A 90-minute drive from San Diego led us to Borrego Ranch Resort & Spa, formerly La Casa del Zorro, which first opened in the late ’30s and was later owned by newspaper magnate James S. Copley. The Anza Borrego oasis had lost its desert-chic over the decades until forward-thinking hotelier Gregory Perlman bought the property two years ago. He brought on Joseph DeNucci, formerly of Miraval, to restore, renovate, and run the place. In January, just two months after re-opening, he and his staff were doing a terrific job.
The décor in our spacious room (private casitas are also available) was what DeNucci calls “Ralph Lauren meets early California”: beamed ceilings, a Spanish-style four-poster bed, a cozy seating area, and — heaven! — a wood-burning fireplace. French doors led to a patio overlooking a pool.
I paid a visit to the resort’s new spa and turned to soft putty after the signature Detoxifying Massage and Sea Plant Wrap. On my way back, following a path that wound past succulent gardens and a koi pond, I bumped into activities director Kevin Armendariz. He somehow convinced me to wrap a harness around my waist and climb 30 feet up a telephone pole. “Every step is a commitment,” he shouted as I conquered the “Walk the Walk” balance beam, an exhilarating experience. Borrego Ranch’s other activities and facilities are impressive: yoga, outdoor movies, guided hikes, tennis, and golf at the Tom Fazio-designed Montesoro, to name just a few.
We decided on eating. After an elegant dinner at the resort’s Cimarrón, which offers fresh cuisine and a wine list heavy on Californians, we settled into the La Cantina & Fox Bar. A bartender mixed fresh-juice margaritas in front of a fox mural (“zorro” is fox in Spanish) dating from the hotel’s early days.
The next morning we drove a few miles to go hiking in the protected Anza-Borrego desert (the state park encompasses 600,000 acres total). An ocotillo-framed trail led us to a tiny, photo-worthy waterfall deep in Hellhole Canyon. Back at the resort, we acted like kids and played bocce ball, horseshoes, shuffleboard, and ping-pong. The best part? No actual kids allowed; Borrego Ranch is a grown-up getaway.
Soaking in a hot tub, we gazed at the night sky, dotted with a million stars thanks to Anza-Borrego’s dark-out policy, and promised to return in spring, when the area’s famous wildflowers are in glorious full bloom. Though really, it was hard to imagine things could get any more perfect. (760/767-5323, www.borregoranchresort.com
) ANNAMARIA STEPHENS