Story and photography by Norma Davidoff
and courtesy Rancho La Puerta
Good Health Makes For The Ultimate Luxury Vacation
Rancho La Puerta
Someone told me, “Beg, borrow, or steal, but go to Rancho La Puerta.” Were they ever right! Rancho La Puerta is a 5-star resort about an hour and a half from San Diego, California. But Rancho has a special purpose: health for body and mind. Yes, there’s a spa attached, but the goal of Rancho is getting people to live stress-free and to remain in good physical and mental shape long after they leave. Everything you do there leads to that.
Rancho is not like other places where you may be crowded around a big swimming pool with a cocktail bar in the middle or a resort with a golf course. That’s not “their thing.” Here people walk around smiling and saying hello to strangers. Try that at your typical resort! Yes, there are several tennis courts plus tennis clinics to improve your game. Yes, here you’ll find five swimming pools and a host of activities that are available each day at the Activity Pool. But as luxurious as Rancho may be, it does not seem commercial, at all.
Let’s get down to why this has been the winner of Travel and Leisure’s “World’s Best Destination Spa” award for several years in a row. Rancho is spread out beautifully on uniquely landscaped pathways; you walk through flowering gardens, cacti, and large waving grasses on the way to your room and to activities…passing sculptures and waterfalls and perhaps some of those smiling people.
Since it’s in Tecate, Mexico, better known as Baja, California, villa rooms have Mexican charm. That means bright colors on pillows and couches; warm woods on Mexican colonial tables and cabinets, plus black wrought iron touches. The villas are individual adobe buildings with terraces. In fact, mine had two terraces; one with chaises, another with tables and chairs. Our villa’s sofa and chairs faced a working fireplace. That created a special warmth in many ways. We had two sinks in two different places plus a tub and shower. A sink and a small refrigerator create a kitchen area, complete with a special tap for the pure water Rancho gets from the Colorado River. But you don’t come to Rancho to hang out in your room, however spacious and comfy it may be.
People come to Rancho to get in shape, and the opportunities are endless. You can choose to start your day with one of a number of bracing hikes. Take a different one every day and explore new terrain and find new muscle groups! One takes you up spiritual (some say sacred) Mount Kuchumaa; another, a Breakfast Hike leads over to the cooking school where you get to see acres of carrots, potatoes, spinach, scallions, apple and pear trees, and much more. And, there you’ll have a big breakfast before hiking back. Too tired to hike anymore? A van will take you back to home base.
You’re back in time for exercise classes, and what an array. Classes are at all skill levels taught by Rancho’s excellent, well-trained staff (they have Phys Ed degrees). And these folks make classes like Stretch and Relax and an acrobatic Cycle Class so much fun, you laugh your way through. The week I was there, special guest instructors, from around the U.S. and Canada, taught Pilates and the challenging Bar Method. They were held daily, progressing a bit each day. And what about crystal bowl sound healing for 45 minutes or balance class? Here are just a few more from Rancho’s weekly exercise menu: TRX (exercise while holding onto straps suspended from the ceiling), Feldenkreis, Zumba, Nia, core challenge, kettle bells (cannon balls with handles), strength training, Open Gym, yoga in several forms… even sand volleyball.
What’s fun is that you get to try new things and get fit at the same time. So now you’ve worked out like a fiend and are screaming for relief. Rancho has two spas plus all the requisite Jacuzzis, showers, and more that you could wish. They offer massages, scrubs, facials, nail and hair care and on and on. My favorite treatment was a Watsu massage in 98 degree water, just me and the Watsu expert, in a quiet pool under swaying palm trees.
While you’re getting your body in shape, there’s plenty for your mind. Or, if you like, only develop your mind. The week I was there, Rancho had a hypnotist, who was helping guests get over fears, lose, weight, and sleep better. The entire week included classes in meditation that seemed to be changing people’s lives. There were programs on “Self Care for the Caregiver.” And there was a pain therapist, who got excellent results. NPR host Linda Wertheimer comes every year to discuss political affairs, and members of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra have a week there, too. Another week a psychologist led workshops on sleep and ran dream circles.
There is also an array of art classes at the Art Studio… sculpture, painting, jewelry-making, and that’s just in one week. Guest instructors, clever and creative, get participants to do surprisingly good work. But what really matters is the satisfaction the guests get from doing this. They talk about it at meals.
Speaking of meals, Rancho has cornered the market on outstanding creative cuisine. This is healthful vegetarian cooking with a strong Mexican accent. And did I mention it’s delicious and wins awards? Rancho serves organic ultra-fresh food: picked in the morning, served to you at lunch and dinner. The resort grows their own vegetables and fruit right at the ranch… acres of it. Room rates include three generous meals (but low-calorie ones) plus mid-morning smoothies and afternoon snacks (eat your veggies!). At dinner, there are generous portions of fish, and there always is a vegetarian alternative at any meal. Shrimp tacos anyone? Are you gluten-free? They’ve got you covered. And how about for dessert Rancho’s hot chocolate and a sandy cookie or a sweet little piece of cheesecake? (Desserts are made with non-sugared agave sweetener.) Of course, there is always fruit; just ask your waiter. About the only item all week that wasn’t good was the sangria, served at the Meet and Greet and the Final Night Meal Celebration.
I asked for half portions to help slim me down, but if that’s not your goal, you can get seconds and thirds -- whatever you like. Rancho recently added Bazaar del Sol, complete with an outdoor terrace, where you can quaff award-winning Mexican wines and outstanding brewed coffee. (Get your latte or cappuccino fix there.)
Cooking class at Rancho’s La Cocina Que Canta, a few miles away from the main ranch, turned out to be marvelously fun and convivial. People had been buzzing about it, so I tried a class. We made dinner as a group, after Chef Denise Roa talked with us about the best knives to use and gave demonstrations of how to chop and dice and peel. Then we went at it. In pairs, at 20 cooking “stations,” we prepped and cooked our elaborate dinner. We dined buffet style at two long tables, a super meal, complete with a delicioso Mexican rose wine. It was teamwork by an avid bunch of overachievers, with a little help from our friends…the kitchen staff. Coconut almond cookies, gluten-free, topped off the meal. Everyone left with a complete portfolio of the recipes we made plus a serious but super-attractive cooking apron.
Weddings: La Cocina Que Canta is such a romantic setting, with lovely flowering outdoor spaces, that it lends itself to weddings. And that has now become possible. You can have just a few people or 120. Food possibilities are almost endless. Choose menus that range from vegetarian to rack of lamb. Rancho can arrange for transport from San Diego for the day or for overnight accommodations in Tecate or at the ranch. They can take care of music, photographers, flowers, and more. It seems like a memorably healthy way to start a marriage.
There is so much to say about Rancho, but I’ll just mention its kind, helpful and respectful staff, and the soothing sounds and inner peace that I felt after a week. People who come to Rancho generally choose to come again. (Over 65% come a second time or more.) So many returnees. So many smiling faces. All of it: the location, the architecture, the landscape, the food, the people. The ranch speaks of the magic of the place, and deservedly so. Rancho even offers a session on “Taking Home the Ranch” with tips on how to continue what you’ve learned and keep the new healthy habits you’ve made back in everyday life.
Muchas Gracias, Rancho La Puerta!
© June 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.