The trail rises above exposed roots between moss-covered limestone. The sun stains the path through the oaks and beeches. In a high meadow, a small blue butterfly twirls between yellow and white and purple wildflowers. A light breeze cools my hot skin. All is well, very well. Except I’m hungry.
I came to Italy to hike, eat good food, maybe think while being pampered and, somewhat incongruously for an Italian vacation, maybe lose a few pounds.
For more than a decade, the ranch in Malibu, California, is dedicated to reconnecting its guests to themselves and to nature in equal measure. With a regimen of daily four-hour hikes, exercise classes, massages, yoga and a plant-based diet, people walk away tuned and slimmed down. And now the Ranch is branching out. In Italy. (A third ranch is slated to open in New York’s Hudson Valley next year.) While the Mothership exists in a world of its own on a sprawling, self-contained campus perched high above the Pacific, the Italian version s ‘fits into the 102-room Palazzo Fiuggi, a 50-minute drive from Rome, in that eponymous city known for its restorative springs.
I am met by Eduardo. Quick with a knowing nod, he embodies the hotel’s remarkable blend of opulence and quietly understood need for discretion. “At the hotel, we deal largely with Russian business,” he purrs. “At least we did, until the war.” My well-appointed room faces the old quarter of Fiuggi – the houses tumble down the hill outside my window. “Enjoy the Ranch experience, and if there is anything we at the hotel can do…” Eduardo almost bows.
Down in the corner of the Palace Ranch, I find Americans, Europeans, a few Canadians and a contingent of Saudis gathered together. Many are Malibu Ranch veterans (the spa has a return rate of over 50%). Over the next week, the 23 of us will be eating three meals a day, hiking, and taking classes together. My fear of such enforced intimacy quickly dissipates as those seeking their own space are left adrift, while the more sociable gravitate – every posture is equally welcome. An avid hiker and lover of Italy, but neither a “spa junkie” nor a vegetarian, I start the week with cautious optimism.
The focus of the day is the morning hike. After a 6-hour stretching class, followed by a small bowl of homemade granola and almond milk, we’re on the trail. It helps that the ranch has the Apennine mountains to walk on. Every morning a different route takes us through beech forests to viewpoints with names such as Porta del Paradiso, or over Roman bridges and along the banks of Fiume Aniene, or along the ancient pilgrimage route Cammino di San Benedetto, before we were handed cool lavender-infused towels to wick away the Italian sweat.
While the cross-cultural experience sometimes struggles to accommodate, as when New Age phrases perhaps better suited to Southern California DNA are forced upon an Italian sensibility, the program works best when it is gives way to both the conscious, health-conscious precision of the Ranch’s trademark and the Italian dedication to la dolce vita. The green minestrone soup tastes as satisfying as it is clean, and the beet stuffed buckwheat ravioli is as flavorful as it is light.
It takes me all week to get through the palace’s three pools, the salt room (when I ask, I’m told it’s to treat inflammation), the infrared sauna (for even more inflammation), the steam room and dry sauna, multiple plunge pools, hydrotherapy and thalassotherapy pools, without even having time to consider the many personal services offered at the spa aside from my daily afternoon massage.
After dinner on my last evening, I walk through the palace gates, down the hill, and into town. Italians chat in the streets and sip digestives at sidewalk cafes under the cypress trees while the kids orbit. An accordion is playing somewhere. In a Belle Époque restaurant, its doors open to the night, I give in to temptation and indulge in the best ice cream of my life before heading back up the hill, barely feeling like a tipsy teenager sneaking past curfew. .
The feeling of cultural boost brought about by the particular hybrid of Southern California conscious-health-chic amid Italian laissez-faire culture, while swaddled in a Russian-flavored indulgence, never wanes. never quite, but Ranch Italy keeps its promises. to promise. Most clients lose between 3-6% of their body weight during a one week stay, and I walk away at the end of mine five pounds lighter. Try saying that about any other trip to Italy. From $9,100 per person for a week