“C’mon, Vancouver,” shouted a fellow cyclist in the 8am spin class at the Rancho Valencia Resort. “We’re climbing the Canadian Rockies!”
“No, wait,” I gasped, struggling to keep pace with the serious spinners around me. “I live on the coast, where…it’s…flat!”
When I booked a 24-hour escape at the posh Rancho Valencia Resort, 25 miles north of San Diego, little did I know that I was in for a hardcore fitness getaway.
Fortunately, I was able to temper my intense exercise odyssey with some equally intense pampering. The luxurious hacienda-style resort has a staff-to-guest ratio of 4 to 1, so there’s always a staff member on hand to cater to your whims, whether to shuttle you around the 40-acre property or arrange for a perfect massage.
Fitness and Spa Facilities
My fitness adventure started with a “gentle yoga” class, in the stunning Zen-like yoga pavilion, surrounded by a rock-lined pool lit with twinkling lights. The 60-minute session was a good workout, although the only thing “gentle” about it was the instructor’s soothing voice, as he softly but insistently coaxed us through repeated sequences of downward dog, plank pose, and the push-up-like chaturanga dandasana.
My triceps were still tingling the next morning when I ventured into spin class. I hid in the back, pedaling as hard as I could, trying to draw strength from the obvious enthusiasm of the instructor and the other participants, many of whom were clearly regulars. Definitely challenging (at least for this baby boomer), but definitely fun.
Had I not expended all my energy on the faux-Rockies climb, I could have chosen from a variety of other exercise classes, from zumba to pilates to an outdoor fitness circuit. Fitness classes are included in the room rates.
The resort also excels in its tennis facilities, with 18 courts and several tennis-specific fitness classes. Staff will match you up with a partner, if you’re not traveling with your own.
I’m not a tennis player, so after my spin class, I gave in to my fatigued muscles with an ever-so-relaxing 60-minute Swedish massage in the spa (one of the best I’ve ever had), which I followed with a sauna and a short soak in the outdoor hot tub. If I’d had more strength, I’d have gone for a swim in one of the two heated pools, one in the spa area and the other surrounded by greenery amidst the guest villas.
Guest Rooms and Amenities
In between fitness classes and unwinding at the spa, I wandered the tree-lined paths back to my room — although the word “room” doesn’t do justice to my vast accommodations.
Rancho Valencia Resort has 49 rooms in spacious villas clustered around the property. My huge one-bedroom unit — measuring more than 1,000 square feet — had soaring ceilings, a comfortable couch by the fireplace, and a private patio with a hot tub. I refueled with a refreshing sparkling pomegranate juice — in-room soft drinks and snacks are complimentary — and in the morning, I lounged in my Frette bathrobe, alternately sipping fresh-squeezed orange juice (delivered to your villa with your choice of daily newspaper) and a delectably bitter espresso that I made with the Illy Cafe machine.
In the bedroom, the dark Southwestern-style wood furnishings included a plush king-sized bed topped with sumptuously smooth sheets, with individual reading lamps on both sides. I didn’t test out the wall-mounted flat-screen TV or the Bose CD player, but the complimentary Wi-Fi worked well.
As enormous as the rest of the suite was, the bathroom was almost more impressive — certainly the largest I’ve seen in a hotel room. Its centerpiece was a capacious glass-enclosed shower, which sits next to a whirlpool tub (sadly, sizeable enough only for solo soaking).
You won’t have to fight with your partner for grooming space, though, with the wall-to-wall counter that included two sinks with a vanity in between. The separate dressing area had ample hanging and shelf space for all your clothes and workout gear.
Another separate nook housed one of my most appreciated amenities: a high-tech, heated-seat toilet, with a sensor that detects your presence and automatically opens the lid!
Rancho Valencia’s flagship restaurant had been somewhat sarcastically known as “Grandma’s Dining Room” (in fact, San Diego Magazine critic Troy Johnson structured his review of the revamped eatery as a letter to his grandmother — “I know change is hard, Grandma. I know you loved the old restaurant….”). But there’s nothing stodgy about the new Veladora, a contemporary dining space that features an original Damien Hirst artwork made of brightly hued butterfly wings.
Of the dishes I sampled at Veladora, one of my favorites was a vegetarian option: the unusual cheese-filled artichoke cannelloni. The lobster risotto (another rich dish best shared) looked like an erupting volcano, with black truffle foam flowing over the seafood-studded rice. I found the octopus carpaccio flavorful if slightly mushy; a more successful dish was the simple pan-roasted ling cod livened up with fresh peas and wild mushrooms.
Dinner mains at Veladora range from $22-42. For drinks and lighter meals, you can pop into the more casual Pony Room, with a terrace overlooking the croquet lawn.
In the morning, Veladora serves an ample breakfast buffet as well as California “health” cuisine. You can start your day with a fruit and vegetable cocktail, like the brilliant green “Wellness Journey” (a blend of kale, celery, and apple), or an acai breakfast bowl where granola and fresh fruits top a purple puree of acai berries; although mine was a touch too frosty, it was otherwise refreshingly addictive — like a crunchy smoothie in a bowl.
Location and Pricing
If you’re looking for a seaside idyll, with crashing surf and ocean views, Rancho Valencia isn’t it. The resort is located several miles inland in the upscale San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe.
But at such a deluxe property, the location is almost irrelevant. Most guests seem to stay on site, taking exercise classes, playing tennis, indulging in a spa treatment or a cocktail, or simply holing up in the magnificent casitas.
As for the prices, the old cliché, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” applies at Rancho Valencia, where double room rates range from $675-1,175 per night (and creep even higher during the July-August peak season).
Still, for a deluxe getaway combining serious fitness and concentrated cosseting at the spa, in the dining room, and in the plush villas, Rancho Valencia delivers.
And if you can’t yet climb the Canadian Rockies, no worries. Here, in the rolling hills outside San Diego, the well-trained staff — and even the high-tech plumbing — anticipate your every need.
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the new travel guide, Moon Handbooks: Ontario. Photos courtesy of the resort. Rancho Valencia hosted my stay for review purposes.