A Surprise Spa Getaway {Have Suitcase, Will Travel}

By Carmen Chopp, KSWB Blogger of the Month for March

Heartland exterior

“Just pack underwear, socks, and tennis shoes,” she said.

“It’ll be great,” she said.

The UPS driver rolled to a stop in front of the house, then carried a large brown box to my door. I am always excited about big brown boxes right before my birthday, especially when addressed from my mother. She gives great gifts, and this one did not disappoint.

I brought it in and immediately opened it because, when it comes to birthday gifts received before a birthday, close enough counts in my book. Inside was a colorful, Aztec-printed overnight bag with a card that contained a Southwest Airlines flight itinerary. I called her right away to extend my thanks and share my excitement. The thought of a girl’s weekend in Chicago with her was so wonderful, and desperately needed. It was a short and sweet conversation, her instructions brief, given that I would be getting on a plane to see her in 36 hours.

The very next day my in-laws showed up from Wisconsin, a complete surprise to me, there to pitch in and help my husband with our four girls while their mama was away. Soon thereafter I was strapping myself into a seat on the plane for a quick flight to Chicago. A whirlwind, to say the least.

I laid back, closed my eyes, and started to relax. As a mother’s mind often does when she leaves her family behind, it ran down a list of things I hadn’t done or accomplished before I left. Assuring myself that all would be okay without me, I realized I had no idea what was on the agenda for this trip. Would my schedule be my own? Would we do the usual spa treatments and shopping with movies sprinkled in? Good food? Perhaps some theatre? I had no idea.

heartland facial

All plans were revealed once I secured myself, and my new fancy overnight bag, in her car.

“We’re going to a spa.”

“Awesome! Which one? For what?”

“We’re going to the Heartland Spa.  For the whole weekend,” she said. And off we went.

The Heartland Spa and Fitness Resort is situated on 32 acres of beautiful Illinois farmland, just outside of Gilman. A former dairy farm, it retains its unpretentious charm and rusticity despite having guests the likes of Oprah and garnering awards and accolades as one of the top destination spas in the United States.

My mother described it as “not your typical destination spa experience,” and I had to take her at her word, never  having been to one myself. When we finally arrived at what looked like an old white farmhouse and barn, I wasn’t surprised. I also wasn’t all that impressed by what I saw. It was bright white and clean, and the grounds were beautiful with green foliage, a multitude of colorful flowers and a picturesque pond, but it wasn’t the modern oasis my imagination conjured at the words “destination spa.”

heartland pond

That all changed, however, when I entered the main house. I returned home 72 hours later a well-rested, well-fed, buffed and polished person, to a family who had appreciated my absence as much as I did. Further proof that distance does, indeed, make the heart grow fonder. It was a transformative trip, one I will never forget.

What I loved:

  • The decor — much like my grandmother’s house — along with the general atmosphere and attitude of every employee, lends itself to an immediate sense of belonging. I didn’t feel like I had to suck my gut in, worry about makeup or my hair, or what brand of clothing I wore. You take your shoes off when you walk through the front door, they give you comfortable clothing to wear during your stay, and it is perfectly acceptable to walk around in your robe. I was able to let my guard down. These were my kind of people. It was home to me.
  • At check-in, we were presented with a brochure outlining the full weekend program, including mealtimes, fitness classes, and special presentations by guest speakers on such topics as meditation and Qigong, creating a balanced life, and coping with change without stress. There was no full-court press to attend every event or session. We were encouraged to do as much or as little as we wanted, which included taking advantage of the barn spa and all it had to offer. We decided to attend sessions separately. For example, I took the meditation class and my mother took the Qigong class, and then we exchanged notes. Splitting up gave us a chance to have some downtime in the room to read a book or take a nap. heartland twin room
  • The food. On the drive down, we joked about getting one last carb-load in at the Gilman Dairy Queen before stepping foot on spa grounds. By the time we left, however, we both had a Heartland Spa cookbook in hand to try some of the delicious recipes from their kitchen at home. Meals are served family style in the dining room overlooking the pond. The menu favors fresh ingredients; calorie conscious, but filling and flavorful. Having said that, we never missed a snack time.
  • The barn spa is a real oasis, its quiet and serene setting in stark contrast to the intense fitness classes and workouts that go on under the same roof. It was just what The Doctor ordered. As part of my birthday gift, my mother scheduled several spa services for me. Each treatment left me feeling relaxed and pampered.

heartland fitness

What to know:

  1. Do not miss the “Greet the Day” walk at 7:15 a.m. I had plans to sleep in until breakfast, but I was encouraged to get up and get in on the walk, and I am so glad I listened to my mother.
  2. I highly recommend the aqua motion class in the enormous indoor pool. A great workout, but relaxing at the same time.   heartland pool
  3. Don’t expect to be awake at 8:30 p.m. for the movie and popcorn. Just don’t.
  4. You can score a real deal at the Heartland Spa through Groupon, so watch for special promotions.
  5. If you are an introvert, like me, and find yourself anxious about the family-style meals and group activities, I would encourage you to swallow your anxiety. It was a real pleasure getting to know the other guests, and by the time we said goodbye at the end of the weekend, a few of them even felt like family.


The Heartland Spa and Fitness Resort
1237 E. 1600 North Road
Gilman, Illinois  60938
(815) 683-2182

Reality TV fan, dessert aficionado, beach lover, and champagne drinker. Carmen is equal parts wife, mother, and writer who authors the blog 4 Out The Door.


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