Summer camp for grown-ups

Years ago, the destination spa business was all about heavy duty exercise, calorie reduction and healthy living. The iconic three, Miraval, Canyon Ranch in Tucson and Rancho La Puerta, in Baja were the go to’s. 

By Caroline Tapp-McDougall and Elaine Dembe

Today, while the destinations live on, the iconic founders of Canyon Ranch Boot Camp and the horse whispering, wheatgrass, alternative guru’s that began Miraval are no longer the guiding lights. Rancho La Puerta is, however, the exception with the founding family defying the succession odds and remaining at the helm.

Deborah Szekely who, with her “professor” husband created Rancho in 1940 as the first true fitness resort and spa in North America is very much alive and well. At 101 years young, the grand dame of healthy living is still at The Ranch on a weekly basis, holding lectures and keeping her legacy alive. 

And that won’t change for now at least because, as she’s successfully passed on the reigns and responsibilities to her daughter, Sarah Livia Brightwood Szekely, who continues to welcome thousands of guests on three, four or seven-night stays to the family’s 4,000 private acres of gardens, mountains, and meadows with an approach to wellness that strikes a true mind, body and spirit balance. 

Back for my third time in just over a decade, it’s somehow comforting to discover that not much has changed—including the temperate  Mediterranean like climate.

The grounds, at this time of year are spectacular—a tribute to Sara’s labour-of-love chaparral landscaping and nurturing. Set in a valley at the base of Mt. Kuchumaa, with a river that gives life to marshlands and ancient oak groves, the Ranch is home to coyotes, cottontail rabbits and foxes,. Kuchumaa is also a good place to see ravens, golden eagles and red-tailed hawks as they sweep the sky.

It just feels good  
While most are from California, there’s a smattering of folks from across the US, Canada and even Europe, and many are repeaters like us. (I’m here to celebrate a milestone birthday with two good friends.) All part of the family and living locally in Tecate most of the staff have been here for years.

The Casitas where guests stay, individually or in groups, remain comfortably unchanged. Each belongs to its own named section and room category—hidden on trails with a diversity of flora and fauna that’s delightfully lush. Mixed with “tapestry like” plantings that wind around a central village-like activity area and dining hall they’re all within a short walking distance of each other.

Optional morning hikes, hourly fitness classes, personal training and wellness lectures continue to be on the agenda as are healthy meals and good old -fashioned camaraderie.  

The kitchen that sings
In the heart of Rancho La Puerta’s six-acre farm, La Cocina Que Canta (“The Kitchen That Sings!”), celebrates the tasty results of cooking with just-picked organic ingredients. The colours, aromas, and tastes that emanate are nothing short of magical. Guests can participate in three cooking classes a week hosted by international guest chefs and cookbook authors. 

Since last time here however, there are a few noteworthy additions. First there’s Bazar del Sol. Open all day, it’s a great place to indulge yourself with a latte or cappuccino before you start your morning classes or, after a lecture or  two, meet new found friends for a glass of wine. 

On a grander scale, The Residences at Rancho La Puerta—a private wellness centred village of full and fractional ownership—occupies 118 acres of the Ranch, close to mountainous border between Mexico and the United States. The village-like area is focused on creating a sustainable, thriving community that employs the best balance of well-being wisdom and emerging health technologies. The Residences, some of which are already occupied, should completed by 2024.

A new $7 million “water healing plant” which is taking a year to build within the village will help secure water sovereignty and provide clean, safe water to irrigate the gardens and vineyards within The Residences and at Rancho. The new “water healing plant” will reclaim municipal wastewater from the city of Tecate, (over half a million gallons every day), through passive, sustainable methods, while releasing zero methane gas and generating energy and compost. 

Natural healing
Ah… the spa! Re-discovering the three health and beauty centres brings back fond memories and, as expected, treatments are pure pleasure. The purity and freshness of the aromatic and medicinal herbs and other healing plants grown in on-site organic gardens, make spa treatments here a valuable and therapeutic part of the balanced mind/body and spirit experience we’ve come to expect at the Ranch.

My spa menu favourite is still the Ranch’s signature classic massage—vigorous and firm. Happy Hands and Feet is a close second with a relaxing combination of foot reflexology and hand massage to release energy blockages. We hear from others who are here for a week to happily indulge in transformative energy medicine healing sessions or a collection tried and true holistic balancing therapies like biodynamic craniosacral and Feldendrais.  

The adventurous, who haven’t experienced it before, are trying to sign up for the popular  Watsu Water Flow Therapy—known as health by water. It’s a physical, emotional and spiritual therapist guided water treatment that takes place in a warm pool heated t98 degrees F.

Meditation centres, labyrinths  and a reflexology path are all designed to  add to the experience.

Time and again
Ranch devotees have always come here to re-invent themselves and learn more about healthy aging, Szeltsy style. Whether they’re living here full time or as fractional owners, or visiting for a three, four or one week stays, that  legacy lives on…embrace healthy living.


Getting here

Situated at the juncture of the Laguna and Sierra Juarez Mountain ranges, Rancho La Puerta is located three miles from the Tecate, Baja California, U.S.-Mexico border and a one-hour drive from downtown San Diego. Concierge team can make pick up and return arrangements from the San Diego airport.


Get our newsletter

Get monthly updates with unique HomeFront updates and stay up to date with tips and trends

Liquid Assets

Only Vik Chile Come to the Millahue Valley for the wine and stay for the master suite bathtubs with far reaching views of the mountains and vines. Cool, calm and collected Formulated with a high amount of CBD, small


Parades, cakes and costumes With origins from ancient times, Mardis Gras also known as Shove or Fat Tuesday and Pancake Day. It falls before Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance that ushers in Lent. Parade floats are organized by tight-knit

And then there were two! 

In big sister- little sister style, White Elephant Nantucket and White Elephant Palm Beach are, joined at the hip, when it comes to their fresh, laid back, summer holiday style.  Just two of a kind, the siblings share museum worthy

Spring luncheon

By Sheila Centner @sebandsheila @sheilacentner @eatertainment  Spring brings not just warmer weather, but the joy of outdoor gatherings on the horizon. With the cold months behind us, it’s time to reunite with friends in backyards or lakeside settings. As blooms

Field Notes

Why does being in love scramble the brain? As the famous saying goes, love is blind and while it is well known that the love hormone oxytocin is responsible for the euphoria we feel, U of South Australia and University of

Field Notes

What Taoism teaches about the body and being healthy An indigenous tradition in China, Taoism, (also spelled Daoism), was originally created in the fourth century B.C.E. by an ‘old master’. It is still a model for bodily practice that understands