Palm Springs: De-stress in the desert in Hollywood's favourite health oasis
Guaranteed sunshine, picture-postcard national parks and oodles of avocados make Palm Springs a welcome remedy to stressful living, says Josie Clarke
It's just as well I love avocado.
I've been in Greater Palm Springs for less than four full days and I calculate I've eaten 11 of them in various forms - one at every breakfast, lunch and dinner.
But even Californians must be getting sick of them, because at my last lunch at the elegant Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage - where they specialise in all things health and wellness - the waiter serves me battered avocado "fries".
They may not be especially healthy, but my sense of wellness receives a considerable boost right then and there. Let me tell you, you really want them to start appearing on the menus of UK cafes as soon as possible.
A healthy breath of fresh air
Also contributing to my happy state is my location in the foothills overlooking the Coachella Valley, after a mini break spent hiking, horse trekking, eating invariably locally-sourced food, and managing to combine a yoga session with wine tasting.
Vino & Vinyasa, held at Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa (approx €212 for two people; indianwells.regency.hyatt.com), works by doing what felt like three minutes of yoga and then spending the rest of the two hour-long session in a heightened sense of relaxation guessing the grape and alcohol content.
This may work well for Americans, who apparently like to know how to select low-alcohol wine at networking occasions, but others in the room managed to promptly turn the analysis into which might best be considered "snogging wine". Our instructor agreed that health and wellness takes many forms.
The valley, with its extraordinary desert palm landscape dominated by the San Andreas and San Jacinto fault lines, is well known as a former playground for movie stars, back when actors under contract with Hollywood studios were allowed no further than two hours' travel away. More recently, it's found fame courtesy of the Coachella music festival.
But the area's near-constant sunshine, picture-postcard national parks and oases, vast underground aquifers of mineral water that bubble to the surface at hot spring spas, as well as an abundance of yoga studios and obsession with local produce, makes it a natural health and wellness getaway that's an easy drive from LAX.
Finding great faults
My break starts with a 30-minute drive by jeep to the San Andreas fault before temperatures reach their midday 42C peak, where we hike through a labyrinth of geological cuts and 'slot' canyons - so named as they really are slots that require squeezing though sideways - created by plate tectonics, water, wind and time.
The silence of this place is overwhelming and there is a peacefulness and stillness that you can easily forget exists any more. I explore a natural palm oasis where crystal clear water reaches the surface from the underground aquifer and learn about how the Cahuilla Indians used the desert's plants for food, medicine, tools, weapons and shelter.
A Disney-worthy natural wonder
Surrounding us on all sides are mountains ribboned with trails for hiking, biking and horse trekking. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway takes 10 minutes to lift passengers from the dry heat of the desert to the cool of Mount San Jacinto State Park, where trails extend over 14,000 acres of pristine wilderness.
Walt Disney himself once had a home in Palm Springs, and walking into San Jacinto feels like stepping into the pages of the Bambi Little Golden Book, with its fir-lined clearings and bubbling creeks. Visitors can stick to a three quarter-mile nature trail affording spectacular views of the valley below, or set off on the Peak Trail, a 12-mile hike to the second-highest peak in Southern California, with the chance of spotting a mountain lion or bobcat on the way.
On the trek down, I speak to two Los Angeles residents who have just spent a night camping out, and who consider themselves "exceptionally lucky" to be able to experience this, just a two-hour drive away from the city.
The locals I'm meeting here also talk about their love of the outdoors and of leaving work and heading straight out for a hike. It is, therefore, no coincidence that they tend to look pretty healthy - slim and tanned, like they enjoy their lives very much.
I suddenly realise that I'm standing up a little straighter and breathing more deeply. I'm sleeping incredibly well. They may have the advantage of fabulous weather and proximity to mountains here, but I'm already determined to exercise outside once I'm home - over the summer, at least.
Riding like a true cowboy
For those who have been on one hike too many, but still want to venture peacefully into the outdoors, horse trekking is for you.
Smoke Tree Stables offer guided treks through the scenic Indian Canyons on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation, which are blessed with an unusually high concentration of natural springs that support several groves of California fan palms, including the well-known Palm Canyon Oasis (two-hour rides approx. €101pp; smoketreestables.com).
I borrow a dusty cowboy hat and we set off as a group along a trail, my horse Pablo allowing me to believe I can actually ride, as he picks his way along a rocky trail that takes us over hills high enough to look down over the fault lines and vast wind farms, to the mountains on the other side of the valley.
An eagle soars overhead before we carefully make our way down into a shady green oasis, where palm trees line a running stream. The temperature must be at least 10C cooler in the shade under the umbrella of palms, and the horses stand silently in appreciation of a break before we make our way back to base, passing a hiker who, asked if she is enjoying her day, replies: "What's not to love?"
Relaxing it may be, but two hours of riding in temperatures approaching 40C calls for just one thing - a hot spa to soak off the dust and ease the muscles. Fortunately in Palm Springs, you can do that outside too.
Dipping into hot springs
Two Bunch Palms pumps healing hot mineral water straight from the ground into a grotto-style series of pools and wooden tubs, while its no-children-under-18 rule and quiet-voice policy gives it a serene atmosphere (approx. €72; twobunchpalms.com).
The upscale spa is especially well known for its mud baths, where you can spend 20 minutes soaking in clay and peat moss to achieve deep relaxation and moistened skin, followed by an Ayurvedic massage in which two therapists work on you simultaneously.
It also does hypnotherapy, spiritual counselling and angel readings, where you can "receive information that is needed in this incarnation to assist you with any blocked energy, and reveal to you answers for your life". All very quietly, of course. Or you can just float in the pools gazing up at the cloudless blue sky, while working out how to avoid eating avocado for dinner.
You will often hear the locals talking about the "craziness" of the Coachella festival and how they long for the peace and quiet that returns to the valley when the party is over. It is a landscape that sets the mind at ease and seems almost designed for healthy living. I feel better than when I arrived and I've had just four days here. Although it will be a little while before I eat another avocado.
How to get there
For more information about Greater Palm Springs and its nine cities, see visitgreaterpalmsprings.com.
Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa (indianwells.regency.hyatt.com) has rooms from $350 (approx. €300) per night.
A three-hour Jeep Tour And Hike to the San Andreas Fault with Desert Adventures (red-jeep.com) costs $139 (approx. €119).