The Pilgrim Hike

I may seem like the same person, but in a small, barely perceptible way, I am not. That is because I just spent a week at a transformative place.

I’ve just returned from Rancho La Puerta Spa, where I spent the week alternating between challenging mountain hikes and exercise classes, relaxing pool time and massages, and things like birdwatching. Three times a day I hot-footed it to the dining hall for world-class vegetarian spa fare. Of course, two days of that included teaching some cooking classes, but they were so fun that it hardly seemed like work.

For vegetarians and omnivores alike, the food is at the center of the rejuvenation and healing that Rancho La Puerta offers. Perched in the mountains of Tecate Mexico, the Ranch enjoys a Mediterranean climate, and can grow much of its own food. In fact, a four -mile hike featuring a tour of the immaculate organic garden is a big hit with most guests, even if they don’t till the soil at home.  Head gardener Salvador Tinajero tends six acres of gorgeous farmland, striped with bright flowers of pollinator rows, intended to draw beneficial insects.

The blossoms call out to bees and hummingbirds

The cooking classes all start with Salvador’s tour of the garden, and students get to pick some of the produce that will be used in class. We pulled some leeks, but the exciting part was picking the perfect, ripe strawberries we would use to garnish our dessert. I know I ate as many as I put in the basket. Local and sustainable is the mantra for food on the Ranch, so I put my menus together based on what would be in season.

Strawberries in September (and kitty)

The classes are hands on, which means that the guests dive in and cook the dishes themselves, with the guidance of the instructor and three assistants. It’s really a blast, as everybody gets caught up in turning the garden’s bounty into a tasty dinner or lunch.

My talented sous-chefs

Pear and Apple Salad with Nasturtiums

But what was absolutely the most relaxing thing about the Ranch was the fact that someone else made me three delicious, satisfying organic vegetarian meals every day. I didn’t so much as pass a grocery store or slice a banana. I’m still looking for my sliced papaya every morning-the tree ripened, deep orange fruit was served alongside a breakfast buffet of fruits and muesli, and it was a world apart from the papaya we get here. Hot cereals, little omelets and an array of other goodies helped us fuel up for the day. Lunch buffets served up beautiful compositions in salad, bowls of veggie soup and things like tostadas or a light “local cheese” sandwich with caramelized onions. Dinner was fine dining, with beautifully plated salads, lush soups and carefully garnished and composed main courses. Perfectly portioned desserts closed the meal, on white plates dabbed and drizzled with colorful sauces.

Chiles Rellenos, RLP-style

Of course, having someone make low-fat veg food and then portion it out to create a 1500 calorie day means you can just enjoy the heck out of it and not even think. The Ranch has a nutritionist on staff to analyze the meals, and Chef Gonzalo Mendoza has a talent for making sure the food leaves you not just satisfied, but happy. The plates are a feast for the eyes, and a deft handling of textures and flavors transforms the just picked foods into genuinely gourmet treats.

A week of this pampering left me relaxed and invigorated. Everyone is so happy at the Ranch, from the people who work there to the guests, and there is nothing to do but be good to yourself.

So, if you want a great spa getaway, check out the Rancho La Puerta. From what I hear, it’s one of the best values in the world of spas. If that is not in the budget, take a look at the Rancho La Puerta Cookbook. You can always decide to eat spa for a week at home, and nourish yourself just like spa-goers do.

Now if I could bring Mount Kuchumaa home, then I would be all set.