Rancho La Puerta: Ranch in Bloom


HERE AT RANCHO LA PUERTA in Tecate, Mexico — the only fitness resort I’ve ever been to, and the only one I ever care to go to — there’s no need to exercise that gratitude muscle I referred to in my last post. I’m exercising every other possible muscle, but the surroundings are so exceptionally beautiful that gratefulness for simply being here comes easy (that’s my casita, below).


This is my 10th visit to Rancho since 1989, but my first in spring. Now I wouldn’t know chapparal from sagebrush, but I do know that the hills surrounding the ranch, thoroughly explored on the early morning hikes that are the linchpin of the fitness program, have usually been dramatic but brown.


This time I am thrilled at the greenness and the abundance of wildflowers in the hills and the rustic outlying areas, as well as in the more central gardens surrounding the dining hall, gyms, pools, and guest cottages, most built from the 1980s onwards in vernacular Spanish Colonial style


I took it relatively easy the first day — only did four classes. I hiked, stretched, lifted, and tried Bar Method, which nearly did me in. It’s the hot thing in California, apparently (it promises you’ll become 5’9″, with the posture of a ballerina).


Aside from that, I’ve been mostly walking around open-mouthed, taking pictures of the monumental plantings: gargantuan agaves, entire beds of nothing but calla lilies, things we consider houseplants (geraniums, kalanchoe) and minor annuals (alyssum) used as bedding over vast areas, fragrant rosemary and sage as architectural shrubs, sheets of blanket flower and ice plant, pergolas laden with my formerly reviled wisteria, perfectly well-behaved and in its glory.


The current grand, sweeping design is mainly the work of Sarah Livia Brightwood, daughter of Deborah and Edmund Szekely, who founded the ranch in 1940 as a bring-your-own-tent operation. The gardens have matured a bit since I was here five years ago. The team of 22 gardeners is entirely on top of things, I’m glad to say: all is perfection to my eye.


Later in the week, after a Landscape Garden Walk and a Nature Walk, I’ll know more about what things are.


For now, I’m content to try to identify those things Baja California has in common with the Northeast. I even blew off Hula Hoop at 2:00 just to walk around and take it all in.


About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
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7 Responses to Rancho La Puerta: Ranch in Bloom

  1. Nancy says:

    Our house plants are their border filler. That always astonishes me about the southern climes. It looks so lovely. Now I get why you like it so much. Just looking at it centers me (g). Have a wonderful week!

  2. Astor C. says:

    Those gardens have to rank with some of the best. Amazing what the desert can birth… and that field of grape vines looks like it was painted.

  3. Harriet Bell says:

    Love the Ranch. But by midweek I’m itchy to go over the wall and walk around Tecate. For the best fish tacos, go to Mariscos Chemel. Try bakery El Mejor Pan de Tecate. Charlie says, “The ice cream place — I think it’s something like Palacio. After you leave Chemel, you walk down the hill to the main drag, cross the street, take a left and walk a few blocks. It’s the right — a brightly colored hand-painted sign, just before the town square park.”

  4. cara says:

    HB, that’s another trip entirely. I have gone into Tecate and discovered a great shop that sells nothing but pinatas, but for the most part, once I’m here I want to stay here!

  5. Debré says:

    I have no words for this beauty — only vocal utterances that mostly resemble moans. Thanks for sharing the pretty. Your photos really convey the spirit of the land.

  6. Ellen says:

    Are you coming home with any of those great rocks? Got pockets?
    And are you sure you don’t want some ice cream? Just a taste?

  7. Barbara says:

    Your Rancho pictures are stunning………A whole different vista in the spring…..

    It is so beautiful there….I started salivating……

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