Spa journey activates the ultimate wellness vacation

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Rancho La Puerta's 575-acre health oasis resembles a Mexican village and is a showcase of lush landscaping, with a multitude of flowers, fruit trees, vines and meadows.

Getting to Rancho La Puerta is an easy journey if you drive across the border at Tecate, the quintessential border town straddling Tecate, Calif. and Tecate, Mexico. This 575-acre health oasis resembles a Mexican village and is a showcase of lush landscaping, with a multitude of flowers, fruit trees, vines and meadows. The fig tree by our private villa was almost a biblical talisman, the papyrus near the main dining room a reminder of another age.

The weekly program at the “Ranch” starts religiously on Saturdays throughout the year, and for good reason. The Ranch experts want you to experience a full week of character-building classes covering every aspect of living a healthy lifestyle. At the Ranch, this means a combination of such offerings as yoga (at beginning and advanced levels), West African dance classes, a hot stone massage or even a seaweed wrap. Since my last visit three years earlier, the programs offered to all guests had grown by leaps and bounds. Of particular note is their Awaken the Spirit program, designed by Phyliss Pilgrim (who calls the Ranch home), which encompasses weeklong themes such as “Dreaming and Drumming.”

The heart of the Ranch experience to many is the hiking program, offering anyone with a good pair of hiking boots a daily trek starting in the morning as early as 6:15 a.m. Five circuits range from five to seven miles. By the time nine o’clock rolled around, I had hiked three miles, but this was peanuts compared to the veterans there that week who scrambled up Mt. Kuchumaa (five miles or more). Deborah Szekely, founder of the Ranch (now in its 63rd year) says, “The body has an incredible ability to respond to kindnesses-not the least of which are rest, stretching, vigorous activity and eating well. Be kind to your body and like a person it smiles back.”

Once a week there is an Organic Vegetable Garden Breakfast Hike (four miles and 2.5 hours). Guests signing on for breakfast enjoy a buffet in the farmhouse. There they palaver about frittatas, fresh fruit and roasted potatoes, all of which fuels them up for the two-mile hike back to the Ranch.

Bill Kazokas, the organic farm manager, takes guests right to the gardens, explaining the methods used to cultivate the fruits and vegetables served in the dining hall throughout the week.

I have visited the Ranch since 1973, when I was 30 years old, and the aging process truly crystallized for me when I compared my lifestyle then and now. Using what the Ranch has taught me over the years has had an impact.

The Ranch was my answer to summer camp and there’s nothing like putting your faxes, phones, deadlines and worries on hold for a week.

While the world of spas continues to expand with people, places and so-called miracle cures, there is no substitute for a highly charged week of hiking, new friends and faces, organically sourced cuisine, a Rancho La Puerta Herbal wrap with steaming hot linens infused with traditional Native American Herbs and, above all, time to smell the roses, steep in the starlight and meditate on Mt. Kuchumaa.

Contact: Rancho La Puerta at www.rancholapuerta.com 800.443.7576 or 760.744-4222. Rates start at $1,970 per person double occupancy Nov. 27-Dec. 11. (Pre-holiday rates). To this add 6.93 percent. This rate includes one Classic Massage and one Herbal Wrap. At no extra charge are a choice of 60-plus fitness classes, activities and meals. No service charge, tipping optional. Inquire about regular rates.

Pamela Price is the co-author of “100 Best Spas of the World” published by the Globe-Pequot Press. Contact her at radiotrav2002aol.com.