The word "spa" comes from the name of a small town in Belgium, famous since medieval times for its healing hot springs.
Rancho La Puerta may not have hot springs, but it's certainly healing, and hot enough for SpaFinder Magazine to call it the No. 1 spa in Mexico.
Just over the border in Tecate, the Ranch is 90 minutes away, but it feels like a whole other world. Since 1940, it's been promoting good food, good health and a good balance of exercise and relaxation. It's considered the original mind/body fitness spa.
The Ranch's motto "siempre mejor" - always better - must be working: two-thirds of its guests are returnees.
Stefania Pietraszek, mother of two teenagers, has been coming down from Santa Cruz for the past 12 years.
"It's such a soothing environment," she said. "I feel rejuvenated every time. I usually come with a girlfriend and get my annual facial and a few massages. I never have time for those things at home."
Though most of the guests are women, men also enjoy it. Arizonans Ira and Cheryle Hitzen-Gaines have been there 37 times since 1990.
"I think that's a record," she said.
"It's been a life-changing experience," her husband added.
That's what the folks on the staff have in mind. They call it "Bringing the Ranch Back Home."
Head nurse Barbara Abrahams, who went to work there 20 years ago and never left, said the Ranch empowers people.
Whether you're into nature, meditation, or what one guest called "aerobic talking," there's plenty to do on the Ranch's 3,000 acres.
From 9 to 5, there are at least six different classes every hour, led by top-of-the-line instructors: fitness, including stretch and strength training, Pilates, and cardio drumming; several styles of yoga and guided meditation; four swimming pools, sand volleyball, tango and tennis clinics; and every day, there's a different early morning hike - mellow woodlands walks or more challenging hikes up Mt. Kuchumaa, "exalted high place" of the Kumeyaay Indians. Not to mention day and evening lectures, arts and crafts, and special programs by often-famous presenters, plus a full menu of massages, facials, and exotic bodywork.
It's adult camp, with great meals and accommodations, gorgeous landscaping and gentle service.
"If you want to live and be well - and I do - this is the place," said Gayle Grant, a La Jolla artist.
The "semi-vegetarian" food is another big attraction. Much of it comes from the Ranch's six-acre organic garden. The newest feature is the Cocina Que Canta, a delightfully laid-back cooking school adjoining the garden, where you gather ingredients for your meal.
"Think of it as cooking with 13 of your closest friends," said chef Deborah Schneider.
And the results are delicious.
If you're not packing your bags yet, here's an added incentive. The Ranch is offering a pre-holiday special: three or four-night stays, including a massage and cooking class.
There's also a Girlfriends' Special: four friends for the price of three.
Don't miss the Breakfast Garden Hike, the Happy Hands & Feet Treatment, the Labyrinth, the sunset over Mt. Kuchamaa and the stars over your own casita.
More information: (877) 440-7781,
Every month, this column will feature some hotspot, near or far - a cool place to eat, meet and expand your horizons.