Friendship. When I headed out to Santa Barbara, that was the last word I imagined I would be associating with a week-long intensive fitness retreat, but throughout the week I found myself using words like camaraderie and bond to describe the experience to my friends and family back home. That is what makes Sky Ranch Fitness so different from it’s retreat counterparts, the bond that you create with your group and your trainers that adds a sense of accountability. You don’t want to let anyone down and you want to be there to cheer on your new friends as they embark on this journey towards wellness.
Earlier this year, I wrote about a bunch of “fun fitness” retreats you could book and try this summer, and included among them was Sky Ranch Fitness, a 6-night retreat created by Stuart Gildred, currently being hosted at the beyond beautiful and luxurious, Bacara Resort and Spa in Santa Barbara, California. When Sky Ranch Fitness reached out to see if I wanted to take the camp for a test run myself I figured, apprehensively, that it was about time I took some of my own advice. So I packed my bags (and my husband who joined me knowing that I, who consider window shopping to be my most preferred form of cardio, may need a little extra support) and headed out to Bacara for camp.
The retreats begin on Sunday evening where you meet your trainers and fellow “campers” and run through an orientation on everything from your daily schedules to what to look out for on the hikes. Everyone then heads to the Bacara Bistro for a welcome dinner where almost instantly, and sans alcohol I might add, life stories begin to be shared. The program officially begins the following morning when you arrive for a 6am stretch class with one of your trainers. Each day you progress from floor stretches to foam rollers and tennis balls that work out your muscles which, as the week goes on, desperately need a little TLC. Sky Ranch really focuses on foot health, which many of you may remember was a 2012 Global Spa and Wellness Trend! You learn to use a tennis ball for self-myofascial release, a technique that comes in handy during the course of camp.
After stretching comes breakfast. Anyone thinking a week-long fitness retreat would mean a green juice for breakfast clearly hasn’t done a Sky Ranch breakfast. Alternating between the most amazingly delicious energy-packed omelets I’ve ever had and protein smoothies that I could drink for dessert, Sky Ranch knows the importance of putting the right fuel into your body to power it for all the work it’s about to do for you during the week. Knowing the right whole foods to include in the program’s menu is thanks in large part to Nancy Dale, Sky Ranch’s resident certified nutritionist, and renowned Bacara chef David Reardon, who teamed up to develop a menu that focuses on seasonal, organic, whole foods which ensure your body is getting what it needs to help it succeed.
Once breakfast is complete it’s time to hike! When I read that we’d be completing a 3 hour hike each day, I naively equated that to 3 miles, because apparently, despite the large amounts of leopard print I wear on a regular basis, I think I am a snail. Each day you’ll head to a new location, many of which aren’t well-known, even to area locals, with unique views of the surrounding beauty, and you’ll go from 8-12 miles every day – with a whole lot of booty burning “up.” From a beach-side trek through a campground with views of sea lions lounging on the rocks below to mountainous terrain to winding forest trails – each day provides a view more breathtaking than the last, figuratively and literally, you know… because of all the up. Perhaps the most beautiful trail is the private hike that you can only do with Sky Ranch Fitness, all the way up through the clouds to the very appropriately named Sky Ranch. The feeling at the ranch, situated at the top if the mountains is ethereal and one can’t help but take the time to be mindfully aware of the moment. Pictures couldn’t do the view justice and for it alone, I’d recommend heading to Sky Ranch Fitness!
All views aside, my favorite moment of the retreat came during our last hike, we had been going for nearly 10 miles and had just finished an uphill climb that really took a lot out of me – during the majority of the trip my “out of shape”-ness really shined through but thanks to that camaraderie I always pushed through, willing myself to do things I don’t usually, namely… sweat. So after that final uphill climb I did what I didn’t think I would ever during our trip – I ran back down, genuinely ran, with my husband who laughed with (at?) me, practically giggling like kids, the entire way down. That sense of accomplishment for doing something I previously had put in my “I can’t” box still makes me happy and is a memory I will definitely always take with me.
