Aristotle once said, “If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.” For those who have watched the spa industry’s exponential growth throughout the years, it’s valuable to go back to its beginning. And it arguably began with the efforts of Deborah and Edmond Szekely, when they established Rancho La Puerta in 1940. The retreat, which is set amid 3,000 private acres of gardens, mountains, and meadows in Tecate, Mexico, is one of the world’s first destination spas and also one of the originators of the green spa movement, an approach that has remained a family tradition.
“My daughter, Sarah Livia Brightwood, and I always ask ourselves, ‘What are we leaving our children?’” says Deborah, who has been at the helm of the company since her husband passed away in 1979. “When her father and I founded The Ranch in 1940, it was ‘green,’ or what you might call an ‘eco-resort,’ by true necessity—after all, we were, literally, camping. There were no buildings except for an adobe shack that stored hay and no running water or electricity. Years later, Sarah Livia returned home from college filled with a passion for protecting the environment and creating beautiful gardens. She has preserved Rancho La Puerta and continued the 70-year legacy of stewardship and has built a tremendous team of volunteers to help the region live up to responsibilities to its remaining natural habitats, especially along the river and over the wild slopes of Mt. Kuchumaa.”
Throughout the decades, Rancho La Puerta has evolved and remained a wellness retreat that set the standard for offering a life-changing destination spa experience that combines impactful fitness, healthy eating, and soothing spa services with meaningful lectures and spiritual awakening. “We provide the true luxury of time and space, which is most lacking in today’s life,” says Deborah. “Space to breathe freely, to relax, and to enjoy what will be ‘the longer living, younger life.’”
Most people select The Ranch’s customary Saturday-to-Saturday stay to experience true change, residing in one of 83 casitas, each featuring a distinctive collection of Mexican folk art. They are encouraged to wake early to take advantage of one of several guided morning hikes on more than 40 miles of trails. The day continues with countless fitness offerings, ranging from yoga, Pilates, and stretching classes to more high-impact offerings like spinning, aqua exercise, and strength training. Afternoons and evenings are ideal for lectures, workshops, classes, and discussions on any number of topics, continuing a tradition started by Edmond, who was conversant in 17 languages and known internationally for his health and philosophical writings from the 1930s. Guest lecturers today frequently include such luminaries as journalist Bill Moyers, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, novelist Erica Jong, and many others. Throughout the day, guests can enjoy delectable spa cuisine featuring abundant fruits and vegetables culled from the property’s own organic farm, Tres Estrellas. Spa services offered in three spacious wellness centers are also enjoyed daily by most guests. Options include massage, aromatherapy, scrubs, scalp treatments, facials, wraps and more that take place in one of 47 treatment rooms. “The Ranch’s guest experience hinges on his or her ability to experience unspoiled nature…to be outdoors and revel in the fresh air, the smell of sage, the music of birdsongs, the sensation of digging in the soil of an organic vegetable garden,” says Deborah.
These action-packed days have proven to be a recipe that works for guests, many of whom return on a yearly basis. “One of our mottos is ‘The Week That Will Change Your Life.’ We certainly didn’t make this up, for we see these words in our guest comments and letters all the time,” says Deborah. “It’s a new consciousness that literally opens ‘la puerta’—the door—to a new way of looking at food and exercise.”
But The Ranch continues to evolve. A new culinary center, La Cocina Que Canta, was unveiled on the site of the organic farm in 2007. Along with tours and lectures, cooking classes are taught there by The Ranch’s chef-in-residence, and most weeks are hosted by some of the top guest-star chefs in the U.S. and abroad, further adding to the property’s appeal. “There, guests come to appreciate and understand the freshest flavors and search for something similar back home from local farmers—the sweet acidity of a just-picked tomato, tart little raspberries and super-sweet strawberries, aromatic garlic. You taste the difference,” says Deborah.
Another recent addition is an exercise activities pool, where a variety of low-impact HydroFit aquatic classes take place. The program was created with renowned aquatic fitness pioneer Craig Stuart. Seven new classes, including the challenging Aqua Plus, Aqua Ther-X for those recovering from injury, Hydro-Pilates, Swim Conditioning, and more are part of the program.
Guests can embrace a solitary experience, but The Ranch is also ideal for meeting new people and connecting with friends and loved ones—multi-generational getaways are common, and lasting bonds of friendship are often forged throughout the course of the week. But perhaps Rancho La Puerta’s greatest gift is its relationship with the community of Tecate. All guests contribute to The Ranch’s efforts in this area, because a significant percentage of profits fund Fundación La Puerta—the non-profit foundation headed by Brightwood and dedicated to the betterment of the community of Tecate and the northern Baja California region. “One word that my daughter and I often share when we think of Tecate is ‘joy,’” says Deborah. “We take sheer joy in seeing the delight of children at play in Parque Professor, the Tecate city park built by Fundación La Puerta. Joy as children explore the nature education center my daughter and her team created to look like a cluster of boulders. Joy when our staff brings gifts and donations to the local orphanage. Joy when festivals take over the hearts and imaginations of local citizens—the thousands who gather in Parque Professor to feast, socialize, play soccer, dance, and relax the day away. How can we not be a part of this wonderful community, which has grown right along with us? Our staff of more than 400 all live in Tecate or very close to it. Many are second and third generation. They made us welcome in 1940, and they are our family today. It’s simply good business to be a part of our community and make a difference in its future.”
RANCHO LA PUERTA
OWNER: Deborah Szekely
SPA DIRECTOR: Tere Ochoa
MOST REPRESENTED COUNTRIES
17,000 square feet in
3 wellness centers;
43 treatment rooms
acupuncture, aromatherapy, body treatments, energy work, facials, fitness, guided, meditation, hand and foot treatments, hydrotherapy, makeup application, massage, nailcare, nutrition consultation, outdoor treatments, Pilates, Qigong, reflexology, salon services, scalp treatments, tai chi, yoga
Energy Balance Treatment ($140, 90 minutes), the Healing Therapy Treatment ($140, 90 minutes), and the Rancho La Puerta Herbal Wrap ($45, 30 minutes)
MOST EXPENSIVE OFFERING
Four Hand Massage ($150, 50 minutes)
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