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Interview
Deborah Szekely

The extraordinary Deborah Szekely has spent 73 years working in the spa industry and announced the launch of a new career on her 90th birthday. Liz Terry went to meet her

By Liz Terry | Published in Spa Business 2013 issue 1


Nothing in my body is 90 years old apart from my knowledge,” explains Deborah Szekely to her attentive audience. “Because the body largely renews itself every seven years, so very few things in me are any older than that.

“And our bodies are nobody’s responsibility but our own. Don’t forget that ultimately no one else really gets the rewards for taking care of that body apart from you.”

I’m at Szekely’s weekly lecture at Rancho La Puerta, in Tecate, Mexico – the destination spa she founded, initially as a health retreat, with her late husband Edmond Szekely 73 years ago – and she’s playing to a full house of spa-goers. We’re in a beautiful wood-beamed room with sweeping views over gardens and mountains.

The crackle of concentration in the room is palpable, because when a 90-year-old with the vivacity, passion and focus of Szekely gives you health advice, you tend to pay extra special attention.

She has great power to influence people with her words, as witnessed at the 2012 Global Spa and Wellness Summit in Aspen, when, as a keynote speaker on health, she moved many to tears with her powerful oratory. “I’m so fortunate I’m able to communicate my feelings about subjects I feel passionately about,” she remarks in our ongoing email correspondence.

The Rancho La Puerta lectures give Szekely the chance to share her knowledge and philosophy with guests and to encourage the attitudes and behaviours that underpin the ethos of the place.

“What you’re doing at the Ranch,” she tells everyone, “is not worrying about losing a few pounds, it’s beginning a conversation with your body – which means listening. You can’t have a conversation without listening. It’s a two-way partnership.

“And once you begin to listen, you’ll be amazed at the rewards – the body wants to live and to thrive, it loves to be healthy and it can be our choice to be healthy. There are a few who have health issues, but for most of us it is a choice. Gaining and losing weight, for example, is a lot of work for the body. It copes, it manages, but it would manage a lot better if we paid it more attention and didn’t make it work so hard at pointless things.

“Everything at the Ranch is designed to teach you to hold hands with yourself,” says Szekely, “to encourage you to learn to listen to the messages your body’s giving you: when you get a headache, for example, there’s a reason. You might not have slept enough, not eaten enough, had a fight with your friend or be dehydrated. Whatever the reason, it’s a message and you need to pay attention and fix it. Our aim is for you to go home with a new respect for your body.

“As you wake in the morning,” she advises, “take time to stretch and feel your body moving. Check it over bit by bit – awaken it to the day – wiggle your fingers and toes, feel the energy and be aware of the miracle of it. Then breathe deeply three or four times, take a moment to feel blessed – the body likes that – to feel blessed, because we are. We have much to feel blessed about.

“Then I’d like you to say out loud, ‘Good Morning!’ Because it is a good morning, with all kinds of possibilities and you’re sending that thought out into the ether. “It makes a difference, that little routine of acknowledging your body at the start of the day,” she explains, “you’ll find that if you’re faced with a decision about how you treat your body – heading towards food you shouldn’t be eating, for example, or trying to make time for exercise – you’ll be more respectful of it if you acknowledge your partnership with it and your ability to control how you behave. It’s the absolute key.

“If you want your body to serve you well, then serve it well: it’s self-regulating, self-healing and it knows what to do, don’t wait until things fall apart before you take action, cherish it and pay attention to it.”

Deeply embedded philosophy
The joy of Rancho La Puerta is that this philosophy of self-reliance and knowledge-sharing can be found in all aspects of the operation. Guests enjoy access to a huge choice of wellness options during their week-long stays – healthy food, wellness lectures, great hiking, a ‘health centre’ offering a good range of spa treatments, four swimming pools and a choice of fitness classes to match any destination spa in the world. It’s no surprise that ‘The Ranch,’ as Szekely lovingly calls it, was voted World’s Best Destination Spa by readers of Travel & Leisure magazine in 2010 and 2011.

Just as important to the overall experience is the physical environment and it’s here that Szekely and her daughter, Sarah-Livia Brightwood, a landscape designer, have collaborated to create a place which cradles and nurtures guests in a thousand delightful and unexpected ways.