What makes these 8-12 mile uphill, winding trails seemingly go by without a thought comes back again to the camaraderie – the bond – you create with your campers. Each day I found myself in a new conversation, distracting me from what I was actually doing and making fitness, well, fun. Tip: You’ll need to invest in a Camelbak for these adventures as you’ll want to consume one bottle of water per hour of hiking! As well, don’t be like me and wear the right kind of socks, by the end of our week my toes were so wrapped up in band aids it was actually comical.
Once you are adequately sweaty it’s time to hop back in the Sky Ranch Fitness mobile (read: van) and head for a nutritious and filling lunch. Our lunches ranged from filling and protein-packed salads at the Bistro or Spa Cafe (always complete with iced chamomile tea) to delicious three-course vegetarian lunches at places like the local Alchemy Cafe. In fact, nearly every meal during the week with Sky Ranch – even the daily apple and almond mid-hike snack – was delicious. Dinners each night offered a full-range of flavors and lots of yummy fish (vegetarian? don’t like fish? Stuart and the team will take care of you each step of the way!) At orientation night I worried that I would feel hungrier during the week, but never once did my stomach rumble. As well, I never had that horribly uncomfortably full feeling that can really dampen any experience! And if you’re hoping to get out on the town you’re in luck! One night you’ll enjoy dinner on an intimate harbor cruise in Santa Barbara as well as hit up local hotspots to show that you can indeed go out for dinner while maintaining your fitness and wellness goals.
In between lunches and dinners, we got to enjoy fun fitness classes that kept us moving after our hikes. We boxed, did Pilates, circuit training, yoga, and foundation class – and all the while we laughed and enjoyed each second, which from me says a lot… because I’m not the biggest fan of working out and I tend to count the minutes until a class is over, but at Sky Ranch the classes are always so different and stimulating that I found myself actually feeling sad when they were over! During your free time you can do anything from laying out by the pool to taking a nap back in your beautiful room but what I’d really recommend is heading over to the acclaimed Bacara Spa! All of the spa amenities are available to you during your stay (hello, Eucalyptus Steam Room!) and your week with Sky Ranch even includes massage, which helps to soothe your tired muscles and limbs!
The true gem of the week with Sky Ranch Fitness is during the outing to Foley Winery. At this point your group feels more like family than friends and a glass (or two) of vino has been truly well-deserved. Chef Joe Cochran, former Director of Food & Beverage at Rancho La Puerta and Golden Door, puts together a beautifully prepared, melt-in-your-mouth meal for you and your friends to enjoy as the sun sets on your time at Sky Ranch. What I loved most was when everyone in the group went around the table to talk about their favorite part of the week and one by one, each of us agreed that the group dynamic truly made the week as special and as transformative as it was. Even after checking in the following morning to get the results of the week, where I discovered I had lost both weight and inches, I still believe the most important thing I learned from Sky Ranch Fitness was that when you sweat together, you stay together. I have a beautiful new group of people in my life I wouldn’t have met otherwise, I feel closer to my husband than ever before, and I have a new respect for my body and what it can actually do! Stuart said to us many times that “fitness and health shouldn’t be work” and Sky Ranch Fitness proves that being well doesn’t have to be hard or tedious. That it can help to cultivate more than abs, that it can be fun, and that you can learn to change your lifestyle – whether you’re a 27-year-old that still has loads to learn or you are a 60-year-old celebrating your kick-start on a journey down a healthier path!
Interested in going to Sky Ranch to have your very own fun fitness experience? Well, from August 10 – September 30, Sky Ranch is offering complimentary room upgrades at Bacara plus a $450 spa credit!
Highlights of the all-inclusive program include:
- 6 nights’ accommodations at Bacara Resort & Spa
- Complimentary room upgrade
- Personalized fitness training and assessments
- Healthy gourmet cuisine and snacks
- Scenic daily hikes
- Therapeutic spa treatments at The Spa at Bacara
- An additional $450 spa credit for treatments of choice at The Spa at Bacara
- Harbor sunset cruise (weather permitting)
- Wine tasting & chef’s dinner at Foley Winery
- Nutrition and fitness consulting
Week-long retreats from $4,290 (double occupancy). Mention Promotion Code: SPAFINDERSUMMER
Total Package Value $4,790
Upcoming 2014 Retreat Dates
August 10 – 16
August 31 – September 6
September 21 – 27
October 5 – 11
Additional dates coming soon
Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment below, if you have any questions at all!