A Getaway Among Friends
For anyone seeking a world-class-caliber wellness retreat, it may be a little unexpected to look within driving distance, in the Mexican border town of Tecate. Spa-savvy travelers may already be familiar with Rancho La Puerta resort, but for many, it remains to be discovered. Since 1940, this revolutionary wellness destination has provided visitors with incredibly progressive attitudes and approaches toward health and wellness, before movements like “vegetarian” and “organic,” were buzzwords. Its spunky, 94-year-old co-founder (and San Diego resident), Deborah Szekely, remains actively involved, offering weekly lectures with resort guests.
The serenity of The Ranch, as it’s called, is the big payoff after a twisty, turn-y drive through Jamul and Dulzura that is definitely not for the faint-of-heart. From the moment visitors reach the Tecate border crossing, where a friendly little man behind a single desk swiftly and cheerfully processes visa applications and sends people on through the revolving gates into Mexico, Rancho La Puerta ensures a seamless transition for visitors to a true escape. A car sits just on the other side of the border to whisk guests away to the retreat that awaits.
The authenticity of The Ranch is evident at first glimpse inside the bright, airy lobby. Lacking any trendy color scheme or Restoration Hardware makeover, The Ranch has not succumbed to any pressure to modernize. The unassuming structures, seemingly unfazed by time or trend, give way to a sweeping, unsculpted landscape that invites calm.
The stunning absence of city noise gives way to natural noise — crickets and birds, and so many other buzzing bugs (it’s hard not to feel a little envy for these lucky bugs!). Uneven, imperfect paths meander through the property, actually intending for guests to feel lost — and there are hammocks for those who give in to it. For those who come for fitness as part of their visit, The Ranch offers a variety of activities beginning at 6am until 8pm that would be shorter if it only listed what isn’t available. Spa services incorporate both progressive and traditional methods at the deft hands of the spa technicians. A brand-new poolside juice bar offers organic refreshment after a vigorous water class — or a lounge chair nap.
Despite the countless superlatives that can be used to describe Rancho La Puerta, from its history to its services, its setting to its cuisine — there is a reason why it’s consistently found on readers’ choice lists in Travel & Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler — the defining element of The Ranch is truly its staff. The attitude is equal parts pride and joy (literally) in delivering its signature experience to guests; a sense of responsibility for upholding the spirit of The Ranch that is consistent in every staffer regardless of their role, and in the way they treat each other, too, giving guests the sense that they are all vacationing amongst friends. Donna Sher, of Rancho La Puerta’s group sales and partnership development team, says simply, “Each person who composes the Ranch team reinforces our collective passion and is a continuing source of inspiration.” There’s no hierarchy here, only camaraderie.
A recurring story throughout the staff is that so many came to join The Ranch after originally visiting as guests themselves. “I’d heard about The Ranch for a few years before I went there for the first time,” says Michael Brightwood, a craniosacral therapist who works and lives on-property. “I thought it was a southwestern dude ranch, so when I first visited, I was amazed. The first thing I noticed after the beauty of the place was how happy the workers were. I thought to myself, ‘They’re certainly doing something right here!’”
For Sher, her introduction to Rancho La Puerta was inspiring. “My initial visit planted a seed of passion for The Ranch, and this grew over a period of time. It incorporated so many aspects of a mind, body, spirit lifestyle I wished to embody,” she says. “I was compelled to share my Ranch experiences with friends, family, and colleagues; I felt it would be life changing for them as well.”
During an enthusiastic and detailed tour of the property, Ranch docent Connie Berlingeri reveals that she, too, was so moved by the power of Rancho La Puerta after visiting that she eventually joined the staff. “A friend of mine invited me. To this day we are not sure how we found it!” she says. “This was some 20 plus years ago, before social media and before air conditioners or telephones were in the RLP rooms. I like to think The Ranch found me.”
The powerful, personal connections Ranch staffers have to the resort translate to a unique experience guests are unlikely to find elsewhere, creating an environment conducive to finding the real peace wellness travelers seek. “The Ranch is a magical place. It has a soul!” says Berlingeri. “I watch guests arrive looking and being one way and one week later they leave changed; they have smiles on their faces, they are renewed and so alive!”
858.764.5500, rancholapuerta.com DEANNA MURPHY