Rancho La Puerta

By Irvina Lew / September 14, 2011

Since 1940, Deborah Szekely, the Brooklyn-born, fruitarian-raised, entrepreneur, activist “mother of spas” has influenced the well-being of generations of conscientious folks seeking wellness vacations. When the 17-year old bride co-founded “The Ranch,” guests brought their own tents and paid $17.50 for a week’s vacation at a Mexican venue with mountain-to-hike, river-to-swim, and organic garden-to-cultivate. Late in 1940s, a San Diego newspaper referred to its vegetarian clientele as a “cult.” Notably, the article quoted co-founder Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, a Hungarian natural living experimenter, stating: “Human health begins with healthy soil which means good food.”

That first garden supplied the produce, an olive grove produced olives, a grape arbor provided anti-oxidant rich grapes, and goats’ milk was transformed into fresh cheese and yogurt. (Today, there’s a creative, sophisticated, and worldly vegetarian menu augmented with the option to include wild salmon and Pacific fish.)

Since my first visit in 1990, my favorite place on the Ranch has been Las Estrellas, the organic farm reached on a two-mile morning hike that includes breakfast and the venue for cooking classes. (I discovered healthy spa cuisine while making a thin-crusted, lightly-cheesed Pizza Margherita in the original farm kitchen.)

Today, Las Estrallas is a six-acre showplace with 250 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs and a soil-nourishing compost heap. The farm’s centerpiece is a stunning culinary center—La Cocina que Canta—where freshly picked ingredients are used for hands-on cooking classes (as well as for guest meals).

On a recent visit with my daughter, Sharon, she attended tennis clinics, I did Water Works; she practiced yoga when I danced Salsa. We each tried Inner Meditation but what we relished most, together, were the breakfast hike, the cooking class, and Debra Haffner’s Sex Education Course for Grown-Ups!!!

The Ranch’s commitment to the environment extends well beyond its organic farm to water conservation. While guests may notice that they are encouraged to use refillable water bottles, they usually don’t even notice the many other green elements.

Tecate—located an hour south of San Diego just three miles from the US border—receives about nine inches of annual rainfall, so water conservation is a priority.

The incredibly magnificent landscape uses mulch around native plants and waters using drip irrigation (a bio-marsh filters and processes grey water). Buildings, landscape walls, and pathways (made of paving stones set in sand) use cement bricks made of local clay that is red-fired in new and efficient kilns. (The Ranch’s non-profit foundation recently initiated a “clean kiln” program.) An on-site waste- treatment facility, water-filtering systems, water-efficient laundries, and pool oxygenating systems help. So do eco-friendly cleansers, chain down-spouts and French drains. Even the programming offers eco-education; one presenter, an organic farmer, explained how eating organic foods contributes to the farm workers’ health.

Family owned and operated Rancho La Puerta set the bar for green spas decades before the word green appeared in our lexicon. A wellness week there incorporates the beauty of place, the joy of camaraderie, the fun of fitness, the purity of organic vegetarian food, and a plethora of mind/body/spirit options (including an abundance of pleasure pampering services). I am among the many who always feels lucky—and at peace—there. www.rancholapuerta.com

Irvina Lew
Irvina Lew

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