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Taking the First Step

Spend a week at The Ranch, a medical wellness retreat in Italy and Malibu, and you may well return a changed person. 

Palazzo Fiuggi, home of The Ranch Italy

“Good-morning Tara, it’s time to wake up,” a dulcet voice speaks softly from the end of the phone. It’s 6am and I’ve been awoken, deeply refreshed, from the sleep of the dead, in a bed so comfortable I may struggle to ever leave.

It’s my third morning at The Ranch, a high-octane luxury health, fitness and wellness bootcamp with a cult following and a 50 percent return-client ratio; in certain circles, it is a sacred annual pilgrimage.

Ten years ago, The Ranch opened its doors in Malibu, California, the vision of husband-and-wife team Alex and Sue Glasscock. The darling of burned-out C-suite executives, as well as celebrities prepping for the red carpet, its client roster reads like a society who’s who. With a price tag of £10,000 a week, The Ranch’s enduring appeal lies in its attention to detail. The Glasscocks - themselves health and fitness afficionados, with a shared goal to live to “at least 110”, have honed every aspect of what takes place at The Ranch. Even down to the mandatory 6am wake-up call. 

Alex Glasscock, co-founder of The Ranch

“We usually ask that you say ‘good morning’ back,” laughs Alex Glasscock, dialled in from his Maryland home where he is preparing to host Thanksgiving. “We wanted it to feel a bit like being woken up gently as a child by a loving parent; it’s the human connection of which we’re very conscious of.”

Last year The Ranch opened its first outpost outside of its Malibu flagship, in the mountains of Fiuggi, close to Rome. Situated on an ancient hilltop in the grounds of a stunning Art Nouveau hotel called Palazzo Fiuggi — built in 1913 as the grandest hotel in Europe — indeed, it was the first hotel with a swimming pool on the continent. But the region’s history as a health location goes way beyond the hotel, back six centuries, famous due to its cleansing waters that flow down through the mineral rocks and chestnut trees of the Apennine mountains, said to have cured the kidney stones of Pope Boniface VIII and Michelangelo.

“We love Italy, we honeymooned there,” says Alex. “With the historical healing properties of the water and the year-round hiking, we feel like we’re part of Fiuggi’s revitalisation story.”

Medical doctors at The Ranch

The Glasscocks’ journey began, like so many, because they couldn’t find the retreat they wanted. “We would go on vacation to relax and find a 200-page manual for the spa; you would practically require a spreadsheet to organise your schedule. It would be frustrating and take the spontaneity out of it,” says Alex. What they wanted was a relaxing experience that was perfectly choreographed that they could leave, feeling better, lighter, refreshed mentally and physically. So, they decided to create it. 

The Ranch programme is not for the faint-hearted. Attendees follow a 1,400-calorie-a-day vegan diet, omitting the inflammatory and acidic ingredients of gluten, soy, caffeine and sugar, and certainly alcohol. The day begins at 6am (in summer, 5.30am), followed by a stretch class at 6.30am, breakfast at 7am, then it’s normally out the door by 7.30am to begin a four-hour, 10-12-mile daily hike through Italy’s gorgeous Apennine mountains. 

Lunch is at 1pm. Then it’s one of the highlights: a delicious deep-tissue massage, followed by optional fitness class and yoga, then dinner at 7pm. Lights out is encouraged by 9pm.  

Thalasso therapy at the spa (c) Tyson Sadlo/Herd Represented

Knowing that the structure of the day has been taken care of is surprisingly liberating. “Relinquish responsibility” is one of The Ranch’s values; all of which are printed large; Desiderata-like, on the wall of the fitness room. As my third day hones into view, I admit it feels really, really good to relinquish responsibility. Doing so allows me to clear all the usual mindless chaos from my brain: like where I need to be, where children need to be, what I want for dinner, and so on. Instead, on our four-hour hikes, and in between, I get to do some actual thinking about bigger-picture matters, something I rarely seem to do these days.

And somehow the structure allows for a better appreciation of the great beauty of the hikes, the gorgeousness of the spa and the hotel. Except for nibbling goats and ponies, and one very curious cat, we don’t see another soul on our hikes. The hillsides are ablaze with vivid reds, golds and yellows, the early-morning mists rising magically over the mountains as we begin our hikes. Led by experienced guides and marked along the way with flags, each guest is given a walkie-talkie in the very remote case they get lost.

Lentil salad (c) Martino Dini/Herd Represented

And as for the food, it is warming and hearty, like a big hug, and we rarely feel hungry despite the calorie deficit. On our first dinner, the lovely Ranch representative Olivia puts a bowl of iceberg lettuce in front of us, with a drizzle of olive oil. She laughs at our aghast faces. “Don’t worry, this is just the starter,” she laughs, and sure enough, a substantial and delicious ‘pizza’ on a cauliflower base is to follow.

I am taking part in the Ranch's four day program, and while four days might not seem long enough to institute real change, the plan extends much further. A month before I am due to start the retreat, an email pops into my inbox from The Ranch team with a step-by-step preparation programme. It’s pretty specific, with a week-by-week plan to eliminate all caffeine, sugar and alcohol from my diet and get my daily steps up to 20,000 by the week before we leave. I fail miserably at prepping and find the first day without caffeine very tough, with a feeling akin to jet-lag all day. But by the second day I am buzzing with non-caffeinated energy.

On the day of our departure, we are invited to write a letter to ourselves with a self-addressed envelope, that in six months’ time The Ranch will send out. It’s a way of holding ourselves accountable, maintaining good intentions and, hopefully, a reminder to block out the noise, cherish mental space and, most importantly, enjoy the ride.

This article originally appeared in Billionaire's Healing Issue. To subscribe contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.