Rancho La Puerta

Rancho La Puerta: The Setting

Here you are in the Mexican desert on a Ranch surrounded by lush green grasses, wild flowers, palm trees, dancing scents of rosemary, lavender, orange…a 3,000 acre delight at the base of Mount Kuchumaa… just over the U.S. / Mexico border in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico. I’d seen the website pictures, heard stories from friends but there’s nothing like experiencing it yourself.

Fly into San Diego and Rancho La Puerta picks you up via motor coach for the hour plus ride to the Ranch. Driving through rolling green mountains, you finally cross the border for Mexico. After a 15 minute drive through Tecate, a rather run-down town, on it’s outskirts, you arrive at Rancho La Puerta’s gates and enter their sanctuary…your home cocoon for the next seven days.

Unfortunately it was pouring rain when we arrived Saturday washing out a our ‘welcome tour’ of the lovely grounds and facilities. We traveled under Ranch provided umbrellas to and fro through mid-day Monday, at times the mountain even covered with ice pellets. It was warmer back in DC!! Then Monday evening the skies cleared and Tuesday through the rest of week was the glorious weather we imagined, affording every opportunity to enjoy the beautiful setting. Most of the year the climate here is quite good…the cold rain was unseasonable.

The Ranch’s setting truly sets the mood for the experience…open, nature, learning, support, motivating, relaxation. The surroundings open your senses for what is sure to be an impactful week. You feel deep in nature here under sunny blue skies, birds chirping, bunnies hopping and the “exalted high place” guarding you from a distance, Mt Kuchumaa’s name given by the Kumeyaay Indians.

The style is charming Mexican Colonial throughout including your home-away-from-home casita. I loved my spot, Flor 1! The casitas vary in size, to hold the capacity of about 150 guests, each with its own private entrance, garden, patio and most have fireplaces. At night the only sound I heard, while relaxing, reading and sipping peppermint tea in my casita, was the crackling of my fireplace. Some guests complained about the beds but I slept like a comfortable log every night breathing in the fresh herb bouquet pillow-side.

As fitness is the Ranch’s main focus, there are ample facilities for it…11 gyms, 4 pools, Pilates studios, yoga studios, running track, dance studio. On the spa / relaxation side, there are two women’s spa centers, one men’s spa center, many sun beds by the pool and hammocks in the trees.

The last piece of the Ranch’s setting is the community. There is a huge sense of community here from the well-trained, helpful, fun instructors to the people you meet at your meals and chosen activities. As founder Deborah Szekely says, “the bonding that develops – that’s the most important part of the Ranch.” I met some amazing people last week that I’m so excited to have in my life.

Now that you’re immersed in the setting…let’s get physical!

Rancho La Puerta: The Original Fitness Resort & Spa

Rancho La Puerta has been on my ‘Must GO’ list for at least eight years, since my good friend came back from her trip to the Ranch looking like a million bucks!

Up until now I could never take a full one-week solo sojourn to a spa. Then as luck would have it…I found a great deal on SpaRahRah! AND retired from my day job…so off to the Ranch I finally went. What a magical week it was.

Having visited many destination spas, I thought I knew what to expect, but Rancho La Puerta is unique and special in its own way…all rooted in its fascinating 1940 beginnings. Edmond Szekely and his wife Deborah started a summer camp that year for Edmond, a Hungarian scholar and natural-living experimenter, to share his practices and philosophies with campers. His philosophies were based on the Essenes and their Dead Sea colony, the world’s first great agriculturists and natural healers. Edmond, the Professor, said human health begins with healthy soil (no fertilizers or pesticides) and good food.

They found the perfect spot for the camp just over the Mexico border in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico. They lived in a one-room adobe hut in the middle of a vineyard called Rancho La Puerta, meaning “Ranch of the Door.” For $17.50 per week, you brought your own tent for camping to their property, there was no running water or electricity … just a great mountain, Mount Kuchumaa, for climbing, a river for swimming, organic vegetable gardens and the Professor’s teachings.

Since the beginning, spa cuisine and exercise were staples of the Ranch. In 1950, Deborah began the first guest schedules…sun bathing, exercise, rest, treatments, lectures and meals. The Professor experimented with hydrotherapy for guests…wraps, opening their first bath house. They learned that “guests most liked things that had been most lacking in their lives…adequate movement and proper nutrition.” They built on that foundation throughout the years and continue to today.

Sarah Livia, their daughter, persuaded the family to redo the ranch in 1981 when there were very few destination spas in the U.S. Today Rancho remains one of the few family-owned and operated spas in the world. Deborah is still very involved and is 90-years-young this year.

In my series on Rancho La Puerta, I’ll share with you all the elements that clearly add up to the sum of Rancho La Puerta being named Travel & Leisure‘s Best Destination Spa in their 2010 and 2011 reader’s poll…

  • The Setting: 3,000 acres of lush green land, mountains, waters and desert
  • The Spa: from basic massage to the ancient medical Chinese tradition Five Elements
  • The Activities: with the plethora of fitness and programming classes, you can be active in body and mind from sun-up to sun-down
  • The Cuisine: “low fat, high flavor” spa cuisine…I wish they could come home and cook for me
  • Local Wine…while the Ranch doesn’t serve alcohol overall, they do pour local Baja California wines on the last night.

The Ranch’s goal is to provide guests “all you need to find yourself.” Let the adventure begin!