Robb Report Singapore

Malibu Meets Italia


The trail gains elevation over exposed roots between moss-covered limestone. Sun dapples the way through oak and beech trees. In a high meadow, a small blue butterfly flitters between yellow, white and purple wildflower­s. A faint breeze cools my hot skin. All is well, very well. Except I’m hungry.

I’ve come to Italy to hike, eat good food, perhaps engage in some reflection while being pampered, and – incongruou­sly enough for an Italian vacation – maybe lose a few kilograms.

For more than a decade, The Ranch in Malibu, California, has been dedicated to reconnecti­ng its guests to themselves and nature in equal measure. With a regime of four-hour daily hikes, exercise classes, massage, yoga and a plant-based diet, folks leave tuned up and slimmed down. And now The Ranch is branching out. To Italy. (A third Ranch is set to open in New York’s Hudson Valley next year.) While the mothership exists in a world of its own on an expansive, self-contained campus above the Pacific, the Italian version embeds itself in the 102-room Palazzo Fiuggi, a 50-minute drive from Rome in this eponymous hill town known for its restorativ­e springs.

I’m met by Eduardo. Quick with a knowing nod, he embodies the hotel’s conspicuou­s mix of opulence and silently understood need for discretion. “We at the hotel cater largely to a Russian trade,” he purrs. “At least we did, until the war.” My well-resourced room faces the old quarter of Fiuggi – houses tumble down the hill outside my window. “Enjoy The Ranch experience, and if there’s anything we at the hotel can do...” Eduardo almost bows.

Down in The Ranch’s corner of the palazzo, I find Americans, Europeans, a few Canadians and a contingent of Saudis gathered. Several are Ranch Malibu veterans (the spa boasts a more than 50 per cent return rate). Over the next week (from US$9,100 per person), the 23 of us will eat three meals a day, hike and take classes together. My dread of such enforced intimacy is quickly diffused as those seeking their own space are left to drift, while the more sociable gravitate – each posture equally welcome. An avid hiker and lover of Italy, but neither a ‘spa junkie’ nor a vegetarian, I enter the week with cautious optimism.

The focal point of the day is the morning hike. After a six o’clock stretch class, followed by a petite bowl of homemade granola and almond milk, we’re on the trail. It helps that The Ranch has the Apennine Mountains over which to

tramp. Each morning a different route takes us through beech forests to high lookouts with names such as Porta del Paradiso, or over Roman bridges and along the banks of the Fiume Aniene, or down the ancient Cammino di San Benedetto pilgrimage path, before we’re handed cool, lavender-infused towels to wipe off that Italian perspirati­on.

While the cross-cultural experience occasional­ly strains to fit, as when New Age phrases perhaps better suited to the Southern California DNA are imposed on an Italian sensibilit­y, the programme works best when room is made for both The Ranch’s trademark mindful, health-conscious precision and the Italian dedication to la dolce vita. The green minestrone soup tastes as satisfying as it does clean, and the beetroot-filled buckwheat ravioli is as flavourful as it is light.

It takes me all week to make it through the palazzo’s three swimming pools, salt room (when I ask, I’m told it’s for treating inflammati­on), infrared sauna (for yet more inflammati­on), steam room and dry sauna, multiple plunge pools, hydrothera­py and thalasso pools, without time to even consider the scores of personal services on offer at the spa apart from my daily afternoon massage.

After dinner on my final evening, I slip out the gates of the palazzo, down the hill and into town. The Italians are chatting on the street and sipping digestifs at outdoor cafes under cypress trees while children orbit. An accordion plays somewhere. At a belle epoque restaurant, its doors thrown open to the night, I yield to temptation and indulge in the best gelato of my life before climbing back up the hill, feeling only marginally like a tipsy teen sneaking in after curfew.

The sensation of cultural whiplash brought on by the peculiar hybrid of Southern California mindful-healthchic set amid laissez-faire Italian hilltown culture, while being swaddled in Russian-flavoured indulgence, never quite subsides, but The Ranch Italy delivers on its promise. Most guests lose between three and six per cent of their body weight during a week’s stay, and I walk away at the end of mine 2.3kg lighter.

Try saying that about any other trip to Italy.

A therapy neophyte, I decide to examine a relationsh­ip that has badly frayed, perhaps beyond repair. Since I am a profession­al writer, Burroughs suggests on our second call that I jump to a later protocol and write a letter to this person – I’ll call them Alex – not with the intention of ever mailing it but as a means of excavating how Alex has hurt me. I spend the weekend mulling, trying to verbalise my bruised feelings.

On our next call, I read Burroughs my letter. “That’s excellent,” he says encouragin­gly. “There’s a lot to look at.” He then astutely notes that, while the assignment was to write a letter to Alex, “what’s striking is that the fourth word in” names Alex’s spouse, Jordan. We discuss how Jordan has become a wedge between Alex and me. He also calls me out for using “soft words” – “jerk,” “doormat” – which he dismisses as lazy. “Colloquial­ly, we know what you mean,” he says. “But we need to define the behaviours you’ve seen.” Noting that Jordan eats up most of the letter, Burroughs floats the idea of writing a second missive to them.

“I poke and prod,” Burroughs says. “It’s about getting to the rock bottom, the objective truth, about what happened to you.”

Only then, he says, can the client reach the goal: integratio­n, also known as “owning it”. Referencin­g the sexual abuse he endured as a child, he explains: “What integratin­g this means is accepting that we’re all houses made of brick and every single brick is essential to the structure. The sexual-abuse brick you want to take out, you don’t get to take out. We don’t get to alter the past in any way, shape or form, no matter how horrible. So we have to fully accept that yes, it happened. Then we have to own it, and by own it, I mean, ‘This has altered me. What new knowledge do I have? What gift do I have tucked away in the folds of trauma’?”

In my case, Burroughs says, I’d already instinctiv­ely found a way to “recycle” my hurt by teaching my daughters to cherish and prioritise each other and their relationsh­ip, which gave me a certain solace and even a bit of pride. In his case, that gift is developing this writing tool to help others. “I’m very good at being useful to people,” he says. “I could not care less about being an author now.”

 ?? ?? The Ranch’s signature activity is a four-hour morning hike. Here, a picturesqu­e stop in the Apennine Mountains.
The Ranch’s signature activity is a four-hour morning hike. Here, a picturesqu­e stop in the Apennine Mountains.

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