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posted: 12/1/2013 6:00 AM

A gift for your physical and mental health: a spa vacation

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For Thanksgiving I did not have the turkey. I was the turkey!

First, the chef stuffed me with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Then someone rubbed me with sea salts and basted me with oils. Finally, she wrapped me in foil and baked me until I was done. So maybe I wasn't your traditional feast -- probably more of a scary feast for the eye. But I digress.

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I celebrated Thanksgiving at the Longevity Wellness Spa in southern Portugal with a three-day detox, daily exercise and massage. And with the holidays upon us, I'll feel very smug when I drink my first eggnog and munch on my first sugar cookie, knowing I didn't overdose on a second helping of mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie.

But in a few weeks, the smugness will be gone. Like many of us, I will be filled with regret for overindulging in the good life. That makes January a great time to lighten up, both mentally and physically. And the best place to do that is at a health spa. This year, because of the economy, many destination spas offer special incentives to get you started on a healthy new year. Here are some favorite places to de-stress and shape up:

For people willing to wing it to Europe, it's still low-season for tourists across the pond. This means lower rates and fewer people. Virtually no tourists travel to Portugal's Algarve region in January. The Longevity Wellness Resort, located among tiny villages and winding trails in the Monchique Mountains of southern Portugal, offers medical services as well as the usual spa fare. Winter Specials include: a Wellness Suite complete with a terrace overlooking the mountains, breakfast and lunch, access to the gym, pool, saunas and group activities. The cost per person is approximately $130 per night based on double occupancy. For more information, visit longevitysellnessresort.com.

Closer to home, and still not a major tourist attraction in January, is the Lake Austin Spa set in the hill country outside of Austin, Texas. Here, you can kayak on the lake, hike in the hills, enjoy fantastic meals and finish the night off with your choice of more than 30 body treatments. The resort offers three specials for January.

The Power of Seven program personalizes your week and includes unlimited fitness classes, gourmet meals, a $500 allowance for personal instruction and a $1,000 allowance for spa treatments. The price is $3,670 per person for double occupancy. The spa also offers a program that allows you to book two nights and get a third night free. Visit lakeaustin.com for more information.

If you're looking for a getaway to a spa where there's no pain, no gain and no plane, consider the Heartland Spa. Located on a converted dairy farm just 90 miles south of Chicago in Gilman, Illinois, the Heartland caters to only 32 guests at a time. You can take morning walks around their three-acre lake and enjoy a complete escape from holiday stress. During January and February, the spa offers an all-inclusive package. Pay the single rate and your friend stays for free. More information is at heartlandspa.com.

If you're looking for a quick tune up or a relaxing escape with the whole family, check out the Abbey Resort and Avani Spa located on the shores of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. This full-service resort offers special one-night and two-night packages beginning at $220 per person based on double occupancy. It includes $120 of spa credit and $50 of food-and-beverage credit per person. For more information, visit theabbeyresort.com.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at gailtodd@aol.com.

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