Brightwood has created a sustainable, permaculture landscape which supports a rich biodiversity. Flocks of birds fly by, drifts of wildflowers come into view, insects hum and hammocks slung under trees create shady restful sanctuaries to while away the midday hours. It’s a healing place.

The work has taken decades “Each time my mother came to me to say she wanted to add a feature or a building,” says Brightwood, “I had to work out where best to place it.” The result of her deliberations is wonderfully pleasing – lawns roll across a landscape planted with herbs, fruit trees and vines, while footpaths, laid with local, hand-made red brick pavers meander for miles connecting buildings and activities. “We make you walk here,” says Szekely.

Early photographs show the grounds as largely being covered by the indigenous flora, so the beautiful landscaping is a triumph of gardening craft and makes up a significant part of the wellness experience – I propose to Brightwood that her contribution to the Ranch is in many ways equal to her mother’s because of this and she quietly accepts the compliment, while Szekely is clearly extremely proud of her daughter’s work.

Szekely’s son Alex was a driving force in the business until his untimely death from melanoma in 2002 at the age of 44.

He’s credited with working to establish the Ranch’s staff programmes. SpaFinder’s Susie Ellis, who’s close to the Szekelys, recalls: “It was Alex who instilled in the Ranch the appreciation for each member of staff. He believed taking care of those who take care of the guests is of the utmost importance.” It’s clear these prescendents endure today, as the staff are longserving, as well as natural and attentive with guests and clearly care passionately, about being part of the Rancho La Puerta family.

New career
After running for US Congress unsuccessfully aged 60, Szekely “flew the coop” and headed off to Washington DC anyway, where she had a second career running the Inter-American Foundation and other NGOs.

She was deeply involved with the Ranch between 1990 and 2010, when she turned the presidency over to Brightwood who runs it with general manager Roberto Arjona. Today she still sits on the board and her weekly lectures keep her involved.

The arrival of Szekely’s 90th birthday spurred her to find a new way to harness her lifetime of skills for the greater good: “I wanted to do something very special when I turned 90,” she says, “and I can’t begin to tell you the extent of my frustration and anger when I see the terrible state of our health education and decisions about health-related policy. The US government declaring that pizza is a vegetable, for example, how dare they do that?

“I was thinking there must be something we can do,” she says with exasperation, “because we’ve been doing nothing. Health care is sick care in the US. We need an effective focus on prevention and education.”

The solution, and her new passion, is Wellness Warrior (www.wellnesswarrior.org), a lobbying group she’s established for “fighting unhealthy special interests that unduly influence the US Congress and advocating preventative wellness and healthy food”. The organisation has a mission statement ‘Be Heard, Be United, Be Well’.

“There are millions of people involved in wellness,” she says, “but they have no say in Washington. My aim is to raise money for lobbying to bring about change. I want a million people connected with wellness to donate $10year so we can lobby on prevention.

“I want young people whom the current lobbyists are influencing to hear our viewpoint also. They don’t realise how dangerous it is when government guidelines allow pizza to be counted as a ‘vegetable’ in a balanced meal plan. If the main dish was pasta, this could mean that everyone genuinely thinks they’re eating a balanced meal, when they’re very obviously not doing so.

“Vermont and Maine are doing school lunches on a farm-to-table basis throughout the state. It’s healthier – and it’s cheaper! There are so many wonderful initiatives like that which we can promote.

“I think there’s a pent up demand for wellness,” she says. “I want to see if I can create a tipping point. It will either be a spectacular failure or a spectacular success and I’m prepared for either outcome.”

And Szekly’s in a hurry. “For 73 years I’ve made my living making people healthy. Someone worked out I’ve had an impact on 500,000 lives,” she says. “It took 73 years to do that, but I don’t have another 73 years to do another 500,000, so I need to find a faster way using technology.

“There are so many challenges. Old people are over-medicated and sitting themselves to death, drug cocktails are doing harm – diabetes drugs can cause high blood pressure and blood pressure drugs may cause diabetes, for example. The incidence of lifestyle disease is increasing and government policies have led to a situation where the production of unhealthy foods is subsidised so they’re cheaper than the healthy alternatives.”

It sounds as though Szekely plans to make waves in Washington and such a challenge is entirely in line with her views on ageing: “These days, if we look after ourselves, we’re living longer. I urge people to think of life in thirds: the first 30 years are for education and growing up, the second for starting a home and raising kids and the third are wide open for reinvention. The reason you want to be healthy is so you can have these years of glorious freedom. “It’s important to start daydreaming early about what it is you’d like to do when you’re 60,” she says, “that’s the reason people come back to the Ranch over and over again – they want the health so they can have freedom in that heady last third of life.”

