What do movies stars, bees and a labyrinth have in common?
They each play a part in the magic rhythm of life behind these golden doors.
In the 1950’s wellness and mindfulness meant little more than giving up cigarettes and booze for a week, so when the Golden Door Spa first opened its doors in the San Marcos ranges, 40 minutes from San Diego, it soon became an exclusive retreat for movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Natalie Wood.
Today it’s renowned as the best luxury destination spa in the world, welcoming guests from all walks of life. Although Golden Door Spa is anything but flashy Hollywood glamour. Asian inspired, it’s understated luxury, built like an old Japanese Ryokan with elegant bungalows, connected by shaded walkways, winding paths of beautiful Japanese gardens, trickling water streams, koi ponds and patterned sand gardens. A quiet calm oasis dedicated to the wellness of mind, body and soul. But this wellness sanctuary should not to be confused with hotel spa resorts, where guests are encouraged to indulge at the bars and restaurants. Behind these Golden Doors the focus is entirely on each guest’s individual holistic health and wellbeing.
The Golden Door experience begins before you arrive with a phone conversation of discovery to determine your goals for the week. While that may sound a little intrusive, for most visitors this is a life changing experience; a place to get fit, lose weight, recover, recuperate, reconnect or just unwind from the daily grind. So, go with it. Once they have your height, weight and dietary requirements sorted, you can literally arrive with little more than a toothbrush and a pair of good hiking boots.
With just 40 rooms, each guest has the luxury of a room all to oneself. They are spacious, light filled and air conditioned (if you want it). No TV, instead there are books or your personal diary which you are encouraged to complete. A small black pouch is provided for your mobile (optional use) to minimise distraction, tempting as it may be to check emails before retiring, given that free Wi-Fi is included.
It’s here in your private haven, that your massage therapist comes each day to perform their magic on tired muscles, after you’ve hiked the trails, or taken a fitness class. No need to worry about what to bring, in the cupboard there’s shorts, T shirt, warm up suit, sun hat and a knit cap and gloves for the cooler months. Better still, they’re laundered fresh each day. Don’t even think about packing anything more formal; guests, including the Hollywood A-listers ditch their makeup, perfume and accessories to wear a Yukata (a Japanese robe) to dinner. This egalitarian approach, may seem a little at odds with meeting guest’s individual needs, but surprisingly they soon relax into the anonymity it offers.
Pampering and exercise aside, the essential ingredient to good health and wellbeing is undoubtedly fresh produce, so it’s no surprise that 80% of what’s served to guests is home grown. Set on 600 acres Golden Door is an organic, bio intense working farm with established groves of citrus, avocado and olive trees; hens provide eggs and honey bees provide raw honey. Meals are deliciously prepared by Master Chef Greg Frey. A shining example of ‘practice what you preach’ Greg’s glowing good health is testament to the organic fresh food he serves and he’ll gladly share his passion for preparing tasty, delicious and healthy meals at one of his cooking Master classes. Or walk with him through the gardens and learn more about organic gardening, sustainability and the importance of bees. Throughout the vegetable gardens pollinator friendly plants have busy worker bees buzzing everywhere. Who knew it takes 2 million flowers to make 2 Kilos of honey! At Golden Door the food truly is farm to table; while meat, fish and chicken are on the menu they are in small portions served with copious amounts of fresh picked herbs, green leaf salads, fruits, tomatoes, vegetables and nuts. With reduced amounts of salt, sugar, dairy food and fat, there’s an incredible feeling of lightness. All that fresh air and exercise, combined with Greg’s kitchen skills means that each meal has intense, robust flavours that taste better than anything you’ve ever eaten before.
Golden Door is an all-inclusive experience for either 5 or 7-day stays. Most seven-day programmes are exclusively for women, men’s camp week happens only six times per year and 5 weeks are devoted to mixed (co-ed) programmes. Regardless, sharing rooms even for couples is not encouraged, since this is considered to be a journey of self-reflection and inner focus.
Though you may arrive here on your own, you’ll have plenty of space and freedom to do what you want, at the same time you’ll be pampered, nurtured and transformed by a dedicated team of experts who will help harness your creative self, or whatever self you’re looking for. But one thing is for sure you will find laughter and camaraderie dining under the stars at a communal dinner table with just 39 other guests.
After an early morning hike to the mountain top, you may find yourself drawn to walking the Labyrinth. A continuous circular path with one entrance and exit, this ancient symbol marked out on a flat patch of earth by small stones, guides every step you take in walking meditation towards the centre, where you stop, make an intention and continue forward slowly winding towards the exit. Walking the labyrinth is thought to allow access to your inner voice, the source of personal insight and clarity.
Whatever you do, every step at the Golden Door is perfectly designed for reconnection – to yourself, to the earth and to the joy and celebration of a life well lived. Reward yourself!