Rescue Remedy: Janine di Giovanni’s post-pandemic escape to a California classic

The spa at Golden DoorRhiannon Taylor

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to go to some of the world’s best spas. I spent six weeks at the Mayr clinic after I covered the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when I was so ill that I could barely walk. I’ve been to Clinique La Prairie, back when its sheep-cell injections were all the rage; I’ve been to Canyon Ranch; I’ve been to The Ashram three times. But after my third trip to Golden Door – the last time had been 20 years ago – I can say, hands down, that it is probably the most healing spa in the entire world.

The magic of Golden Door, a former camellia farm outside San Diego, lies in its setting, its staff, the spiritual treatments, the delectable food and, most of all, its guests. There are times when you go somewhere and speak to nobody, but usually after day two you want a bit of camaraderie. The Door, as it is fondly called by its many devotees, is more than that: in a post-pandemic world, it is the ultimate isolation-buster.

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Two years ago, I vowed never to return to The Ashram (another Californian mecca for health and fitness) after spending a week there with a group of neurotic, Type A personalities, including a real Real Housewife of Beverly Hills. The women were so competitive on the hikes that one actually shoved me off a path on a glorious rise over the Pacific Ocean. It was like being 14 years old again, surrounded by the catty queens of Mean Girls.

Golden Door attracts an entirely different crowd. While there are men’s weeks and mixed weeks, I always go on its women-only weeks. Aside from the fact that I can therefore walk to my room in a towelling robe and not need to put on make-up, it provides a feeling of safeness – but also of strong bonding. Nowhere else have I ever found so many kindred spirits. The women, by and large, are highly intelligent, successful and friendly. Which doesn’t mean you can’t lie by the pool with a book and shut out the world. You can. It just means that the conversations at dinners – which take place at long tables, with everyone wearing a beautiful Japanese robe that the Door supplies, so you don’t have to worry about what to pack – are some of the best I’ve had.

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