Malibu’s Most Exclusive, Butt-Kicking Spa Is Coming East

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You will wake up at 5:30 a.m. and stretch for 30 minutes. You will eat something vegan and organic for breakfast followed by an hourslong hike on which you will hear words like “verticality.” If you need a snack, you will get six almonds. Not seven — don’t be gluttonous.

In the afternoon, you will take a cold plunge, dunking yourself in water cooled to a painful 55 degrees. The throbbing in your body is not a hangover — there is no alcohol — it’s from the 10 miles you hiked yesterday, or it could be the 12 you hiked the day before. Or maybe it’s the 1,400 calories a day allotted. For all this, you will pay thousands of dollars.

This is luxury wellness in 2024. Some destination spas and high-end retreats are more akin to Navy SEAL prep — or at the very least, basic training — than five-star resorts.

The standard-bearer of this group is the Ranch, 200 acres of nature and trails in the Santa Monica Mountains of Malibu, Calif. For 14 years, the Ranch has been helping 25 people at a time destress, detox and generally rid themselves of the anxieties of life.

“It’s not like any other place,” said Gillian Steel, 69, who sits on the board of the New-York Historical Society and has been to the Ranch nine times. The Ranch, she said, “isn’t just a week-away experience. They manage to be both stylish while pushing you. You meet the most interesting people and get a week to yourself at the same time.”

In late April, the Ranch will open a second property, this time in the Hudson Valley of New York.

“For years, our guests kept saying, ‘Please open something on the East Coast,’” said Susan Glasscock, who owns the Ranch with her husband, Alex, both 60. “We kicked the idea around for a long time.”

They eventually found a lakeside estate on 200 acres of forests and trails flanked by state parks near the New Jersey border in the town of Sloatsburg, N.Y. The house, a 40,000-square-foot stone mansion previously known as Table Rock estate, was built in 1902 by J.P. Morgan. (It was a wedding present to his daughter and new son-in-law, the great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton, and was later owned by an order of nuns.)

“It’s an hour from Manhattan, which is just crazy to me,” said Ms. Glasscock.

I met the Glasscocks for lunch at their home at the Ranch Malibu. In the foreground, three bowls of warm cabbage soup, topped with crispy kale and microgreens. In the background was the entirety of the Santa Monica Mountains, and just beyond, a glimmering streak of the Pacific. It was hard not to feel healthier, calmer and more sustainable just being there.

“We don’t think of ourselves as a spa — we never have,” said Mr. Glasscock. “To be honest, I don’t like the word wellness.” Before opening the Ranch, the couple bought and remodeled houses and designed gardens.

The natural world — both in Southern California and the Hudson Valley — is the most important amenity at the Ranch. “Nothing we do is trendy,” said Ms. Glasscock. “The point is that you’re in nature. You’re eating food from the garden, you’re drinking more water, you’re sleeping more, you’re taking time off your devices. And you’re playing.”

Play, she said, is a proven aid to longevity and something adults don’t do enough. At the new location, a hill in the backyard will give guests a chance to go sledding in the winter. “The Ranch is basically like camp for grown-ups,” she said.

But grown-up camp doesn’t come cheap. The Ranch Malibu has a six-night, seven-day minimum and can cost more than $9,000 a week, depending on the package. The price of a stay at the Ranch Hudson Valley will range from $2,575 per person (three nights, double occupancy, low season) to $6,900 per person (four nights, single occupancy, high season). With high prices comes exclusivity.

“It’s hard,” said Mr. Glasscock. Part of the impetus for opening in the Hudson Valley, he said, was to give people the option to come for three days. “Obviously, that lowers the cost, and still gives people time to reconnect to nature.”

As wellness has gone mainstream, places like the Ranch have played a pivotal role in changing the definition of destination spas.

“In the U.S. in the last 10 or 20 years, destination spas were focused on weight loss and fixing bad habits like alcohol, coffee, smoking and eating too much meat and sugar,” said Linda Wells, the founding editor of Allure magazine and the editor of Air Mail Look, a beauty and wellness newsletter (to which I have contributed). “But the experience boiled down to getting weighed and measured on Day 1 and again on departure day, with a report card of pounds and inches lost at the end. Weight loss and flat abs were the goal, not health — and definitely not longevity.”

But wellness evolved. Even in light of recent controversies, one of the most popular podcasts on Spotify is still “Huberman Lab,” in which a Stanford University neurobiologist discusses cold exposure, sleep hygiene and circadian rhythms. And an increasing number of spas offer an array of high-tech, often medicalized programs.

Other pricey destination spas also take the boot camp approach. There is Golden Door in California, Mii Amo in Arizona, and Miraval and Canyon Ranch, both of which have several outposts. All of these combine spa treatments, exercise programs, special diets and the promise of resetting to a healthier lifestyle. But the Ranch is singular in its simplicity. There are vegan cooking classes, energy healing sessions and infrared saunas, but don’t expect Botox or filler injections.

“I’m not against those things,” said Ms. Glasscock. “It’s just not in our ethos.”

The Ranch is also extremely luxurious and deliberately communal. Arrival and departure dates are set according to weekly packages, so guests see the same faces for a week. Activities — including the daily hikes — are done as a group. And there is only one dining table, so you eat all meals with the rest of the guests.

“I was expecting meditation, heads down, keep to yourself, but it’s not that at all,” said Jillian Spaak, the director of a real estate investment company who lives in Southern California and first went to the Ranch 10 years ago when she was getting divorced. “You’re communing with other people, you’re hiking together, and you’re all eating meals at the same table. You go through peaks and valleys — literally — and you’re all there for the same reason: to feel better, to look better, to be better. ”

“We want to take what we consider the important aspects of health, wellness and longevity and immerse everyone in all of them for a week or three days,” said Ms. Glasscock. “Most people want a silver bullet, but there is no such thing.”


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