Rejuvenation and revitalization for the New Year

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Deborah and Edmond Szekely founded Rancho La Puerta in 1940 during an era when health farms were a novelty and sipping grapefruit juice instead of a martini was considered an oddity.

Have you made your New Year a “Double R” commitment? In spa talk, this means “rejuvenation and revitalization.” Although some of us try to turn over a new leaf with a blast of exercise, organic food choices and eco vacations, the truth is it takes a commitment to make it happen. With a dozen spa choices within a three-hour radius of Malibu, the decision is daunting.

But there is one way to blend a healthy getaway with an unusual twist on a wine country tour. It was quite by accident I discovered “Los Valles Vitivinicolas,” the meandering wine route between Ensenada and Tecate, Mexico during the Fiestas de la Vendimia, Baja’s popular wine festival. While I usually arrive at Rancho La Puerta, one of the most respected spa destinations in the world, by car via San Diego, this year I reversed the direction. The traditional Rancho La Puerta week began on a Saturday.

That’s when you check out of your everyday life to devote a full week to health-focused pursuits. That means an absence of cell phones, Blackberries and any distraction threatening the tranquility of mountain hikes and meditation moments.

We drove on Highway 3 directly to Valle Guadalupe, a region first settled by Russians in the early 20th century. This is Baja’s legendry wine road with more than 18 wineries open to visitors.

Before arriving at Rancho La Puerta for an action packed week of every conceivable kind of exercise, from Pilates to West African dance, we explored the Ruta de Vina at a casual pace.

Deborah and Edmond Szekely founded Rancho La Puerta in 1940 during an era when health farms were a novelty and sipping grapefruit juice instead of a martini was considered an oddity.

This legendary retreat, amidst 3,000 acres of stunning mountains, is capable of ministering to all fitness levels. The day can start as early as 6:15 a.m. with a five-mile mountain hike, followed by a 9 a.m. stretch, a 10 a.m. tennis clinic and, at 11 a.m., water works in the central pool. And prior to lunch (served between noon and 2 p.m.), 30 minutes of meditation in the Milagro gym. The week of Feb. 25 is a week devoted to relationship building for couples.

In the afternoon, dance classes, garden walks and private training sessions can be had, as well as a massage at the Villas Skin Care Center. Dinner is served at 6 p.m. and after that, there are evening programs such as personal writing with guest lecturer Digby Diehl. Recently Roger Ebert, the film critic of the Chicago Times, was a guest speaker.

A feature published in SpaFinder Magazine (Nov./Dec. 2003) spotlighted six women, representing women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, and what they hoped to achieve by spending a week at Rancho La Puerta. To sum up the six-page article, Carol Isaak Barden, now in her 50s, who refers to herself as a “spa junkie,” said: “I have come to terms with my body. These days I measure my progress at a spa not in inches but how I feel when I leave.”

It is precisely this attitude that has brought Rancho La Puerta from a remote dot on the Baja Mexico map in 1940 to a world-class spa, where mind, body and spirit come together to add life to your years and years to your life.

Rates for 2006 range from $2,916 for a Villa studio triple to $4,109 for a Villa studio single. Rates are higher March 11-May 27. Rates include accommodations, gourmet organic cuisine, special presentations, fitness classes and taxes. Extras can range from facial and skincare services to gratuities.

€ Rancho La Puerta: 800.443.7565; www.rancholapuerta.com or reservations@rancholapuerta.com

€ Adobe Guadalupe: 52.646.155.2094; www.adobeguadalupe.com

€ Monte Xanic: 52.646.174.6155; www.montexanic.com

Pamela Price is the co-author of “100 Best Spas of the World” (www.globepequot.com)