FFG Travel Review: 7 Days at The Golden Door, California

posted on: Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Golden Door California
The Golden Door California
I do believe there's a time in nearly every person's life when they reach the end of their tether. For one reason or another, times become tough. Truly, It's just a part of life, that's all, right? For me, 2015 was a hard year. A very hard year indeed. Now before you think this is a story involving a box of Kleenex, rest assured it is anything but. I have thousands more reasons to be thankful than I do to be remorseful so there's no feeling sorry for me here, please. We're talking normal things- a breakup, a move, a questioning of location on the globe and a bit with back surgery (and major weight gain because of it). Run of the mill stuff right? Well, not exactly run of the mill stuff, but nothing that singularly isn't doable. It's when it all adds up at the same time that things become hard. Which leads me to where I sit today and the story that changes everything.

Seven days ago I arrived at The Golden Door. A friend had suggested it as an idea to start our new year out on the right foot and I had to admit I was hesitant.

Health food and a week of working out? -Not my usual course of events for a good holiday. Of course I had heard of The Golden Door previous to checking in - it was voted the number one destination spa in the world last year by Travel & Leisure. Name a head honcho, in Hollywood or beyond, and chances are they will have had a least a week here recouping. Before arriving, I found that every time I mentioned The Golden Door to people in the industry of fashion or television, there was a glow that came over their face accompanied by advice on "must dos" while in residence. One could easily have thought I was checking into heaven itself.

Pre-arrival I was exhausted, overweight and pretty much feeling a little lost in the grand scheme of things. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I did keep a daily diary of how I felt and what I did while in residence. I wanted people to get the full picture of seven life changing days at The Golden Door.

Day 1:
The Golden Door California
Everyone has told me that the morning hike at The Golden Door is the only way to start the day - everyday. Well, it's a good thing I'm still jet lagged and running on UK time. 5:30am wakeup calls aren't my usual way to start the day. But I'll say this - it should be! Waking to greet the sun is transforming. You head out in the dark, flashlight in hand, and navigate the trail up to awaken with the day. The sun comes up just as you are finding your feet and somehow it all feels right and peaceful. I wonder if London would feel the same- somehow I doubt it. Upon returning from the hike, I feel the burn. I seem to be a bit of a workout wuss, but there's a wonderful surprise waiting for me in my room- breakfast! Yes, breakfast every morning is piping hot and ready when you return from your wilderness journey. This breakfast is filling and I am completely satisfied. Hey, this eating healthy stuff is pretty easy, right?
The Golden Door California
It's straight to work after breakfast. First yoga and then a private session with my personal trainer, Ellen. This woman is going to be the game changer that transforms my life. After an hour in her capable hands, I am not only in pain, but convinced that this pain will improve everything about the way I live my day to day life. Ellen isn't just here to look out for me for seven days, she's here to give me the tools to move forward with a clear plan of action. In short, she is a woman on a mission - to see me get in shape! Post Ellen, I hit the pool for a water aerobics class. When you've just had back surgery, the water is your best friend when it comes to getting in shape. I share the space with a woman who is 88 years old and has visited The Golden Door 64 times over the past thirty years. I tell you now, this woman was in better shape than me and openly admitted that The Golden Door was her not -so-secret fountain on youth.

Before I know it, we're eating again. First we meet for mid morning broth and veggies. Then, it's lunchtime. Lunch is a massive turkey sandwich. I am full. How am I full? I usually review massive burgers and fries for FFG and am still hungry afterwards. I am perplexed. I'm eating all of this and I'm still coming under the 1400 calorie mark? What is this sorcery? 

While each day at The Golden Door is different, there are a few things that stay the same. For example, each and every day you have a massage and either a facial or a body wrap. This is all included in the price of your stay- so you aren't met with any nasty surprises upon checkout. The treatments are meant to compliment a day of hard work. You flow through the day with strenuous activities balanced by moments of complete relaxation and bliss. When my masseuse starts working on me, in room, I find myself tearing up and then cry for the entire session. Of course no one knows this but me as I am incredibly embarrassed. The whole experience is overwhelming. It feels as if I'm being taken out of a shell I've been hiding in for way too long. How is this all happening so quickly and so intensely? 

