Rancho la PuertaRancho la Puerta, in a small Mexican border town 45 miles east of San Diego, has endeared itself to three generations of health enthusiasts since it was established in 1940 by Edmund and Deborah Szekely. Today this spa, which resembles a quiet Mexican village, accommodates up to 150 guests within its 575 lush acres of gardens and paths.

“Siempre mejor” (always better) is the key to the Rancho’s success; there is always something new and better on the agenda, such as the labyrinth, where guests can take a guided meditation walk. Guests come here from all walks of life and from all social and economic levels. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style; dinner is served by the waitstaff. You may be seated at a table with an astounding range of spa-goers, from a movie star to a psychiatrist and everyone in between. The ambience is informal; guests dress casually throughout the week-long program, which begins every Saturday.

Each fitness week offers as many as eighty activities. The early-morning hike and exercise program form the cornerstone of the Rancho. There are ten options, including the early-bird hikes, two 6:30 a.m. hikes, and a meadow hike at 7:00 a.m. It’s best to view this as a progressive week. Guests are encouraged to start at their own level and participate gradually in more challenging choices. Many fitness classes are scheduled for the morning so that by lunch you can pat yourself on the back for having already participated. Among those from which to choose are aerobics, power walking, and weight-training. After lunch, it is time to relax with a massage, herbal wrap, facial, or the latest on the massage menu, called the Hot Stone. The new Health Center features spacious treatment rooms, original art, an immaculate locker room, and well-trained therapists.

Guests congregate in the main lounge to sign up for their favorite activities, ranging from an hour with Grandfather Raven (a Native American who talks about casting bones and stones) to the 4-mile vegetable garden breakfast hike, both offered once a week.

The unique accommodations are scattered throughout the property. Rancho La Puerta seems immense at first, but every structure is well lit and signed (although new guests still ask directions the first few days). The villa studios and suites, in a lush garden setting, are at the high end of the price range; they include in-room breakfast service in the winter and poolside breakfast service in the summer. The rancheras and haciendas are designed in Mexican colonial style and, in keeping with all of the buildings, are accented with local arts and crafts. There are single accommodations in this category.

Rancho la Puerta has a loyal following. You might meet guests who’ve been here twenty times or more (they’re recognized at the final dinner). The spa glow seen on the Rancho’s guests stems from a harmonious flow of activities, healthy dining, and the upbeat attitude of a caring staff.

Accommodations: Cottages (rancheras and haciendas) with studio bedrooms, private patios and gardens. Villa studios and villa suites are cottages in a parklike garden setting with nearby swimming pool and hot tub; all have fireplaces.

Meals: All meals and snacks are included. Fresh fish twice daily, vegetarian dishes, plenty of greens, legumes, whole grains and other fibers, little fat or salt, and no white flour or refined sugar.

Facilities: The spa offers a comprehensive hiking program on 3,000 acres of rolling, natural terrain; seventy fitness classes; spiritually focused classes in meditation, tai chi, yoga, and more; tennis; volleyball; basketball; gyms; swimming pools; men’s and women’s health centers with steam rooms, whirlpools, and saunas.

Services & Special Programs: Garden tours and cooking demonstrations; men’s fitness program; Pilates; evening programs and movies; couples weeks. Regular services include Hot Stone massage; water massage; salt glows; herbal, seaweed, and aromatherapy wraps; reflexology; facials; beauty salon sen/ices; tennis lessons; craft classes.

Getting There: Charter buses operate on Saturdays to and from the San Diego Airport at no charge. If you do not wish to take the bus, other arrangements can be made.

What’s Nearby: Beyond its natural setting at the foot of Mount Kuchumaa, sightseeing from Rancho la Puerta is limited to nearby Tecate or other Baja towns. San Diego is only forty-five minutes away; Tijuana is thirty minutes.