Early this November I had the amazing opportunity to be the guest cooking instructor, along with Sarah Tenaglia, at the stunningly lovely Rancho la Puerta Wellness Center and Spa in Tecate, Mexico. Just south of the border and a little inland from San Diego, the Rancho was founded in 1940 by the Szekely family as the Essene School of Life. The "school" promoted a healthy lifestyle of exercise, a vegetarian diet, spirituality, working in the garden and a grape-juice cleanse. (Hey! That's what I subscribe to as well! Except that my grape juice is usually fermented and I do eat small amounts of meat.) In the early days, guest brought their own tents to the Rancho and paid about $17 for the week, all inclusive.
Although still family run, Rancho la Puerta has evolved since those early days. You no longer need to pitch a tent. Guests stay in a variety of charming casitas and villas with fireplaces, patios and views. I adored my little abode, but spent little time in it as I was so busy enjoying all that is on offer.
Offer indeed! There is so much to do at the Rancho. It's impossible to fit it all in. I think the variety of activities is what makes Rancho la Puerta so special. The appealing range creates a fun mix of health-minded but distinct individuals. A visitor to the ranch can hike on mountainous terrain or level meadowland, can do intense interval training, spin, to weight training, pilates, yoga, swim, mediate, dance, make arts and crafts, indulge in spa treatments, attend concerts and lectures, play bingo and take cooking classes!
The cooking classes take place at the aptly named Cocina que Canta. (The kitchen that sings!) This kitchen and organic garden are like the prettiest songs you've ever heard. Denise Roa is the executive chef of the cooking school, and she and her staff make the luxuriously large and well-equiped kitchen run smoothly while creating a comfortable space for learning, cooking and eating. Salvador (with whom I'm pictured) tends to the vast organic garden.
The garden at La Cocina is the potager of dreams. Beets, kale, turnips and lettuce grow in abundance as do strawberries and chilies (in November!). Also flourishing are more exotic plants such as Lime Basil, the Hibiscus that Jamaica (the purple-red tea, not the country..) is brewed from, a delightfully tasting chrysanthemum, Lemon Verbena and Calendula. When you take a cooking class at the school, you pick a good portion of the vegetables for the evening in the garden!
Teaching the cooking classes was a blast! I focused on the savory dishes while Sarah taught some healthy chocolate recipes. The classes are sort of marvelous mayhem, but in magical Rancho style, at the finale, a glorious repast made by the attendees is set out and shared.
But good food is not just to be enjoyed at La Cocina que Canta, all the food at Rancho la Puerta is good. Vegetarian, with gluten-free options, the food is fresh and of course healthy. I ate colorful fruit platters every morning with house-made granola and feasted on salad and soup at lunch. Dinners are more formal affairs with multi-course sit down meals as opposed to cafeteria style breakfast and lunch. All meals are served in the picturesque dining room.
"Picturesque" is the running theme at Rancho La Puerta. I've been home a week and I'm still basking in the visual glory. The grounds are spacious and manicured- yet retain a natural nonchalance. The spa was filled to capacity while I was there, but strolling the ranch, I felt I was the only guest. Wandering around the campus, I might run into just one other blissed out student, then I'd come across a bronze sculpture or some rainbow-hued hammocks hung amongst oaks. Even the gyms for the most part are set among oaks and are crafted with stone fire-places and adorned with local weaving. It's a heavenly place to work out.
So what was my day like at the Rancho when I wasn't teaching? Here is an example-
6 a.m. Coffee in bed with Sarah (separate beds!)
7 a.m. Hike
8 a.m. Breakfast
9 a.m. Pilates Matt Class
10 a.m. Circuit Training
11 a.m. Stretch (So Great!)
12 p.m. Lunch
2 p.m. Water Fitness
3 p.m. Crystal Bowls (Awesome! Healing and Meditative. One of my favorite discoveries.)
4 p.m. Sauna
5 p.m. A glass of wine from the Guadalupe Valley at the Bazar del Sol
6 ish- dinner
8 p.m. Concert or Bingo (yes! Bingo... so silly but fun.)
Well, I think you get the jist...
All this activity is paired with the most friendly and helpful staff. Can I wait to go back? No! I can't. And when I do go back (I think it will be in late October), I hope that I will see some of the wonderful people I met at Rancho again and I will let you all out there know with lots of fair warning so that you can join me.
More image of Rancho!