The day continues with a few classes - one on nutrition, one on meditation and one on Chinese medicine (which takes place after dinner by one of the leading acupuncturists in California). Dinner is, again, a thing of wonder. Pretty sure they're lying about that calorie count. This dinner is so scrumptious it has to be at least 2000 calories alone? Yet, I am assured that I am staying within my chosen range of calories for the day. Again, still not hungry. 

Here's how I know I've had a good day - it's 8:45pm and I'm turning the lights out. I'm exhausted but in a way I haven't felt in so long. This is a day where I have accomplished so very much. It almost seems inconceivable.

Day 2:
The Golden Door California
I'm not going to sugarcoat it for you. Today was a tough day. I woke up again at 5:30 - as I promised myself I would rise and hike every morning of my stay at The Golden Door. So far, so good. I came back to the room and had a ridiculously delicious breakfast of Greek yoghurt, berries and granola. Truly, it was one of the best breakfasts I've had in a while. On my schedule, the lovely ladies who organise my day had given me time off in the early morning "to write." They know what I do for a living, obviously. Then it was off to meet with my personal trainer again - who just about had me crawling out of the gym. From wall sits to planks, she's getting me in shape and teaching me a thing or two about the art of working out while you travel. I have a feeling I will owe my life to this woman. She's saving my bacon, one squat at a time. Post workout, I return to the room.

At this point I reach breaking level. I'm exhausted, I'm hungry again and my calves hurt. There isn't a break in the schedule, but I make one. I love it that you are encouraged to do what you want to do here. They give you a schedule for your daily events but it's up to you to decide how much you want to get out of this experience. I want to do it all, I truly do, but my body has other plans and I'm told to listen to these. So, I have a wee bit of a lie down, with a book. This is bliss - besides my rumbling tummy. I can call and request additional snacks to be sent to my room, but I'm trying hard to stay on track as much as possible. No pain, no gain, right? Or in my case, pain to keep away the gain.
The Golden Door California
It's as if the universe knew that I would get to this point on day 2, where I need some time to find my feet again. The rest of the afternoon is devoted to pampering. I start with a wrap in the bathhouse. This is a great detox wrap that feels like a warm hug. I don't want to leave. Sadly, I must. I'm then back to my room for my daily in room massage with the new love of my life- Kit. I'm officially nicknaming him "magic hands." Two minutes after Kit leaves, Dr. Mike, the acupuncturist, comes into my room to pick up where Kit left off. I am analysed and needles are inserted as a result. He too seems to have the gift of the magic - the healing magic that is transforming my whole existence. How have I lived life before now without all these magical hands? Oh, and I should mention that after acupuncture I had the very hard task of walking down to the spa for a facial. Where do we find all the time for these laborious tasks?

The day finished on a real high note for me. I attended a lecture on Happiness and it was all about unplugging from technology. How perfectly appropriate, right? Yet here I am sitting in front of a computer again. Shame on me! Now, here comes the real shameful admittance. I decided to have dinner in my room. I knew that chicken was on the menu. I also knew I was starving - so starving that it wouldn't be below me to pick the chicken up off the plate and quite literally pull the meat from the bones with my teeth. That sort of activity is better suited for one when they are eating solo, wouldn't you agree? As is always the case with the food at The Golden Door - it was delicious and immediately satisfying. That being said, I am going to bed at an ungodly early hour to stage off hunger pangs. But, I have never felt clearer, more focused or more full of gratitude. The Golden Door is working its magic. Again, we're only on day 2. A few more to go...
The Golden Door California

