Baja Bliss: Rancho La Puerta Spa

What: Rancho La Puerta spa and eco-resort
Where: Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, an hour's drive from San Diego
Why: Because evolution is a beautiful thing. What began in 1940 as a $17.50/week BYOT (bring your own tent) "health camp" -- the brainchild of Hungarian philosopher and holistic-living pioneer Edmond Szekely -- has grown into an absorbing jumble of adobe casitas, organic gardens, winding trails, and exhaustive fitness and treatment facilities. And while asceticism may be a casualty of the decades, the real cornerstones remain: the warm, familial feel (the Szekelys still run the place), and the ardent belief in "the interdependence of mind, body, and spirit."

The Three Best Things About Rancho La Puerta
Elia's Hands There's something decidedly unholistic about reducing a person to a pair of disembodied hands, but the fact remains that -- at least while they're engaged in massage -- Elia Rubio's are a force all their own. Now in their 25th year of service at Rancho La Puerta, they seem to possess supernatural powers (or some kind of battery charge), self-heating and vibrating to produce instant, unadulterated stupor. If Elia's available, do yourself a favor and book a session -- or several -- with her. Of course, there's an entire team of masajistas on-site, and veteran Ranchophiles have various favorites. One frequent pick is Beatriz Limon, who -- in the words of a devotee -- is "a small woman with shockingly strong, nimble fingers that get into those hard-to-reach spots and don't relent until every last knot is gone."

Mount Kuchamaa The icon around which all Rancho life revolves, this 3,885-foot-high peak straddles the U.S.-Mexico border and has long been sacred to the local Kumeyaay tribes. No less than the womb of the world in their estimation, the summit was once restricted to shamans and initiates. Today, that respect is government-sanctioned. Even the U.S. Department of the Interior, not typically known for its otherworldly assessments, has deemed this spiritual hub worthy of a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Regardless of your views on its sanctity, there's no disputing the mountain's appeal. The slopes are carpeted with bright-blue irises; huge, sculptural boulders; and particularly fragrant sage. Best of all are the trail-monitors-in-residence: innumerable rabbits, foxes, hawks, ravens, and eagles. In fact, Kuchamaa is now part of a nature preserve that spans thousands of acres, extending to the U.S. border.

Not surprisingly, then, the hiking is tremendous, and one of the resort's biggest lures. While each of the hikes has legions of adherents who swear by its particular merits, the newest trail is quickly gaining ground, so to speak. Alex's Oak Trail begins as a gentle climb through a fragrant chaparral and rocky canyon, then opens onto a ridge that boasts not only the hike's beautiful namesake oak but also an arresting view of the resort.

Local Flavors From the cinnamon-spiked chocolate-carrot bread (which guests often smuggle back to their casitas after the breakfast hike) to the locally brewed Tecate beer that's served at the end-of-week fiesta, the food and drink at Rancho -- somewhat atypically for spa fare -- create a real gustatory sense of place. The nearby open markets and the ranch's own organic gardens and orchards are no doubt a factor. Though most people go to the resort to de-stress, heal, learn, and recharge, if your particular brand of relaxation includes epicurean pursuits, you're well in hand.

Rates See rancholapuerta.com for details
Open Year-round
Typical stay One week, Saturday to Saturday
Getting there Fly any major airline to the San Diego International airport, where you'll be met by a charter bus (four departures every Saturday; if you'll be arriving on another day, make alternate arrangements with the spa). Take proof of citizenship and cash (U.S. dollars) for the Mexican Tourist Tax.
For more details 800-443-7565 (toll-free in the U.S.), 858-764-5500 (worldwide), rancholapuerta.com


Abbie Kozolchyk is Body+Soul's contributing editor for spa and travel and a freelance writer based in New York City.

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