When the founders of Rancho La Puerta arrived at the desert site in Mexico 75 years ago, they had to build a new center for wellness and health. How Deborah and Edmond Szekely succeeded was celebrated at the annual meeting of the International Spa Association (ISPA), a professional association devoted to health and wellness.
As friends gathered at ISPA25, we remembered Alex Szekely, Deborah’s son, who died just as the spa industry was taking off. We worked together building ISPA membership, with Alex chairing the idealists attracted by the glamorous image of spa life. But the serious side of spa operations set priorities for Alex. With his parents reinventing the meaning of spa, Alex expanded the concept of what a healthy vacation can be.
In addition to exercise at five gyms, the Ranch has vast organic gardens that supply the kitchen. And a culinary center teaching new ways to prepare healthy meals. So it will be a great pleasure to welcome culinary pioneer Alice Waters from Chez Panisse at this year’s conference to receive the Alex Szekely Award. Located in Berkeley, California, Chez Panisse is an icon for gourmet dining as well as slow food style.
Our annual dinner brings together founders and legends of the spa industry, including some of its most accomplished global innovators, select members of the media, and senior officers of ISPA. The dinner honors the recipient of the Alex Szekely Award, and, over time, it has also become our way of reconnecting with each other in an intimate setting to informally discuss our own work and the future of our industry. Of course the Award honors the memory of the late Alex Szekely of Rancho La Puerta and co-owner of Golden Door, a pioneer of ISPA. Alex’s wife, Diane Szekely, this year –and for the first time– joined us to celebrate ISPA’s 25th and to help raise a glass to toast this year’s recipient, family friend and luminary Alice Waters.
This year’s event also marked the 25th anniversary of ISPA’s launch. Put together by volunteers in a borrowed office in Bethesda, with only a few sponsors, it set the standard for the industry. Deborah Szekely delivered an inspiring keynote address. We are honored to have her still with us.
Located in northern Mexico, an hour south of San Diego, the Ranch is between the towns of Tecate and Tijuana in Baja California. Typical stay is one week, with complimentary transfers to the San Diego airport on Saturdays.