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Staying well --for life--in Indianapolis

Everyone kept asking me if I was hurting yet. My first appointment after checking in for a two-night stay at The Villa Inn, Restaurant and Spa was a private Pilates session with a personal trainer, and everyone from the desk clerks to the room-service attendant was sure I'd be too sore to move the remainder of my visit.

But that's what I came here for. Personal training is something small hotel spas seldom offer. I also was intrigued by the possibility of a private life-coaching appointment, another rarity on the small-spa circuit. I certainly hadn't expected to find this combination in Indianapolis, or in an inn with only six rooms.It seems The Villa was always a different sort of place, even before its current incarnation. They say that its Italianate architecture, equal parts fortress and chapel, was inspired by a Florentine villa the builder saw on a trip abroad--an ambition plausible only in the late-19th Century.

Behind the red-brick-and-white-battlement facade lies a reception area that's rather like the anteroom of a Gothic revival church. The eye is immediately drawn from the indifferent carpet to the acrobatic lines of the high, groin-vaulted ceiling. A wide stairway leads to the restaurant, then up to a landing where a three-paneled set of tall stained-glass windows allows the sunlight to warm the stairs and scatter bright-and-dark patterns across the potted palms, the steps and the wall.

I could have made my bed right there in the stairwell, but I'm glad I didn't. My room, No. 2 on the second floor, was even more inviting. The finials on the iron canopy bed were fashioned as palm trees. There was a double wicker trunk; a chest of drawers that looked like stacked luggage; potted plants; framed botanicals and a couple of curved-cane armchairs done in the Italian style, ample-bottomed and gold-accented. It all came together to form a restful, refined South Seas effect, though unfortunately there was no way to adjust the air conditioning or open the window. The room's private bath was large enough to dress in and claimed a pedestal sink and a two-person whirlpool tub.

Judging from the comments in the room's guest diary, it is a good place for accommodating not just spa visits but celebrating birthdays and anniversaries as well. Just outside the door are three other rooms, each making its own decorating statement, and a butler's buffet supplied with coffee maker (alas, nowhere to plug it in), coffee, tea bags, microwave, microwave popcorn, granola bars, ice and a mini-fridge stocked with soft drinks. Opposite the buffet, a door opens onto an east-facing rooftop terrace set with outdoor furniture. You could stay up here all morning--they bring coffee in a carafe--but the restaurant, spa and fitness areas are downstairs.

The Villa is making the transition from hotel/restaurant/spa to wellness center. Guests who just want a room or a meal or a massage can still get that--the hotel is popular with business travelers during the week--but those looking for a lifestyle program can find that, too, now.

In a sample schedule that looks a lot like the one at The Heartland Spa in Gilman, Ill., there are morning walks, yoga and Pilates work, merengue and bellydancing classes, seminars such as "Laugh Your Way to Wellness," cooking demonstrations, cultural outings and assorted fitness training. Wellness program pricing includes lodging, meals and spa treatments.

Fitness classes and training sessions take place in what once was the larger of the restaurant's two dining rooms--an inspiring space with another bank of tall stained-glass windows. I'm proof that it is possible for a dreadfully out-of-shape first-timer to survive a private Pilates session, which mostly requires the stretching of muscles that exist only in anatomy books. The hotel's stairs didn't feel nearly so steep after that session, and I can now confess that I didn't start hurting until I was in the car on the way home.

The full-service spa is in the basement, and startlingly small for the number of treatments performed there. Massage and facial rooms are blissfully quiet. Nail and hair salons are pleasantly chatty.

The credit for the sophistication and quality of the services has to go to the therapists and technicians themselves: Edi for the face-lift facial with peel; she took our cosmetic surgery conversation seriously enough to give me the business card of a plastic surgeon who is affiliated with The Villa. Erica for the in-suite massage--she had to move furniture to get the massage table to fit--and the Parafango mud wrap, which despite her best efforts did not towel-off well; the spa desperately needs to install a shower. Lila for staying past her shift for the shampoo and style I requested at the last minute. And Mandi for the Allpresan pedicure, Allpresan being a foam that claims to not clog the pores of your feet and Mandi being one of the best pedicure technicians I've yet encountered.

When I got my bill, their names appeared beside the services, a thoughtful touch on the management's part to help guests remember who to ask for on their next visit, or maybe so you'll know who to tip.

David's name was there too. He's the one who coaxed me through an hour of Pilates. And so was Ingrid's. She's the life coach I met in a quiet studio on the second floor of the Carriage House, a rear annex to the inn. Our 90 minutes was a time to get acquainted and talk about some things I wanted to change in my life.

Ingrid explained that a life coach isn't like a psychiatrist, and doesn't try to solve current problems by delving into and analyzing the past. Rather, a life coach paves the way for a more satisfying future by asking questions that help you identify your life's purpose and suggesting actions that you can take to move your life in that direction.

