Finding Balance at Rancho La Puerta – Part Three

Continued from
Finding Balance at Rancho La Puerta – Part One and Part Two

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Artichokes from the organic garden at Rancho La Puerta

The two things I heard most about Rancho la Puerta, a wellness resort in Baja, Mexico, were the hikes and the organic garden — and with good reason.

The land here is gorgeous, the quality of the light blending from soft to brilliant over sacred Mount Kuchumaa. The soil, enriched by resort-made compost, sustains enough produce to feed everyone here. You can take a special hike to see the garden for yourself, or take a cooking class at the resort’s school for a more in-depth experience.

When we arrived at Rancho La Puerta, it was unseasonably cold, and dawn was a pitch-black affair. So, when we saw that most hikes here start at dawn, we opted to burrow deep into our covers and sleep in awhile. Sure, hiking the hills, trails and mountains here will help you work up an appetite, but good news for those who’d rather catch up on their morning rest: Just walking around the Ranch paths between buildings is good exercise.

All the lodgings here are stand-alone adobe houses in varying sizes; those situated farthest from the main hub of the resort are the Villas. The Two-Bedroom Villa Suite (Sol 4) that we shared with our friends The Planet D required a 10-minute walk to just about anywhere.

Villa Sol 4, our home at Rancho La Puerta

The beds here were deliciously comfy, the soundproofing stellar and storage space plentiful; however, the bathrooms are tiny and the towels so rough that I wished I’d brought some from home. The main living room had a wood-burning fireplace, a cozy couch and one cushy chair; the addition of one more cozy chair for a suite that sleeps four would have made it nigh on perfect. Just when the CDs of ’80s instrumental sax hits were wearing thin, we discovered a mariachi ballads radio station that, along with the brightly embroidered fabrics and hand-painted tiles around us, made us feel happily in touch with Mexico.

The only thing nearby is a laundry room and the Villas Pool, where you’ll find a breakfast buffet most mornings and a hot tub every day. For everything else, you have to hoof it along a winding series of brick paths through soft, mostly native plantings. It gives you time to concentrate on your breath and listen to the birds.

Just another garden path at Rancho La Puerta

Which reminds me: Try to catch a Bird Walk with Ranch fitness teacher and amateur ornithologist Joe Sweeney. He makes the art of finding birds like Anna’s Hummingbird, the California Quail and the Spotted Towhee both exciting and fun. No, I swear. Really. If you don’t believe me, check out some of the man’s beautiful bird photos from Rancho La Puerta.

For hiking rather than strolling, you can choose from gentle 2-mile trails through woodland meadows and streams to more challenging 3½-7-mile mountain hikes. All Ranch hikes start between 6am and 7am in order to beat the heat (which is not a big issue between mid-November and late April) and get you to breakfast before 9am.

The Ranch's Organic Garden Breakfast Hike

If you can only get it together to do one hike all week (*cough cough* like some people), I’d suggest the Organic Garden Breakfast Hike. 4 miles round trip over gentle terrain beside the mountains, it leads to and from La Cocina Que Canta, the Ranch’s cooking school and Tres Estrellas, its organic garden. Amble as quickly or slowly as you like along the bumpy trails, saying hello to a family of horses and some cottontail rabbits, and then treat yourselves to a buffet breakfast harvested almost entirely on-site.

The kitchen here is set within the sweet Mexican cottage of our dreams, with an airy courtyard, fireplace, trickling fountain full of blossoms, and a sprawling patio that allows you to soak up the sun.

La Cocina Que Canta, inside and out

In case you don’t book a cooking class during your stay, this special hike is your chance to meet the head gardener, Salvador Tinajero, and tour his rows of plenty. On site here you’ll find, depending on the season, chard, strawberries, onions, corn, radicchio, a huge greenhouse full seedlings, and much, much more. Salvador might introduce you to a family of baby ducks, point out a unique citrus fruit or teach you that rosemary blossoms taste sweet and are a great addition to dessert.

Chef Denise Roa, gardener Salvador Tinajero and us in the Ranch's organic garden, Tres Estrellas

The Tres Estrellas greenhouse

Olives, chard and chickens at Tres Estrellas

But if you do take a cooking class (3½ hours with meal, $75-80 US p/p), you’ll love it. You’ll meet Chef Denise Roa, a brand new addition to the Ranch and an excellent teacher, go harvesting in the garden and learn how to make several dishes from Rancho La Puerta’s latest cookbook. Hopping around different stations in the kitchen, our group prepared a Spring brunch that included a huge frittata, fish in parchment, farro salad and even a cheesecake. We were happy to learn that the Ranch makes every effort to control portions, fat and even sugar; all desserts here are made with agave syrup.

Cooking class with Chef Denise Roa at La Cocina Que Canta

Even all the way back at the dining hall, the Ranch’s food is sublime. Made with care (and to your specifications, if you have allergies or special needs), every meal is an adventure. Fresh veggie soups, salads sprinkled with edible blossoms, small, hearty muffins, six kinds of salsa, Mexican specialties with spring-pea guacamole, fruit sorbets and sauces…it may actually be possible to die from too much healthy food. You may feel full from time to time, but you need never feel guilty about enjoying yourselves. The food here made us want to keep up the habit of eating only fish, whole grains, low-fat dairy, low-glycemic treats, veggies and fruits — and put coffee and alcohol in, shall we say, better perspective.

As I sit here sipping hot water with honey and lemon and nibbling on some almonds and cherry tomatoes: So far, so good.

Ah, how we miss the meals at Rancho La Puerta...

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GETTING HERE: Most people reach the Ranch by flying in to nearby San Diego (SAN) and taking the Ranch’s shuttle service to and from the airport; rumor has it there’s a special granola and even potato chips on the bus. We, however, drove ourselves from L.A. (with help from these mostly-handy directions) via the 5 to the 94.

Either way, remember to bring your passports.

Scenes from the US-Mexico border at Tecate, Baja (upon departure)

Driving across the US-Mexico border in Tecate was a non-event; following the directions into Tecate, we merely rolled to a stop sign without anyone accosting us. Later on, a driver from the Ranch took us over to the immigration office in downtown Tecate, we filled out a little paperwork, and for $30 US apiece we became legal visitors in Mexico. Leaving was more official, but required only a 10-minute wait in a line of cars, a light hustling from guys selling stuff like tamarind lollipops, and a brief, friendly chat about the Ranch with the border official. The drive from L.A. takes 3 hours, requires about one tank of gas each way, and you can treat yourselves at Tecate’s famous taco stands both coming and going.

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Adam and I were invited guests of Rancho La Puerta for a week, and received complimentary
lodging, meals, classes, hikes, lectures and spa treatments.

A Saturday-to-Saturday stay at Rancho La Puerta generally costs between $2,800 US and $4,700 US (depending on room size and the season),
and includes lodging, food, classes, hikes, lectures, use of all facilities,
and, if needed, transportation to and from San Diego Airport.
Cooking classes, private sessions and personal spa treatments are additional.

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If you’re excited about visiting Rancho La Puerta for yourselves,
please know that I’ve been authorized to offer you a $250 credit!

Feel free to either contact Rancho La Puerta directly and say you were referred by Travels With Two,
or leave a comment here with your email address and I’ll send you a certificate.

Comments

  1. The place looks awesome and the food looks sublime.I’ll bookmark this post so I don’t lose the info.

  2. Robin Sheridan says:

    Do you still have discount certificates availabie?

  3. I’m looking to go back to Rancho. Is the $250 certificate still available?

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