Virtuoso Traveler 2018 June Summer Camps for Grown-Ups

Summer Camps for Grown-Ups

Happy campers: Taking to the water at Lake Austin Spa Resort.
Happy campers: Taking to the water at Lake Austin Spa Resort.
Photo by Lake Austin Spa Resort
As a child, for ten years I attended summer camp, graduating to become a C.I.T. (counselor-in-training) and finally, at a Canadian wilderness camp, a full-fledged counselor. As a result, I can still lash sticks together to make a table in the woods, pilot a canoe with precise J-strokes, and win a greased-watermelon relay (the trick: hug the fruit loosely).

As an adult, spurred by those early exploits, I pursue vacations as education-cum-action. I learned to fly-fish on an Irish estate, where I landed a whopper salmon. I’ve herded cattle on a Montana ranch with seasoned wranglers and held my own. I made big strides in perfecting my tennis stroke at an Arizona resort. And, in between hikes in Japan, I learned to make delicate wagashi, flower-shaped sweets, too pretty to eat later.

It turns out I’m not alone. A desire for meaningful, experiential travel, similar to the camp experiences we had as kids, is catching on, says Jessica Ourisman, a Virtuoso travel advisor based in Baltimore. “Many of my clients are looking for a beautiful outdoor, fresh-air vacation,” she says, “and find an organic energy that flows from being in nature.” What’s more, she adds, “these types of trips also inspire lifelong learning.” Indeed, many have staying power, as travelers pick up new passions and book their next adventure to pursue them further.

Whether you’re indulging your inner child on a solo escape or seeking a time-out on a family getaway, the following sophisticated and stimulating vacations channel summer camp without the splinters.
Going with the flow on Lake Austin.
Going with the flow on Lake Austin.
Photo by Lake Austin Spa Resort


From picking up guests by boat in nearby Austin to cooking up harborside s’mores, Lake Austin Spa Resort knows how to have fun. The 40-room, 19-acre resort certainly takes wellness seriously – its 25,000-square-foot spa facility dispenses over 100 treatments – but it also recognizes that lightheartedness is relaxing. 

“Like a summer camp, Lake Austin offers a host of activities based around the lake,” says Kim Rickels, a Virtuoso advisor based in Scottsdale, Arizona. “The atmosphere is very playful, and you can do as much or as little as you want.”

The raft of daily activities to choose from – some 25 on a typical Tuesday – may include swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and waterskiing. Water sports serve wellness ends in a program called Ripple Effects, built on the science linking reduced stress and increased well-being to being in, near, or on a body of water.

“You’ll get all the yoga, meditation, and wellness treatments you expect from a destination spa, but in a carefree resort setting,” says Rickels. “With a very cozy, Southern spirit,” she adds, “Lake Austin really encourages guests to explore.”

For every core class, there’s yoga with a live guitar accompaniment. For every spin class, there’s a sundown wine cruise. Collaging classes focus on using creativity for relaxation. Evening options range from astronomy sessions to live concerts and “beditation” – meditation before sleep. And at any hour, lakeside hammocks suggest a siesta.

Horsing around in Big Sky Country. 
Horsing around in Big Sky Country. 
Photo by Pam Voth


Cowboys aren’t born much anymore, but they can be made – and fast.

My own cowgirl crucible occurred when Triple Creek Ranch’s head wrangler, who had his reins full escorting 800 Angus cattle up to the high meadows of western Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains, rasped, “Breakaway! Left, 10 o’clock. Go get her!

Though I’d ridden English in high school, my equestrian skills were as rusty as an old spur, but I dug my Frye boots into Fuji, my quarter horse, and lit out at a full gallop after the wayward calf, exhilarated to contribute to corralling the headstrong animal.

Between June and September, the 25-cabin property indulges cowpoke fantasies by housing guests on a neighboring 26,000-acre ranch. At the end of long days in the saddle, wranglers return to hot tubs in the woods and elegant wine-paired dinners.

The laid-back resort makes trying any activity – from fly-fishing to horseback riding – a no-risk proposition. Pine-covered mountains and meandering streams invite explorers. Guests can practice archery, take a wildlife safari to see black bears and bighorn sheep, or just play a game of horseshoes and relax by the pool. Creative workshop weekends feature well-known Western artists, and preeminent winemakers headline vintner events.

“As a kid you think, ‘What do I do today to have fun?’ ” says Ourisman. “That’s what Triple Creek Ranch is like. You do things.” As an added bonus, the resort is all-inclusive, “so you don’t spend time signing receipts.”

Chefs Sarah Steffan (at left) and Cassidee Dabney get cooking during a culinary demonstration.
Chefs Sarah Steffan (at left) and Cassidee Dabney get cooking during a culinary demonstration.
Photo by Blackberry Farm


There’s everyday cooking, and then there’s Blackberry Farm cooking: carefully sourced, back-to-basics soulful, and deliciously nourishing. 