So at 90, Szekely is heading out into her fourth ‘third’ of life – nimble from regular pilates classes and workouts, with a spring in her step, a refreshingly fierce attitude and her life experiences under her belt. “I really do feel that what I’m doing is what I was supposed to do,” she says.


First Person

 

Noa Schechter-Katzen
 
Noa Schechter-Katzen Contributor

Before the visit, I didn’t know what to expect, but I never anticipated it would change my life as it did by creating a ‘reboot’ experience just for me.

When you arrive at Rancho La Puerta, you’re given a pedometer and it’s fun to track how you can walk two or more miles a day without even going out of your way.

And every step is a treat, with views of the mountains, rabbits, sculptures, trickling fountains and the scent of rosemary, sage, geranium and lavender.

The grounds spread across 35 acres just across the US border in Tecate, Mexico. They’re dry, yet landscaped with amazing flowers, olive trees and herbs. Everything which grows looks healthy.

If you’re lucky with timing you even get to fill yourself with snacks from the abundant crop of figs and grapes, many varieties of which decorate the property.

When it comes to activities, there’s so much on offer it’s a challenge to select what to do. The morning hikes are as close to finding religion as I’ve ever come. There are multiple routes with unbeatable scenery and a pace you can make your own. Even in the rain or hot sun, panting and sweating, I loved every minute of it.

A visit to the Ranch isn’t complete without a hike to its six-acre organic farm – Rancho Tres Estrellas, where head gardener, Salvador Tinajero, gives tours. He’s a complete joy to be around, sharing his passion for his produce. The bounty is used at the adjacent culinary centre and cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta, as well as supplying meals for guests in the dining hall at Rancho La Puerta.

While the farm was amazing and inspiring, I was a little disappointed with the cooking school. It’s a spectacular place with modern facilities and guest chefs who teach alongside executive chef Denise Roa. I took a class with one of the many visiting chefs and while we used much of the gorgeous produce from the farm, the food we cooked wasn’t as tasty or inventive as anything served in the dining hall.

I have (and love) the Rancho La Puerta cookbook and would have much preferred having a lesson on how to take the Ranch way of cooking home. How about a lesson on how to make their delicious granola?

The food at Rancho La Puerta is just perfect – fresh with good choices. We ate delicious grilled vegetable pizzas and a chayote lasagna I still dream about. A guest who’d been eight times said her motto was “never miss a meal or a hike”.

Breakfast is a special treat, as there’s a choice of eating by one of the pools or in the dining room. My favourite was the Bircher muesli, which I’m still making at home. One day I thought I’d died and gone to foodie heaven when we were treated to quesadillas by the pool with a chef making fresh tortillas.

I never felt deprived and even after eating seconds, never felt over-full and all my clothes fitted better when I got home.

But for me, what makes the Ranch extra special and contributes to it being a rejuvenating experience that stays with you long after you’ve left, is the energy you get from the community that forms each week. From the moment you board the Ranch bus at the airport, everyone’s happy to be part of the experience and so many friendships are made that people return together year after year.



The facilities
Guests have a good choice of accommodation, staying in Rancheras, Haciendas, Villas and Villa Suites – single storey houses that are scattered across the site, many with their own terraces. All are comfortably furnished in Mexican style, with terracotta tiled floors and bright decor. Many have their own wood burning fireplace for the winter months.

It took me a while to find the spa, (especially as it’s called the ‘Health Centre’) and with so much competing for time, it would be easy for guests to overlook it, but they clearly enjoy this element of their stay and swap stories at dinner about their experiences. The treatments I had were well delivered and I would have had more, but it was booked solid, indicating capacity could be an issue, although plans are afoot for capital investment in the next few years to remedy this.

Golden door

In addition to developing Rancho La Puerta, Szekely founded luxury, Japanese-style spa the Golden Door in Escondido, California, US in 1958 (SB04/Q1 p86). The spa was sold in 1998 and has recently changed hands again (see news on p18). Szekely has confirmed she will continue her weekly lectures there under the new ownership.

