It’s a magnificently sunny Sunday in October, on the eve of the second presidential debate. One can feel the tension mounting and the news increasingly hunting for more turmoil, especially with the severe storms on the east coast. With unrelenting fever, the pressure is on and many of us are feeling the impending doom. Some of us are also experiencing a feeling of excitement in the air, a certain knowing that if we can seek out the beauty, the grace, the gratitude in the simple things, everything else will somehow be alright.
“The simple everyday experiences become the doorway to new thoughts and inspirations.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri
As a last minute gift to myself I accepted an invitation to visit the Golden Door Spa, a sacred sanctuary in southern California. Part destination spa resort, part Japanese temple/monastery, part otherworldly, a place that has maintained it’s pristine nature for almost fifty years. After traveling on a meandering country road, I arrived at the secret entrance to a far away place, where I was beckoned to enter through the Golden Doors. After several tumultuous months of uncertainty, experiencing another life quake, I decided that the minute I entered the doors of this zen-retreat, I would let go and leave the rest of the world behind!
Labyrinth Photo by Jessica Sample
An immediate sense of peace and tranquility drizzled over me, as I stepped through the threshold into the secluded setting, inspired by an authentic Japanese honjin inn (which is a series of buildings).
It has always attracted the uber rich, successful and famous who frequented the serene setting and indulged in spa cuisine, body wraps and strenuous exercise. It still maintains it’s purity, as a sacred refuge from the outside world. It feels like you are entering into an authentic traditional village, with a bathhouse, Japanese gardens, a bamboo forest, labyrinths, koi ponds and a significant collection of Asian art (acquired over the years by the founder and spa diva Deborah Szekely.) Notables who have also crossed the threshold into this enchanted place were Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Burt Lancaster and others. These Hollywood icons found their bliss while getting into shape between film roles. Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, Nicole Kidman and Barbra Streisand can be found chilling out while discreet fellow guests respect their privacy.
“The moment you enter through the golden doors, cross the yatsuhashi inspired footbridge and release your cares at the turn, you will be nurtured, guided and transformed in our legendary, all-inclusive, 5- or 7-day body and mind program.”
In recent years, the spa industry has become more corporate and sophisticated. When new owners came onboard, this unpretentious hallow ground has had to step up and become au courant with the other spa movers and shakers. By expanding the property, revitalizing the orange grove and bamboo forest and by utilizing the natural resources, each guest becomes enveloped into the specialness of this sacred land. The exciting changes by the new owners including the renovations, and new GM, Kathy Van Ness at the helm, (former fashion biz wiz), The Golden Door has taken a step ‘back to the future’. The newly restored rooms were upgraded and are back to some of their original furnishings while retaining the utmost serenity.
The latest trend in spas is becoming more eco-friendly, sustainable and green. The land has been revitalized with a transplanted olive orchard, new chickens for fresh eggs, a 3,000-square-foot computerized greenhouse and five biodynamic culinary, floral and herb gardens.
Jeff Dawson is the director of a new lands and farms division who previously created biodynamic gardens for Apple founder Steve Jobs. “Produce includes fruits and vegetables in multiple varieties (there are 50 types of tomatoes) and herbs such as lemon verbena and lavender that are mixed into fresh spa scrubs and a newly formulated, locally produced Golden Door skin-care and beauty line.”
Photo:Jessica Sample-bamboo grove
This idyllic setting, with perfect weather today, and a smooth as silk breeze is just what the doctor ordered. The new guests from all over the world are immediately struck by the essence of beauty through simplicity and can detox immediately from their hectic travel encounters.
Although mostly women grace these sacred pathways, many men have become addicts too!
“Jim Pedas, a film producer and former movie theater owner, has visited the Golden Door 115 times since 1979. “I was a spa-hopper until I settled down there,” he said. “It is very special because of the spirit that Deborah ingrained in the place, and that basic spirit has not changed. Opening those golden doors is like entering the doors of paradise. Suddenly I feel very, very calm.”
My Immediate Experience Journal:
1. After the first 24 hours there was a notable release of stress. The property is sacred land, there is a feeling of safety, surrounded by the lush green Japanese landscape design mixed with the minimalist furnishings.
2. Noticing the water features and the FENG SHUI alignments which create a sacred space.
3. After the first night of almost complete silence, early to bed in my huge room with rice paper sliding shades and two opposite walls of windows, sliding glass doors, the slumber was deeper, the top quality sheets and mattress enveloped me like a cloud floating through the heavens.
4.The first full day flowed with ease and comfort. Beginning with a moderate walk in nature with my private trainer, I immediately felt comforted and released tensions. Then walking through the bamboo grove, it was apparent that this hallow land bathed me in a shower of tranquility. The arching of the bamboo stalks and leaves creating a tunnel of nurturing energy, soothed my soul from the daily onslaught of negative fears, worries and survival issues.
5. Meeting and communing with a few fellow feminine travelers on the path to self-mastery and discovery brightened my path. Meeting up in classes, sharing energized movements and new body awareness, strangers become at once new friends. Lingering over lunch, letting go of time constraints and hectic schedules allowed for more sharing and intimate life lessons.
Bathouse courtesy Jessica Sample
6. In a nutshell-the daily flow of activities, from breakfast in bed, to early morning hikes, yoga to snacks, a variety of fun classes, gourmet lunch with new friends, and more classes, private trainer, snack, facial, massage in room, meeting up for hors d’oeuvres in Kimono, then another delicious gourmet meal and traditional walk to the main entrance after dinner, evening activity and early to bed, early to rise. The days just flew by too quickly.
7.The spa menu is filled with the finest luxury pampering, including many a la carte specialties.
8. Must try- Astrology Reading with Alex Bunshaft, who is not only right on target with your chart, but so entertaining, fun and uplifting, you will gain much encouragement from a private session.
9.The gourmet health food is a feast for the eyes and the mouth, with the freshest produce from the garden or local fare. Artfully presented, delicious and nutritious, you can eat as much as you want and still lose weight!
10.The staff and service are beyond 5 Star. The key to this experience is the bespoke attention, and each guest is catered to according to their needs and wishes. Each one is treated like a Queen (or King) for a Week!
Don’t forget that even macho guys love it here, too!