The Pioneers Spas: Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
The area’s Native American knew it well hundreds of years ago: Bathing in the thermal waters of Boyes Hot Springs, where the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn is located, is powerful and healing. With the waters as the Mission Inn’s guiding inspiration, we salute this luxury hotel and spa’s ability to fashion beautifully conceived, rejuvenating treatments for its wide variety of visitors.
These days, cyclists, tourists, and daytrippers weave through the pastoral landscape of Sonoma County to savor its wine and food and unwind in its resorts. But this was not the case 25 years ago. While the countryside has always been beautiful, the area had not yet defined itself as a spa culinary wine-country destination. The award-winning Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa, however, with its long and storied history and geothermal hot springs, has been serving its loyal guests for years, and still maintains its place as the preeminent spa destination in the county.
It all started with the springs, of course. Hundreds of years ago the area’s Native Americans came to the land’s hot springs for ceremonies, bathing, and its medicinal properties. “In the late 19th century, wealthy British sea captain H.E. Boyes built a hotel on the property, which was frequented by affluent San Franciscans, who arrived by a train that stopped right at the resort,” relates spa spokesperson Michelle Heston.
The resort had a huge pool then, as it does now. The big pool, in fact, is one of five naturally fed pools on the resort, which are the driving inspiration of the Sonoma Mission Inn’s spa experience. In addition to the big swim, there’s the 98-degree WATSU pool, “where some of the most experienced first-generation WATSU therapists—trained at Harbin Hot springs—perform their massages,” says spa director Donna Shaffer. There are also two Jacuzzis, kept at 103 degrees and a soaking pool, which is womb-like body temperature, that is, admittedly difficult to get out of.
Always brainstorming and doing research to be a the forefront of the industry, the Mission Inn has found even more ways to creatively utilize their beautiful natural resource in the last 25 years. Some years ago, a former spa director visited the bath houses of Europe and came back with a restorative, self-guided bathing ritual, made local with the use of a homegrown grapeseed olive oil scrub.
Up With Willow Stream
And with Fairmont acquiring the Mission Inn nine years ago, spa-goers are now offered the option of Fairmont’s Willow Stream signature treatments in addition to Mission Inn’s amazing therapies, all administered in the property’s 40,000 square-foot spa facility. It’s a varied and deep menu that works well for today’s discerning and multifaceted spa customer with niche requirements.
“The sophistication level of our guests is amazing,” says Heston. “Twenty-five years ago spa was a frivolity, and now it is a way of life. It’s completely embraced and validated. And people understand spa—they understand the benefits of spa, and they want that: they want to incorporate that balance into their lives. And people want results, whether it’s visual results with our K-Lift facial, or the physical relief of our golf sports massage—people have very specific requirements, and they expect there to be a qualitative result following a treatment.”
“Once you get to this caliber, and you’re a spa with a long history, you have to challenge yourself to stay on top,” Heston continues. “So it’s up to us to maintain the caliber of our treatments, to keep our facility polished and to make sure that we always have the area’s best and brightest providers.”
And that is definitely a constant of this amazing resort for the last 25 years: the dedicated staff of therapists: “We have providers who have been with us for 30 years, and they love what they do and are truly passionate—they’re true from their core, says Donna. “And they continue to educate themselves and practice. They live it.”
Our 25th Anniversary Celebration continues with more Spa Nostalgia Slideshows >