Details: www.goldendoor.com

 



Golden door
The Szekely family owns 3,000 acres of land around Rancho La Puerta and has protected the area against development
With the exception of maintenance vehicles, the entire estate is blissfully vehicle-free
Early morning hikes take guests up Mount Kuchumaa
Dinner at Rancho La Puerta is prepared to a very high standard. It’s largely vegetarian, with a fresh caught local fish dish offered each day
The vast grounds have been landscaped by Szekely’s daughter Sarah-Livia Brightwood – a landscape designer
The cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta: guests can take a hike from the Ranch to eat breakfast made with food fresh from the farm
Guests can take classes at the cookery school with executive chef Denise Roa
Crops are grown organically on the adjacent farm
Szekely’s passion and commitment moved many delegates to tears at the 2012 Global Spa and Wellness Summit in Aspen
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Interview
Deborah Szekely

The extraordinary Deborah Szekely has spent 73 years working in the spa industry and announced the launch of a new career on her 90th birthday. Liz Terry went to meet her

By Liz Terry | Published in Spa Business 2013 issue 1


Nothing in my body is 90 years old apart from my knowledge,” explains Deborah Szekely to her attentive audience. “Because the body largely renews itself every seven years, so very few things in me are any older than that.

“And our bodies are nobody’s responsibility but our own. Don’t forget that ultimately no one else really gets the rewards for taking care of that body apart from you.”

I’m at Szekely’s weekly lecture at Rancho La Puerta, in Tecate, Mexico – the destination spa she founded, initially as a health retreat, with her late husband Edmond Szekely 73 years ago – and she’s playing to a full house of spa-goers. We’re in a beautiful wood-beamed room with sweeping views over gardens and mountains.

The crackle of concentration in the room is palpable, because when a 90-year-old with the vivacity, passion and focus of Szekely gives you health advice, you tend to pay extra special attention.

She has great power to influence people with her words, as witnessed at the 2012 Global Spa and Wellness Summit in Aspen, when, as a keynote speaker on health, she moved many to tears with her powerful oratory. “I’m so fortunate I’m able to communicate my feelings about subjects I feel passionately about,” she remarks in our ongoing email correspondence.

The Rancho La Puerta lectures give Szekely the chance to share her knowledge and philosophy with guests and to encourage the attitudes and behaviours that underpin the ethos of the place.

“What you’re doing at the Ranch,” she tells everyone, “is not worrying about losing a few pounds, it’s beginning a conversation with your body – which means listening. You can’t have a conversation without listening. It’s a two-way partnership.

“And once you begin to listen, you’ll be amazed at the rewards – the body wants to live and to thrive, it loves to be healthy and it can be our choice to be healthy. There are a few who have health issues, but for most of us it is a choice. Gaining and losing weight, for example, is a lot of work for the body. It copes, it manages, but it would manage a lot better if we paid it more attention and didn’t make it work so hard at pointless things.

“Everything at the Ranch is designed to teach you to hold hands with yourself,” says Szekely, “to encourage you to learn to listen to the messages your body’s giving you: when you get a headache, for example, there’s a reason. You might not have slept enough, not eaten enough, had a fight with your friend or be dehydrated. Whatever the reason, it’s a message and you need to pay attention and fix it. Our aim is for you to go home with a new respect for your body.

“As you wake in the morning,” she advises, “take time to stretch and feel your body moving. Check it over bit by bit – awaken it to the day – wiggle your fingers and toes, feel the energy and be aware of the miracle of it. Then breathe deeply three or four times, take a moment to feel blessed – the body likes that – to feel blessed, because we are. We have much to feel blessed about.

“Then I’d like you to say out loud, ‘Good Morning!’ Because it is a good morning, with all kinds of possibilities and you’re sending that thought out into the ether. “It makes a difference, that little routine of acknowledging your body at the start of the day,” she explains, “you’ll find that if you’re faced with a decision about how you treat your body – heading towards food you shouldn’t be eating, for example, or trying to make time for exercise – you’ll be more respectful of it if you acknowledge your partnership with it and your ability to control how you behave. It’s the absolute key.

“If you want your body to serve you well, then serve it well: it’s self-regulating, self-healing and it knows what to do, don’t wait until things fall apart before you take action, cherish it and pay attention to it.”