Day 3:
The Golden Door California
Thank goodness for daily updates. Day 3 is the day I bounce back - the day that I see all the hard work is worth it. This is the day that I wake up and see that my eyes are whiter, my skin is clearer and I have more energy than I thought possible on a calorie intake of 1400 a day. Day two seems like a distant memory. This is also the day I discover the art of saying no. At The Golden Door, you do what you wish, from rise to sleep. Today I said yes to a hike, yes to my trainer and yes to the pampering. The rest of the day I chose to focus on spiritual health. I meditated, I met with a life coach (which truly was one of the best things I've done so far at The Golden Door). I ate lunch in the garden - a beautiful table set for a dozen beautiful ladies who all sat as equals, no makeup or designer clothes amongst us. How different the playing field is when we are all tired, hungry and in uniform. I'm half way through this week now and I find myself never wanting it to end. Imagine a life that looks like this? How happy would we all be? But the wonderful thing here is that we are all being taught the tools we need to take this happiness and joy back to our everyday lives. We're given lectures on the art of mindfulness, we're reintroduced to what our bodies are capable of doing every day of the week (if we just push them hard enough) and we learn to appreciate everything and everyone around us for the roles they play in our lives. If I sound like a changed woman, it's because I am.
The Golden Door California
The Golden Door California

Day 4:
The Golden Door California
What can you say about a day that includes an epic mediation walk and a big fat (actually, not so fat) Pizza. Well, I suppose you could say it felt like the best day of my life. Yes, the day started with a rather long walk - a two and a hour hour expedition up the mountain where no one talks for the duration. What a life changing moment this is - to not talk or even think about talking for some time. As a former PR, you can understand that this is no easy challenge for me. But, I did it. I even made a complete fool out of myself on the top of the mountain trying Tai Chi for the first time. Even though I felt like an idiot, I must say it was an artful approach to mediation that I will be continuing with. Twenty minutes of sitting on a rock and looking out at the valleys below me and I felt like a changed person entirely. After breakfast I worked out with my trainer. Or shall I say my trainer worked me out - to the point of no return. Mama's got her gym legs back, folks!

Then came the Pizza. Yes PIZZA! And it wasn't just any pizza. This was the best pizza I've ever put into my mouth... ever! No joke. Perhaps it's all the healthy food we've been eating, but I could have easily been led to believe that this gem had just come straight off a Domino's delivery truck - only it was better than that. If only I could bring this chef home with me! (Have I failed to mention that the chef in residence at The Golden Door is gorgeous? ....how has that taken me four days?)
The Golden Door California
The day concluded with my regular massage - although truly I can't say there's anything regular about these massages. I'm a new person after four days. The massage was followed by more pampering - tough life. I had a pedicure to run to and directly after that I was back on the table with my facialist who was giving me a special eye treatment, which I do believe took ten years off my life. All in, this is the first day where I look in the mirror and think, "I have truly been changed, both inside and out." The world must know about this marvel... and so the journey continues.

Day 5:
The Golden Door California
I feel like day 5 was a test. I got my fan for the day (your schedule is presented daily on a paper fan) and there was only one physical activity on the fan. The rest were about pampering. I had an herbal wrap, a massage, a manicure and a facial. I don't mean to say that The Golden Door were testing me, more as if I was testing myself. With only one class to get my blood pumping, I found myself spending spare hours in the gym, working away until my heart rate was over 150. I actually remember thinking, as I was sitting in front of my computer working, "I don't feel alive." So I took a hike and then I retreated to the gym. It was only after I exhausted myself that I felt ok with sitting back in from of the computer to work. What has happened to me?

Then came lunch. So what lunch would have me writing about lunch specifically? Well, only a lunch in which I'm served a burger of course. Yes, burgers were on the menu and mine was the most delicious I have had in sometime. Let's keep in mind that the burgers I usually tuck into must be 1400 calorie meals in themselves. This one was a fraction of the calories and had ten times the flavor. I am now officially convinced that having a personal chef is the only way I can kick my life long obsession with junk food. They are masters of disguise here at The Golden Door. They know how to take something you are craving and cleverly trick your taste buds into a healthy version. I had being hoodwinked - but this I'll take any day of the week. Nom nom.
The Golden Door California
The Golden Door California
The day, however, ends on a rather sad note as I am reminded I only have 48 hours left in paradise. I am actually both frightened and excited about reentering the real world. Yikes, that makes me sound like I've been in a detention facility. This has been anything but. I will admit that idea of living "healthily" did sound very similar to prison to me. A restricted diet and working out all day - not my cup of tea. But, The Golden Door has been so much more and has taught me several life lessons.

