “How far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go?”

Clients of Skylonda Lodge, the all-inclusive health retreat that occupied these 16 acres of wooded mountaintop under various names and owners since the 1990s, believe these are enchanted woods. Luxury spa industry trailblazer Canyon Ranch, which acquired the property earlier this year, is counting on it.

Canyon Ranch was looking to plant its flag on the West Coast in the 40 years after founding its pioneering wellness resort in Tucson, then adding a second resort in Lenox, Massachusetts, North America’s largest day spa in Las Vegas, and numerous facilities on luxury cruise ships. It was also ready to expand its brand with a new type of facility — smaller, more intimate, less structured and suited to shorter stays. While its two signature properties are resorts, this one is termed a retreat.

The former Skylonda Lodge, perched above the town of Woodside some 35 miles south of San Francisco, ticked all the right boxes. After announcing the acquisition in March, Canyon Ranch undertook a renovation before welcoming its first guests in November. But anyone with a history at Skylonda or the earlier Stillheart Institute will find much that is familiar. Even the core staff, from the operations, programming and marketing managers to the groundskeeper, are Skylonda Lodge alumni.

The forest canopy is a constant presence, whether seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows, from decks such as the space outside the pool (above), or during hikes and yoga sessions. (Aubrie Pick)

The new retreat also marks a homecoming of sorts for General Manager Debbie Gisonni, who was president and CEO during Stillheart’s four-year tenure beginning in 2010. “I’m a poster child for that kind of lifestyle — health and wellness,” says Gisonni, who declares her passion is “to elevate humanity and increase health, happiness, well-being and success.”

The lodge, with 14 guest rooms and 24 treehouses already immersed in the ethereal landscape, evokes the serenity to which Canyon Ranch aspires. Rooms and common areas are dominated by wall-to-ceiling forest views. “The majesty of the retreat is truly the location,” says lead designer Jill Cole of Cole Martinez Curtis Associates. The interior was updated with furnishings and finishes of wood, marble and other natural materials in quiet tones of moss green and slate gray, chosen to complement the exterior views. Cole says the footprint and structures re-main unchanged, with one exception: They carved a bar out of a portion of the library. The Hideaway will offer drinks featuring low-proof spirits and aperitifs balanced with cold-pressed juices and house-made tonics.

According to Leslie Shammas, Canyon Ranch’s vice president for design and development, the greatest challenge was adapting the existing spaces to the vision Canyon Ranch had for its new retreat. She and Cole spent many hours planning how the various spaces would be used and how people would circulate through them. Guests might spend their days in cooking class; practicing yoga on a platform in a redwood bower; relaxing in the spa, sauna and in-door saline pool; or hiking the forest slopes on trails equipped with prayer flags, a medicine wheel and rope-challenge activities.

While embracing much of the New Age philosophy from which the former Skylonda Lodge evolved, program offerings bear the unmistakable Canyon Ranch imprimatur. The primary differences here are the smaller scale, shorter stays and customization.

Signature programs are weekend Connect retreats, a self-discovery program aimed at inspiring creativity and encouraging human connections in a digital world, and a customizable Recharge retreat (two-day minimum) that builds resiliency by combining physical challenges, relaxation and fun. In addition, Guest Speaker Retreats led by recognized experts are scheduled regularly, including upcoming programs on inspiration and success, storytelling and mask-making, and healing through sound.

No matter how you configure your stay, it all comes back to enlisting nature’s power to inspire, recharge and rejuvenate. And in the midst of Silicon Valley, that’s magic.

Canyon Ranch Wellness Retreat

16350 Skyline Blvd., Woodside;

Along with guest accommodations, the 16-acre property includes a fitness studio, forest fitness course, hiking trails, aquatic center and labyrinth.

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