Medical-grade wellness programmes have rippled into luxury travel destinations and resorts, but none of them does it quite like The Ranch. Coined by Michelle Obama as her ‘favourite fitness retreat’ The Ranch in Malibu, LA, has been a success to say the least, managing to bag A-Listers, including the ex-First Lady herself, as recurring clients.

The Ranch Italy has taken space at the decadent Palazzo Figgui, decked in 18th-century classical Italian charm. A far cry from formulaic medical settings, The Ranch has grasped that, yes, we want the best of the best when it comes to our health but we want it in style. Halting character and class, Palazzo Figgui has been operating as a hotelier since 1913 and still houses regular guests alongside The Ranch retreaters, albeit in its own separate space. The Palazzo is a quintessential hotel that specialises in medical wellness, so although The Ranchers are kept separately in communal areas, all the guests under the roof are there for aligned purposes. There’s no indulgent food or wine being ushered around to taunt you! 

It’s clear that The Ranch has set up shop in this specific venue for a multitude of reasons. Yes, it’s an incredibly lavish hotel, and yes there are ultra high-tech services at your disposal, but ultimately it’s what goes on outside the hotel that makes it so worthwhile, and technology nor grand interiors have a role to play here. Utilising the great outdoors, Figgui has endless hiking trails on its doorstep, making it the perfect match to align with The Ranch’s philosophy.

In a nutshell, The Ranch is a transformative wellbeing retreat with hiking at the heart of it. Founders, Alex and Sue Glasscock repurposed their acres of land in Malibu to curate this magic formula that we now know as The Ranch. The programme is cemented in the core values; to encourage Ranchers to go off-grid, disconnect from the outside world for a few days to reconnect with themselves, challenge themselves within their own limits, always give it their best shot, asking for help is not a sign of weakness and be mindful of how you’re feeling at every step of the way.

Pre-Ranch and I mean about 3 months prior, I received a detailed document, with a thorough packing list of hiking gear (none of which I owned) and a guide to prep myself. No booze, not much of an issue given the lead-up was January and no sugar, much more problematic with the sweet tooth I have little control over sometimes! There are also hiking leg workouts to follow to get you physically ready, that, I wasn’t too concerned about deeming myself pretty active but this was definitely a faux pas on my behalf. Put me in a Barry’s studio no problem but hiking for 4 hours is a completely different story. The stamina required is a different ball game, it’s long, it’s tiresome but indeed, rewarding and uplifting…more on that later down the line. So, hiking gear packed, I headed to Rome, then onto the rural town of Fiuggi, for a much need hiatus from city life.

Giving you a flavour of what’s in store, the programme commenced with an orientating, led by manager, Livia, laying out the ground rules and schedule for the next 4 days. From the offset, I was impressed, albeit a bit nervous. A wake-up call at 6am, a mere calorie count of 1400 per day and fitness sessions followed by yoga each afternoon…what on earth had I got myself into? Livia then followed on to add that we’d be having a daily massage and then proceeded to give us the grand tour of the Palazzo Figgui and all its state-of-the-art facilities, including a gym with the most high-tech machinery I’ve ever seen and the spa which again enthralled with its various hot-cold therapy hydra pools and infrared saunas….my faith was slightly restored.

It’s clear that all Ranchers are here with a specific goal in mind, whether it be weight loss, increase fitness level or a complete reset from the hectic lifestyles we tend to lead. Nobody is simply here on a vacation, this is a journey of self-discovery and finding self-discipline.

The execution of The Ranch is stellar, blending their signature ethos with Italian culture woven in subtlety. It’s clear that the Californian influence and philosophy are there, yet there are also European elements present that make the whole experience slightly more mellow, for example, they’re more than happy to give you a little more food if you desire, and you won’t be penalised for missing a class.

Day 1, the wake-up call was a bit of a rude awakening but a quick splash of water on my face and I was ready to go. Easing you in, the morning commenced with a bout of stretching. A slice of seed bread with a generous dollop of nut butter and jam later we were out the door en route to the hike start point. Boots strapped, Camelbak on, Apple watch set and I was ready to roll.

From the get-go, The Ranch team urge you to take the hikes at your own pace. You hike for time, not distance which is a key element which makes the Ranch very inclusive. Little red flags map out your route, so if you find yourself alone in nature you won’t get lost. Each Rancher has their own walkie-talkie and updates will be projected throughout the hikes… info about the scenery, to signal you’re lost if necessary and the team’s favourite, drink water, water, water! What I learnt firsthand is that the right gear is essential, you have to get the number of layers right, the shoes must be comfortable and everything must be easily accessible, the more you stop to faff around the more you begin to get frustrated. 

The hikes send you into another dimension where you lose track of time. One foot in front of the other, staying alert in your body to tackle the terrains yet freeing your mind from the constant narrative that we never seem to be able to switch off. Marvelling at the views as you cross different terrains, there are ups and downs that will creep up on you. At points you’ll be totally breezing it, elated by the beauty that surrounds you. At other times, it feels never ending and your feet are beginning to tap out. It’s a journey, to say the least. The hiking routes switch up daily, meaning each day brings new challenges. Racking up elevation gains, crossing snow-filled forests and climbing rugged mountains are all things you’ll tick off the list. Inevitably, the hike stints will take their toll on your body, so the daily massage is welcomingly necessary.