Day 6 and 7:
Here's the honest truth - I didn't keep a diary for these days. I didn't turn my computer on, even, for 48 hours. I had officially become a Golden Door convert who believed in living in the moment - so much so that I decided to check out from the "real world" entirely for the last 48 hours. No technology whatsoever came into my life. I took time to enjoy the incredibly inspiring women around me, the mountains above me and the my very own feet that grounded me. The only true recollection I have of these two days is feeling blissfully in tune with everything around me. I am a Golden Door believer.
The Golden Door California
The Golden Door California
I will, however, tell you about our last night at The Golden Door, because I truly did feel it was an experience like none other that I had had before. Every woman comes to The Golden Door for different reasons. On our first dinner together, each of us stands, introduces ourselves to the 39 other guests and shares why we are in residence and on the last night we stand again, before women that have become friends and allies, and share one word that describes our week in residence at The Golden Door. My word was "faith." In one week my faith in nature's ability to heal, in the importance of women in my life and, most importantly, in myself, had all be renewed. There were trying times and there were healing times. There were times when I felt I would give up, but there was always a kind word or a hand offered that kept me from doing so. At The Golden Door, you are there on a personal journey but you stand beside so many incredible women that the last thing you could ever feel is alone. But, back to that last night experience...

After dinner, guests gather in the dining room and are each handed a sheet of paper and asked to write down what they would like to leave behind - a problem or nagging issue that you just want to finally let go and forget about as you walk outside the sacred golden doors. You don't share this. You just tuck it in your pocket. As a group, we all walked up the hill and met at a candlelit labyrinth. In the centre of the labyrinth was a small bowl of fire awaiting your "nagging issue." We walked the labyrinth, in the mist and fog of the late evening, and when we got to the middle we burned that sheet of paper. Let me just say that I'm usually the first to call out what may seem like a rather cheesy ceremony. But, in reality, at this moment, I was moved to tears as I made my way out of the labyrinth, having felt as if I had removed a skyscraper from my shoulders as I watched that piece of paper burn. Needless to say I won't be sharing what I had written, but letting it go has forever changed who I am moving forward. That is for certain.

I've left The Golden Door as perhaps the best PR machine they have. I have been jabbering on about this miracle since I stepped back out into the "real world." And for years to come, I do believe I'll still be talking about the seven days that changed the course of my story. But what I'd really love is to be the 88 year old woman who is sitting next to a 35 year old first timer, telling her the tale of my first experience at Golden Door and how I've come back every year, twice a year, since that fateful visit.

In a nutshell, folks, I'm telling you to have this experience, if ways and means allow. It is a week you will never ever regret. And that I say with greater certainty than anything I have yet to write on FFG.

The Golden Door is located in San Marcos, California, situated within driving distance of San Diego and Los Angeles, and airport transfers are included in your package. Your 7 day stay at The Golden Door is all inclusive. You can expect a private room, clothing, that is laundered daily and includes everything from work out gear to sun hats and skin products. Meals include breakfast (in room), lunch, dinner and two snacks - all sourced locally and most from The Golden Door garden. You will be offered four personal training sessions with your personal trainer and over 40 various fitness classes to attend over the 7 day period. You will also receive daily massages, 5 skincare treatments, one body treatment, two herbal wraps, manicure, pedicure and a hair treatment. If that isn't enough for you, there are 600 acres of land to explore, 12 hikes on over 25 miles of trails, 7 gyms, 2 swimming pools, 2 labyrinths, a bathhouse with jacuzzi, steam-room and sauna and a tennis court for additional activities. The inclusive cost for 7 days is $8,850. 
The Golden Door California