A 4,200-acre working farm abutting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee, Blackberry comprises 68 rooms in lodges and forest-set homes. The latter come with their own golf carts for getting to the swimming pool, lake, and, of course, The Barn – the destination restaurant and epicurean center where guests can shadow a chef for a day, catch a cooking demonstration, or participate in a private winetasting from the 160,000-bottle cellar. 

"I think of Blackberry Farm as a Southern-hospitality-channeling B&B that has the absolute best version of everything you could imagine on a homestead," says Paul Tumpowsky, a New York City-based Virtuoso agency executive. 

The resort’s farmstead educator, Jeff Ross, provides insights into seed-to-table cooking via garden tours and kitchen classes that teach knife skills and meal preparation. Guest chefs include the cream of the culinary world, from René Redzepi to Grant Achatz. 

“Blackberry Farm specializes in high-quality introductions into things such as gardening, cheese making, and jelly making,” adds Tumpowsky. “Plus, beyond eating, there’s so much more to do.” For starters: hiking, cycling, and horseback riding to explore the rolling hills. Guests can also fly-fish on the Clinch River or wakesurf on the lake. Blackberry’s Wellhouse spa holds strength and yoga classes, trail runs, and journaling and juicing sessions. Forest bathing (meditative hikes in the woods) connects spa-goers with nature to reduce stress and heighten awareness.

If Blackberry represents rural life perfected, consider this summer’s campfire entertainment upgrade: intimate shows from musicians Chris Thile (August 5) and Emmylou Harris (August 17 through 19).

High times at The Phoenician’s I.FLY Trapeze school.
High times at The Phoenician’s I.FLY Trapeze school.
Photo by The Phoenician

Sports & Rec

Though nothing about The Phoenician, the highly manicured luxury resort backdropped by Phoenix’s rugged Camelback Mountains, says "camp," the spirit of competition – embodied in its modern sports facilities – is alive and well. In my weekend of tennis indulgence here, I arrived with a pretty weak backhand, but learned how to rip it by leaning into the stoke and catching the ball in front of me. Now it’s a veritable weapon in my tennis arsenal. 

In April, the 645-room resort opened its new bilevel Athletic Club, including a fitness center with panoramic views of Camelback. It adjons the new seven-court Tennis Center, also home to two pickleball courts. The renovated golf course, reopening in November, will trim the tees from 27 to 18 holes to match the natural contours of the landscape. 

"The Phoenician truly has something for every sports fanatic, but also spa enthusiasts, foodies, and kids," says Courtney McCarthy, a Virtuoso advisor in Hinsdale, Illinois. “If you’re looking for luxury combined with adventure, it caters to every age and interest.”

The resort’s sports facilities encourage players to develop their skills. Tennis clinics, for instance, span strength conditioning, live ball drills, and stroke analysis. Its I.FLY Trapeze school teaches elementary skills through more advanced wrist-to-wrist catches.

Adventurous activities underscore the property’s desert appeal. The 1.5-mile Cholla Trail that summits Camelback starts within strolling distance of the rooms. Sunrise golf-cart safaris seek indigenous coyotes, chuckwalla lizards, and wild hares. Also highly suggested: Join a birding tour or set out solo to bike around the 250-acre resort, then recover at the new 24-treatment-room spa, home to a rooftop pool with sunset views.

Artistic perspective: Fogo Island Inn, designed by Newfoundland-born architect Todd Saunders.
Artistic perspective: Fogo Island Inn, designed by Newfoundland-born architect Todd Saunders.
Photo by Fogo Island Inn

Arts & Crafts

For many people, it takes some decompression to remove the stress and distractions of daily life and access their creative core. A pilgrimage can aid this process, and for guests of the 29-room Fogo Island Inn, getting there –via flight and ferry – is part of the therapy. Poised on 50-foot pillars above the Atlantic on a tiny island off mainland Newfoundland, the inn is about as far east in North America as you can go.

Fogo Island Inn takes effort to get to, but once you’re there, it’s magical,” says Sheila Gallant-Halloran, a Newfoundland native and Virtuoso advisor now based in Ottawa.

The 43,000-square-foot, white-clapboard modernist inn, decorated with furniture, quilts, and rugs all made by area artisans, immerses travelers in the island’s traditional cod-fishing villages, guided by community hosts. Inn proceeds support an art program that offers residencies to painters, filmmakers, and authors in architecturally unique studios scattered around the island. Those artists regularly offer presentations to inn guests, and local creatives hold writing, painting, and quilting courses, along with boat-building classes and jam-making weekends.

The seasons color Fogo Island stays like few other destinations. In winter, guests explore the land by snowshoe. In summer, icebergs float past the picture windows, and sherfolk welcome guests onto their boats. Nature’s rhythms inspire events at the inn too, from fall film festivals to summertime storytelling sessions by the bonfire. “For travelers who want ‘stop-and- sop’ – that is, really sopping it up – rather than fly-and-flop vacations,” says Gallant-Halloran, “Fogo is ideal.”

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