The afternoons are filled with a strength session which focuses on the upper body and core, avoiding lower body (for obvious reasons). The restorative yoga class comes as a tonic to soothe tired, aching muscles from the aftermath of the morning hikes. Apart from these two sessions and of course, the much-needed massage, the afternoons are leisure time to enjoy the facilities or quite frankly lie horizontal and just chill out.

Food is an integral component of The Ranch philosophy. The thought of 1400 calories per day can seem daunting off the bat, but ultimately it is a weight loss programme and the calorie deficit is essential to ensure guests get the desired outcome. Adequately, I can assure you that you will not starve, far from it, you’ll be satisfied and delighted to see what each day’s menu brings! The Ranch has taken a plant-based approach to food, paying close attention to the quality of the produce they use. With that in mind, menus are constantly changing to adjust to what is in season. Luckily Italy boasts copious amounts of abundant fruit, vegetables and legumes which make up the creative dishes that are laid out pristinely each mealtime. Palazzo Figgui’s Michelin star chefs have been trained by The Ranch Malibu chefs to do their utmost to follow their food philosophy to a T. Everything you’ll put in your mouth, down to the nut milk is made on-site with absolutely no refined sugar or preservatives. Following the slow food movement that has gained momentum in Italy, The Ranch tries its best to adopt the ‘zero-kilometre’ concept. The coined Italian phrase essentially means the food has not travelled far or more literally it hasn’t travelled at all!

Breakfast fuel is always hearty, varying from homemade seed bread, granola topped with seeds and berries, courgette banana muffins and buckwheat oatmeal. To keep energy levels high throughout the hike, you’re given a snack of either fruit or nuts to stash in your rucksack. Lunch is served post-hike at 1pm sharp, as evidently, you’ll be ravishing by that point. The myriad of dishes includes quinoa and pickled veg over a bed of turmeric hummus, black rice with a mix of grilled veggies and crispy chickpeas and lentil soup served with corn focaccia for dipping. An afternoon pick-me-up is dished out around 4pm, popcorn, oat cookies or cacao energy bites are some I was treated to during my stay…the little sweet kick was exactly what the doctor ordered! Dinner is served at 7pm each day, by which point everyone is pretty lethargic. This is the meal the chefs really flex their culinary skills and put an Italian spin on The Ranch’s signature recipes. A twist on Parmigiana brings together fresh basil pesto, macadamia ricotta and rich marinara sauce between layers of grilled aubergine. Another note-worthy favourite of the group was the ‘pizza’ made with a cauliflower base. Palazzo Figgui’s fresh tea blends are laid out in the living space for guests to brew at any time, along with a selection of pukka teas for a nightcap!

The spa at Palazzo Figgui will blow your socks off. Dorned as the mecca of health for the healing mineral water that has run through this region of Italy for centuries, it was innate that Palazzo Figgui went down the wellness route. The foundation of life, which filters through the health-enriching water, takes centre stage as you enter the spa. Guests are advised to drink with caution due to the detoxifying qualities, starting with 1 cup per day and gradually increasing. Features include an indoor to outdoor pool, salt room, infrared sauna, Swedish sauna, Turkish bath, plunge pool and the place I retreated to most, the Walking Kneipp, a hot-cold therapy hydra pool that you circuit around to aid recovery on the lower body.

Transforming your overall health and improving longevity is at the forefront of the programme, and to measure this, vital parameters, blood panelling, urinalysis, weight and waist measurements take place at the beginning of your stay. Specialised doctors will run through your blood work results, outlining the finding and recommending supplements that will boost areas you’re lacking in. This is also an opportunity to ask any questions about your health and any issues you’re particularly struggling with, which is not something we often get to do, I really used this time to pick his brains about my eczema which I’ve struggled with for countless years. The doctor recommended I take a cycle of supplements that will cleanse my body from any heavy metals as from what I told him, he gathered it was highly likely I was allergic to nickel. I’ve been to the GP about my eczema too many times to count and the outcome has always been steroid creams that thin my skin and only solve the issue whilst I’m using the medication, the second I stop, it’s back. This was a complete revelation for me and I’m looking forward to seeing how the heavy metal cleanse delivers! To conclude the programme, a 2nd weigh-in and waist measurement is taken as a comparison. Over just 4 days, I was apprehensive that any change would show but to my surprise, this short period did deliver results on both fronts.

Casting my mind back to the first day, my thoughts were, just get through this, it’s only 4 days. Leaving I felt completely different, I didn’t want to leave. The Ranch is so much more than a results-oriented fitness program, it’s a chance to reset completely and utterly from the outside world and reenter a better version of yourself. It’s a lesson that great things come from stepping outside of your comfort zone. Hiking is both a physical and mental challenge that is so inclusive, you don’t have to be super athletic and breaking any records is not on the agenda. It’s a chance to be alone with your thoughts, with interludes of conversations with like-minded individuals to push you along the way. As Ranchers, you’re all on the same journey, the destination will differ but, with the nurturing support of the incredible team, there’s no doubt that you’ll find what you came searching for at The Ranch.

The Ranch Italy offers 4-night and 8-night stays, to learn more visit theranchmalibu.com

words by Isabelle Shury