When I die, please bury me at the Golden Door-heaven on earth!

Enter through the Golden Door
Enter through the Golden Door

Before entering the pearly gates, you owe it to yourself to experience a week of sheer, unadulterated, pampered bliss at the Golden Door, referred to by those in the spa-know as “The Door”. Located on 377 acres of rolling hills in Escondido, a 45 minute drive from San Diego, this Japanese inspired retreat is generously decorated with colorful koi ponds, wooden bridges, flowering camellia, avocado and citrus trees, sandy zen gardens and Asian antiques, such as the early Edo-period temple gong that serves as the 6:15 dinner bell.

I recently returned from an incredible mind, body and spirit week-long visit, where my toughest decisions consisted of:

1. Should I order the Spice Crusted Bison Strip Steak or the Pan Seared Tasmanian Salmon for dinner?

2. Did I feel like having a tranquility facial today or should I go for the peach paraffin body masque instead?

3. My real quandary of the day, do I want deep or soft pressure for my afternoon massage? (Oops, can’t forget I have my pedicure scheduled right before so I have to make sure my toesies are dry, particularly my left big toe that the talented manicurist, Theresa, had decorated with a special Golden Door logo. She also creates other toe-art canvasses such as flowers, bamboo trees, etc.). No prob, my considerate masseur, Daniel, knows all about these girly problems. The minute he entered my room he sniffed and said, “Did you just get a mani/pedi? Please be careful getting onto the table.” Then he delicately draped the sheet over my toes to avoid smudging.

How could you not love a place whose mantra is “Just Ask” with a staff to guest ratio of 4:1 (40 guests max). There was always someone readily available to grant your every wish. Sometimes, you don’t even have to ask. The first evening when the server removed my dinner plate, she saw that I had neatly piled all the celery (from the stir-fry veggies) under my knife. She asked if anything was wrong with it. When I replied that I disdain cooked celery, she immediately noted that on my card and it never darkened my plate again. Another day, when I was getting ready to snuggle in my feather bed for a lazy afternoon read, my Kindle was frozen on a page and wouldn’t work. Exasperated and unhappy, I dropped it off with the concierge, who fixed the problem with Amazon and delivered it an hour later to my room. Priceless.

A typical heavenly day at the Door

5:30 Join fellow pre-dawn hikers for a cup of steaming hot coffee, fruit bread and a banana before setting off on either a meadow stroll or an increasingly challenging 5-6 mile mountain hike.
7:30 Return to your comfy-cozy- Japanese ryokan inspired room, where your breakfast tray will be waiting, along with fresh flowers and the newspaper of your choice. (My fave brekkie was the grainy waffles with fruit compote and yogurt cream cheese sided by free-range organic turkey sausage and a whole pot of Illy coffee).

8:15 T’ai Chi.

9:00 Yuichi dance class (a hysterically fun class taught by a retired choreographer, a little Jiminy Cricket of a man sporting a huge smile and zero body fat) who taught our talentless group some B-way chorus line moves that had us dancing and singing our lil’ hearts out.

10:00 Herbal body wrap.

10:50 Potassium broth break accompanied by a gorgeous fruit and veggie platter.

11:00 Workout with my superb personal trainer, Robert, who taught me some unique exercises geared to strengthening my weak lower back. On the last day he not only handed me an exercise printout complete with easy to follow pictures so I could continue my program at home but also his email address so I could get back to him if my program needed tweaking…that’s just the way they roll there.

12:00 Aqua Yoga.

1:00 Lunch poolside (I nibbled on lump crab cakes, avocado/wheat berry salad, fruit and jam-dot cookies, sipping fruity ice-tea while the boutique put on a fashion show highlighting some incredible jewelry by Ezmaralda Gordon, a gemologist and award winning jewelry designer who was also a guest that week. I never tired of seeing the gorgeous strings of pearls, chunky gem stones or layered rings she would throw on to dress up her sweats.

2:00 Facial by my skin guru, Zoom, who caressed and cajoled my skin into back into youthfulness.

3:00 Pedicure.

3:50 another snack break (I’m so glad they believe in 3 hour feedings.)

4:00 In-room massage by one of my fab tag-team masseurs. Daniel was the best at soothing my tired muscles while CJ’s intuitive fingers would search out hidden pre-trouble spots for deeper therapeutic massage.

5:00 DYOT (Do Your Own Thing).

6:15 Hors d’oeuvres served with non-alcoholic drink–they break out the celebratory wine on the final Saturday night. The Vietnamese chicken meatballs served in lettuce cups with chili garlic dipping sauce had us begging for seconds (which they allow).

6:30 Dinner. LOVED the fact that I didn’t have to dress for dinner. We were even encouraged to dine in our gang-colors: the comfy blue and white yakatas (Japanese bathrobes) while enjoying some stimulating conversation over a meal of silky-smooth miso-glazed Mero (Hawaiian fish) on a bed of shitake mushroom & scallion quinoa, stir fried veggies and grilled pineapple-mango salsa with a yummy warm flour-less chocolate cake topped with berry coulis for dessert.
Tip: Their decaf chocolate-flavored coffee makes a soothing after dinner drink

7:45 Evening education program. These ran the gamut from a healthy cooking class by the Door’s Chef Kayla Roche (who taught us many easy, healthy cooking tips such as putting grape seed oil- higher burning point than other oils- in a spritz bottle to spray on your pans) to “How to paint a watercolor masterpiece in under five minutes”. One of the more esoteric choices was learning how to unfurrow your brow using facial yoga instead of Botox.

Perhaps the best part of the program is that you’re also totally free to throw your individualized daily schedule (delivered at bedtime printed on a paper Japanese fan) in the garbage and simply DYOT all day long, even if that’s just sitting by the pool reading a juicy novel. If you really want some alone time, they will deliver all your meals, even a hot bag of popcorn, to you in the privacy of your room.

Please continue for part 2.

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