After 40 years at the forefront of the health and holistic wellness realm, the words Canyon Ranch have become synonymous with stunningly beautiful exurban retreats that offer a chance to get healthy — and stay healthy — in an atmosphere of casual elegance.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit four Ranches in the United States, and I am now more than convinced that this brand excels in what they do. Whether it’s a guided walk through the California redwoods (forest bathing), highly tailored nutritional programs, or sessions offered by guest lecturers on how to breathe with purpose, the Canyon Ranch quality is exalted. Yet the vibe is chill, the results lingering.
On a cool morning last autumn, I set off with my friend Rosemary for Canyon Ranch Woodside, its newest iteration, in a remote, forested region about 35 miles from San Francisco. The volume of traffic dwindled as we neared our destination; soon there were no other cars on the road. We already felt calmer.
At its entrance, we were met by an arresting, eight-foot-tall sculpture carved from old growth redwood. Titled “The Void,” it was created by artist Bruce Johnson and available for sale with a price tag of $55,000. We were to become quite familiar with this landmark that represents the kind of transformative experience you can expect here. It also serves as a handy meeting point for many of the nature hikes at Woodside.
One such hike, Explore the Redwoods, was a guided walk through the property’s thick grove of magnificent trees beyond our treehouse guestroom. Among them, we were encouraged to s-l-o-w down and savor the sights and smells of nature. Along the way, we learned a lot about native plants such as nettle, bay laurel and clover. We picked, sniffed and tasted a few leaves.
Post-hike, we found a culinary “pop-up” on property and restored ourselves with a trio of crispy toasts: one doused with McEvoy olive oil from Petaluma, one with a schmear of fig jam, and a third with tomato jam topped with a sprig of fresh-picked sorrel.
Fun fact: Canyon Ranch Woodside is the only brand property that serves alcohol. Each farm-to-table meal we enjoyed there came with the option of ordering local wine by the bottle.
Later, I sat in on a class with on-site expert Sandy Abrams, author of “Breathe to Succeed,” whose simple techniques for accessing energy and managing emotions through breathing left me mellow. And a class on gratitude taught me how to focus on positivity in life, which can benefit the physical (lowered blood pressure), the psychological (resilience to stress) and the social (decreased loneliness).
Life-altering changes are Canyon Ranch’s stock in trade, and in my case, their life and career coaches helped me recognize possibilities I never considered.
Early this year, I made the decision to leave my five-year home in Napa Valley and head east for better career opportunities. I packed my belongings, and with my dog Freddie as my companion, drove toward Arizona to visit family friends.
Feeling I deserved a restorative break and hearing that Canyon Ranch Tucson was extremely pet-friendly, I was able to arrange a visit to this sprawling property in the Sonoran Desert. This Canyon Ranch is the flagship property, set in the Santa Catalina Mountains.
My itinerary was tailored to boost my immune system (perfect for one traveling cross country during a pandemic), create an on-the-road fitness plan, and build an arsenal of tips on how to eat healthfully while driving five to seven hours a day. I also took advantage of the signature Canyon Ranch massage; my cramped up back and hips said “thank you.”
Canyon Ranch’s Tucson, Lenox and Woodside locations offer seven new pathways, depending on one’s specific needs and goals, including one on attaining optimal health in body and mind and another focused on outdoor activities. For anyone healing from trauma, there’s a pathway for that, too.
Charlene Peters is a travel writer and author of “Travel Makes Me Hungry: Tales of Tastes & Indigenous Recipes to Share,” available on Amazon.