Deeply embedded philosophy
The joy of Rancho La Puerta is that this philosophy of self-reliance and knowledge-sharing can be found in all aspects of the operation. Guests enjoy access to a huge choice of wellness options during their week-long stays – healthy food, wellness lectures, great hiking, a ‘health centre’ offering a good range of spa treatments, four swimming pools and a choice of fitness classes to match any destination spa in the world. It’s no surprise that ‘The Ranch,’ as Szekely lovingly calls it, was voted World’s Best Destination Spa by readers of Travel & Leisure magazine in 2010 and 2011.

Just as important to the overall experience is the physical environment and it’s here that Szekely and her daughter, Sarah-Livia Brightwood, a landscape designer, have collaborated to create a place which cradles and nurtures guests in a thousand delightful and unexpected ways.

Brightwood has created a sustainable, permaculture landscape which supports a rich biodiversity. Flocks of birds fly by, drifts of wildflowers come into view, insects hum and hammocks slung under trees create shady restful sanctuaries to while away the midday hours. It’s a healing place.

The work has taken decades “Each time my mother came to me to say she wanted to add a feature or a building,” says Brightwood, “I had to work out where best to place it.” The result of her deliberations is wonderfully pleasing – lawns roll across a landscape planted with herbs, fruit trees and vines, while footpaths, laid with local, hand-made red brick pavers meander for miles connecting buildings and activities. “We make you walk here,” says Szekely.

Early photographs show the grounds as largely being covered by the indigenous flora, so the beautiful landscaping is a triumph of gardening craft and makes up a significant part of the wellness experience – I propose to Brightwood that her contribution to the Ranch is in many ways equal to her mother’s because of this and she quietly accepts the compliment, while Szekely is clearly extremely proud of her daughter’s work.

Szekely’s son Alex was a driving force in the business until his untimely death from melanoma in 2002 at the age of 44.

He’s credited with working to establish the Ranch’s staff programmes. SpaFinder’s Susie Ellis, who’s close to the Szekelys, recalls: “It was Alex who instilled in the Ranch the appreciation for each member of staff. He believed taking care of those who take care of the guests is of the utmost importance.” It’s clear these prescendents endure today, as the staff are longserving, as well as natural and attentive with guests and clearly care passionately, about being part of the Rancho La Puerta family.

New career
After running for US Congress unsuccessfully aged 60, Szekely “flew the coop” and headed off to Washington DC anyway, where she had a second career running the Inter-American Foundation and other NGOs.

She was deeply involved with the Ranch between 1990 and 2010, when she turned the presidency over to Brightwood who runs it with general manager Roberto Arjona. Today she still sits on the board and her weekly lectures keep her involved.

The arrival of Szekely’s 90th birthday spurred her to find a new way to harness her lifetime of skills for the greater good: “I wanted to do something very special when I turned 90,” she says, “and I can’t begin to tell you the extent of my frustration and anger when I see the terrible state of our health education and decisions about health-related policy. The US government declaring that pizza is a vegetable, for example, how dare they do that?

“I was thinking there must be something we can do,” she says with exasperation, “because we’ve been doing nothing. Health care is sick care in the US. We need an effective focus on prevention and education.”

The solution, and her new passion, is Wellness Warrior (www.wellnesswarrior.org), a lobbying group she’s established for “fighting unhealthy special interests that unduly influence the US Congress and advocating preventative wellness and healthy food”. The organisation has a mission statement ‘Be Heard, Be United, Be Well’.

“There are millions of people involved in wellness,” she says, “but they have no say in Washington. My aim is to raise money for lobbying to bring about change. I want a million people connected with wellness to donate $10year so we can lobby on prevention.

“I want young people whom the current lobbyists are influencing to hear our viewpoint also. They don’t realise how dangerous it is when government guidelines allow pizza to be counted as a ‘vegetable’ in a balanced meal plan. If the main dish was pasta, this could mean that everyone genuinely thinks they’re eating a balanced meal, when they’re very obviously not doing so.

“Vermont and Maine are doing school lunches on a farm-to-table basis throughout the state. It’s healthier – and it’s cheaper! There are so many wonderful initiatives like that which we can promote.

“I think there’s a pent up demand for wellness,” she says. “I want to see if I can create a tipping point. It will either be a spectacular failure or a spectacular success and I’m prepared for either outcome.”

