Sanctuary Spa at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain

5700 E Mcdonald Dr
Paradise Valley, AZ 8525

Discovering yourself through the Luk Pra Kope ritual at Sanctuary Spa.

A friend recently told me that she had never been to the illustrious Sanctuary Spa without spotting a celebrity (Al Sharpton, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, the Bennifer baby).

I saw not a single famous person the day I went. Not even a famous person’s kid. I was however a mega superstar myself. See today, I was playing the role of Julia Roberts – legs up to my eyeballs, an infectious laugh and a protruding yet endearing upper lip. I had just seen the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” the night before and was craving a journey laced with meaning and personal insights. But the real me has a tightly wound core of anxiety and worries (what’s going to happen to all the trash?) held together by a thin string of guilt. Relaxing is a challenge for me. What’s that saying about the shoemaker’s kids having no shoes? Anyway, so in the spirit of breathing deep and letting go, I decided to channel Julie Roberts channeling Liz Gilbert (the book’s author) and give us all permission to fully embrace the journey ahead.

Whew, and what a journey it was.

Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain is tucked away on what feels like hallowed ground in the sleepy town of Paradise Valley. While Sanctuary Spa debuted in June 2002 (the same month in fact that Arizona Spa Girls was launched), the resort has a legacy that dates back to the 1950s when it was first conceived as a tennis club by a handful of Hollywood tycoons. The property, though completely renovated in 2001, has retained an air of historical significance and the architectural influence of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic style. The backdrop of the less-traveled side of Camelback Mountain only adds to the otherworldly experience that defines Sanctuary.

My journey that day was the Luk Pra Kope (pronounced like “Luke pra cope”) – a 2-hour ritual that incorporates Indonesian healing therapies to encourage energy flow throughout the body. The treatment name translates as “healing through medicinal herbs” and refers specifically to the Thai herbal poultices – heated, muslin-wrapped compresses containing steeped herbal concoctions – that are used during the service. You ease into the two hours  first with a lime foot ritual and then your muscles are gently stretched, rocked and kneaded throughout the treatment using Thai massage movements.

But first, the duds.

Dona, the ladies locker room attendant, smiled as she handed me a soft black shirt and pants big enough for a Sumo wrestler. She showed me how to tie the ginormous pants and gave me illustrated tying directions as back-up. I later found out that the outfit is patterned after that of a Thai fisherman and is traditionally worn in Thailand before treatments. Once I slipped them on, I didn’t feel a bit like the leggy movie star I was channeling – more like a squat, Kung Fu fighter ready to bust a move on a wooden board – but they were comfortable and the loose fit would soon come in handy.

My therapist, Azure, came for me and escorted me and my sexy pants across the spa’s outdoor Sanctum and into the treatment room. She was as exotic looking as her name sounds and had an aura of gentle practicality that made me instantly trust her – and want to be her best friend. Once she had given me a brief overview of what was to come, we chatted about movies and books during the foot treatment.

Which brings me to the crux of this review. Do I spill every detail or leave them out for you to unfold on your own? I’ve read a lot of spa treatment reviews in my day and I find sometimes that they can be a bit like reading about someone’s interpretation of a book or movie. And the kicker is that they always give away the ending. I’m not going there this time.

No, instead I’m going to give you a few ways you can think about this truly unique spa journey and let you experience the ending on your own.

You can think of it as:

  1. An exercise in trust. Yes, someone is balancing the weight of their entire body on the back of your thighs. Yes, someone is (ever so gently) stretching your leg in a direction you did not previously know it could go. And yes, these are some magic pants.
  2. A hot stone massage. Minus the stones. On crack.
  3. A private, deep stretch yoga class where your only job is to breath and manage your deluge of thoughts. And if the song “Right Here, Right Now” by Jesus Jones pops in your head, just go with it.

I would bet that after you have this treatment, you can think of other ways to describe it. But for me, I thought of it as all the above at various moments throughout the 120 minutes.

Which brings me back to Julia (aka Liz). As Azure had mentioned during our earlier chat, there were stories about women who, after reading “Eat, Pray, Love,” had suddenly left their husbands and jetted off to exotic locales to find themselves. At some point during the stretching and kneading, our conversation floated back into my psyche and I thought: Now why the heck would you do that when we have opportunities like this all around to find yourself? You are right here. You are RIGHT here. That was my thought. (And hence the Jesus Jones song reference.)

As Azure escorted me back to the ladies lounge, I felt taller, open … okay, I felt like me again. Not Julia Roberts, just me. Full of anxieties and worries that had been softened by appreciation, gratitude and self-acceptance. I don’t have legs up to my eyeballs nor do I have a protruding upper lip. Two things I can totally live with if I know the real me is within such an easy reach.

Sanctuary Spa is truly a sacred place. You’ll want to get to the spa well before your treatment time and soak up the spirit of this place (and the Red Flower Asian Neroli Body Wash and Lotion in the ladies lounge). And stay well after dark so you can gaze out across the twinkling Phoenix Valley from the resort’s jade bar or elements restaurant. Maybe you’ll spot a celebrity. Or maybe you’ll get a glimpse of yourself. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

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