That leaves the restaurant.

Since my stay, they've introduced a new Healthy Wellness menu. So I can't weigh in on whether The Villa Restaurant should continue to rank among Indianapolis Monthly's Top 25 restaurant picks. Appetizers such as lentil soup, entrees such as beef tenderloin, desserts such as fruit cobbler and the chicken panini sandwich--the entire menu, in fact--promise no butter or cream. Breads and pastas are whole-grain, and desserts are free of most or all processed sugar.

The proprietor tells me that even the cheesecake is fat-free--made of tofu. I wonder if their new program would allow me to eat that in place of taking the yoga class.

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tsalama@tribune.com

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IN A NUTSHELL . . .

In five words or less: Progressive treatments, vintage Italian mansion.

Convenience factor: In-room bath and massage treatments.

Inconvenience factor: Separate credit-card swipes for everything.

Thank heaven for: Private sessions with life coach and Pilates coach.

Whine department: Toweling-off a mud wrap doesn't work; install a shower!

Nearest temptation: 4 blocks for ice cream.

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For earlier reports on two spas in Illinois and one in Wisconsin, go to chicagotribune.com/midwestspas.

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ONE WAY TO SPEND A DAY AT THE VILLA

7:45 a.m.: Wake up and get dressed.

8 a.m.: Get coffee from butler's sideboard and drink it on the upstairs terrace.

8:30 a.m.: Go to breakfast in hotel dining room.

9 a.m.: Meet life coach in hotel's Coach House annex for initial consultation.

10:30 a.m.: Enter spa for Parafango mud wrap.

11:45 p.m.: Have lunch on the hotel patio.

1 p.m.: Return to spa for face-lift facial with peel.

2 p.m.: Allpresan pedicure.

3:30 p.m.: Shampoo and style.

5 p.m.: Enter studio for private fitness training.

6:30 p.m.: Drive around and explore the town.

7:30 p.m.: Discover Binkley's Kitchen and Bar and have dinner there.

9 p.m.: Return to hotel room for Suite Soak massage.

10:30 p.m.: Watch a little TV.

11:45 p.m.: Lights out.

--Toni Salama

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IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE

The Villa Inn, Restaurant and Spa is in downtown Indianapolis, about 182 miles from downtown Chicago via Interstate Highways 90 and 65.

STAYING THERE

The Villa Inn, at 1456 N. Delaware St., has four rooms decorated with a designer's eye toward antiques and one-of-a-kind finds and a spa-goer's desire for comfort. The resulting effect is both upscale and homey, features two-person whirlpool tubs and ranges $200-$250/night. Two more rooms in the same price range are located in the adjacent Carriage House.

A few blocks away, two other inns affiliated with The Villa Inn are housed in historic homes. The Looking Glass Inn at 1319 N New Jersey St., has six rooms ranging $105-$145/night. Stone Soup Inn, at 1304 N. Central Ave., has nine rooms ranging $85-$175/night, with the least expensive sharing a bath.

DINING

Since my stay at The Villa Inn, they've created a new heart-healthy menu. One thing is for sure: Unless you're counting the International House of Pancakes a couple of blocks away, it is the only full-service restaurant in the immediate area.

The dining scene is livelier and more varied 6 miles from the Villa Inn in an eclectic neighborhood called Broad Ripple Village. There, more than 60 restaurants, fast-food joints, bars, clubs and bakeries radiate from the intersection of College Avenue, Westfield Boulevard and Broad Ripple Avenue.

SPA SERVICES

Massages, 30-90 minutes--$50-$105. Body scrubs, masks and wraps--$55-$115. Facials--$90-$135. Manicures--$30-$32. Pedicures--$55-$75. Waxing--$15-$70. Make-up--$40. Personal fitness training--$25-$75. Life coaching--$100. In-room massages, baths--$95-$150.

Several 30-minute treatments are designed just for people in a hurry. The express facial is $55, express manicure is $25 and express pedicure is $45. Services just for men are facials $80, manicures $30 and pedicures $55. The Villa Spa also has a full-service hair and make-up salon.

Wellness packages range from stays of two to five nights; offer choice of accommodation at the Villa Inn, Looking Glass Inn or Stone Soup Inn; and, depending on length of stay, include various spa services and personal-training sessions. Rates for the two-night wellness package start at $420/person, double occupancy, or $510 single occupancy, for rooms with shared bath at Looking Glass Inn or Stone Soup Inn. The five-night wellness package tops out at $1,400/person double, $1,900 single, for a room with private bath in The Villa Inn.

INFORMATION

The Villa Inn, Restaurant and Spa: 866-626-8500; www.thevillainn.com

--Toni Salama

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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