And Szekly’s in a hurry. “For 73 years I’ve made my living making people healthy. Someone worked out I’ve had an impact on 500,000 lives,” she says. “It took 73 years to do that, but I don’t have another 73 years to do another 500,000, so I need to find a faster way using technology.

“There are so many challenges. Old people are over-medicated and sitting themselves to death, drug cocktails are doing harm – diabetes drugs can cause high blood pressure and blood pressure drugs may cause diabetes, for example. The incidence of lifestyle disease is increasing and government policies have led to a situation where the production of unhealthy foods is subsidised so they’re cheaper than the healthy alternatives.”

It sounds as though Szekely plans to make waves in Washington and such a challenge is entirely in line with her views on ageing: “These days, if we look after ourselves, we’re living longer. I urge people to think of life in thirds: the first 30 years are for education and growing up, the second for starting a home and raising kids and the third are wide open for reinvention. The reason you want to be healthy is so you can have these years of glorious freedom. “It’s important to start daydreaming early about what it is you’d like to do when you’re 60,” she says, “that’s the reason people come back to the Ranch over and over again – they want the health so they can have freedom in that heady last third of life.”

So at 90, Szekely is heading out into her fourth ‘third’ of life – nimble from regular pilates classes and workouts, with a spring in her step, a refreshingly fierce attitude and her life experiences under her belt. “I really do feel that what I’m doing is what I was supposed to do,” she says.


First Person

 

Noa Schechter-Katzen
 
Noa Schechter-Katzen Contributor

Before the visit, I didn’t know what to expect, but I never anticipated it would change my life as it did by creating a ‘reboot’ experience just for me.

When you arrive at Rancho La Puerta, you’re given a pedometer and it’s fun to track how you can walk two or more miles a day without even going out of your way.

And every step is a treat, with views of the mountains, rabbits, sculptures, trickling fountains and the scent of rosemary, sage, geranium and lavender.

The grounds spread across 35 acres just across the US border in Tecate, Mexico. They’re dry, yet landscaped with amazing flowers, olive trees and herbs. Everything which grows looks healthy.

If you’re lucky with timing you even get to fill yourself with snacks from the abundant crop of figs and grapes, many varieties of which decorate the property.

When it comes to activities, there’s so much on offer it’s a challenge to select what to do. The morning hikes are as close to finding religion as I’ve ever come. There are multiple routes with unbeatable scenery and a pace you can make your own. Even in the rain or hot sun, panting and sweating, I loved every minute of it.

A visit to the Ranch isn’t complete without a hike to its six-acre organic farm – Rancho Tres Estrellas, where head gardener, Salvador Tinajero, gives tours. He’s a complete joy to be around, sharing his passion for his produce. The bounty is used at the adjacent culinary centre and cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta, as well as supplying meals for guests in the dining hall at Rancho La Puerta.

While the farm was amazing and inspiring, I was a little disappointed with the cooking school. It’s a spectacular place with modern facilities and guest chefs who teach alongside executive chef Denise Roa. I took a class with one of the many visiting chefs and while we used much of the gorgeous produce from the farm, the food we cooked wasn’t as tasty or inventive as anything served in the dining hall.

I have (and love) the Rancho La Puerta cookbook and would have much preferred having a lesson on how to take the Ranch way of cooking home. How about a lesson on how to make their delicious granola?

The food at Rancho La Puerta is just perfect – fresh with good choices. We ate delicious grilled vegetable pizzas and a chayote lasagna I still dream about. A guest who’d been eight times said her motto was “never miss a meal or a hike”.

Breakfast is a special treat, as there’s a choice of eating by one of the pools or in the dining room. My favourite was the Bircher muesli, which I’m still making at home. One day I thought I’d died and gone to foodie heaven when we were treated to quesadillas by the pool with a chef making fresh tortillas.

I never felt deprived and even after eating seconds, never felt over-full and all my clothes fitted better when I got home.

But for me, what makes the Ranch extra special and contributes to it being a rejuvenating experience that stays with you long after you’ve left, is the energy you get from the community that forms each week. From the moment you board the Ranch bus at the airport, everyone’s happy to be part of the experience and so many friendships are made that people return together year after year.



The facilities
Guests have a good choice of accommodation, staying in Rancheras, Haciendas, Villas and Villa Suites – single storey houses that are scattered across the site, many with their own terraces. All are comfortably furnished in Mexican style, with terracotta tiled floors and bright decor. Many have their own wood burning fireplace for the winter months.

It took me a while to find the spa, (especially as it’s called the ‘Health Centre’) and with so much competing for time, it would be easy for guests to overlook it, but they clearly enjoy this element of their stay and swap stories at dinner about their experiences. The treatments I had were well delivered and I would have had more, but it was booked solid, indicating capacity could be an issue, although plans are afoot for capital investment in the next few years to remedy this.

Golden door

In addition to developing Rancho La Puerta, Szekely founded luxury, Japanese-style spa the Golden Door in Escondido, California, US in 1958 (SB04/Q1 p86). The spa was sold in 1998 and has recently changed hands again (see news on p18). Szekely has confirmed she will continue her weekly lectures there under the new ownership.

Details: www.goldendoor.com

 



Golden door
The Szekely family owns 3,000 acres of land around Rancho La Puerta and has protected the area against development
With the exception of maintenance vehicles, the entire estate is blissfully vehicle-free
Early morning hikes take guests up Mount Kuchumaa
Dinner at Rancho La Puerta is prepared to a very high standard. It’s largely vegetarian, with a fresh caught local fish dish offered each day
The vast grounds have been landscaped by Szekely’s daughter Sarah-Livia Brightwood – a landscape designer
The cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta: guests can take a hike from the Ranch to eat breakfast made with food fresh from the farm
Guests can take classes at the cookery school with executive chef Denise Roa
Crops are grown organically on the adjacent farm
Szekely’s passion and commitment moved many delegates to tears at the 2012 Global Spa and Wellness Summit in Aspen
LATEST NEWS
Mountain wildflowers underpin spa rituals at newly-launched Mandarin Oriental Palace, Luzern
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group (MOHG) has unveiled its new Swiss destination Mandarin Oriental Palace, Luzern, after an extensive renovation of one of the city’s Belle Epoque era landmarks.
Minor Hotels and VLCC unveil medical wellness centre at Avani+ Hua Hin Resort in Thailand
Avani+ Hua Hin Resort in Thailand has introduced a new medical wellness centre in partnership with VLCC, an India-based beauty and wellness operator with a strong presence across Asia.
Claridge’s unveils first-ever spa, inspired by Japanese temples and Zen gardens
Upmarket London hotel Claridge’s has opened the doors to a brand new subterranean spa retreat as part of a seven-year property-wide overhaul.
Roman bathing and ancient mythology inspire design for Six Senses Rome spa, opening 2023
Six Senses has announced its first Italian property and spa, Six Senses Rome, is on track to open in early 2023.
Marc Cohen named Peninsula Hot Springs medical director
Integrative medicine expert, professor Marc Cohen has been appointed as the medical director of Australian hot springs operator Peninsula Hot Springs (PHS), based in Victoria.
Vinotherapy, wellness butlers and wine tasting collide as SB Winemaker’s House & Spa Suites launches in Argentina
Argentina’s first female winemaker Susana Balbo has opened her flagship hotel in the Mendoza wine region, called SB Winemaker’s House & Spa Suites.
Energy bills to be halved by UK government relief scheme
The UK government has announced it will cut energy bills by at least half for businesses – including spas, salons and gyms – as well as charities and public sector organisations starting from 1 October 2022.
Auberge Resorts unveils Halehouse Spa in California wine country, created in collaboration with TLEE Spas + Wellness
Global spa development firm TLEE Spas + Wellness recently teamed up with Auberge Resorts Collection to realise a new 12,000sq ft spa at wellness destination resort Stanly Ranch, Auberge Resorts Collection.
Tom Brady takes TB12 workout into the facilities market in deal with Wynn Las Vegas
NFL superstar, Tom Brady, is taking his digital fitness concept TB12 into the facilities market for the first time following a deal with luxury resort operator, Wynn Las Vegas.
Whole Foods co-founder rumoured to launch chain of wellness centres and plant-based restaurants
John Mackey, co-founder and former CEO of US organic supermarket chain Whole Foods, is reportedly set to launch a new US wellness brand named Healthy America.
Construction marches ahead for Saudi giga-projects Amaala and The Red Sea
The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), the developer behind ultra-luxury Saudi tourism destination Amaala, has now signed over 300 contracts worth more than SAR 6.62 bn (US$1.7bn, €1.7bn £1.5bn).
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