Plant-based meals, 5:30am starts, four-hour hikes: U.S retreat The Ranch – popular with Michelle Obama – now has its first European outpost… and it’s surely the world’s poshest bootcamp

  • U.S health retreat The Ranch has its first European outpost at the Palazzo Fiuggi  
  • Miranda Taylor tries out the retreat and says: ‘Goodness me, the rules are strict’
  • Read more: The ski chalet so luxurious you’ll struggle to leave for the slopes

The concierge at the Palazzo looks me up and down. ‘Are you ready?’ he says. Well, yes, as ready as I will ever be for a week of food deprivation, no alcohol; hiking, fitness and yoga and, phew, massages, set in the Apennine mountains east of Rome, surrounding the spa town, Fiuggi.

Since the early 14th century, royalty, popes and Renaissance masters — among them Michelangelo — have come to unwind in this forested valley famed for its healing waters.

The Ranch has just opened its first European outpost at the Palazzo Fiuggi, following on the gilded heels of its famous retreat in Malibu, California, popular with the likes of Michelle Obama and Nicole Kidman.

I’m here partly because of a breast cancer crisis of my own, and feel ready for a challenge and health boost. But goodness me, the rules are strict. All guests have to sign a privacy policy and are encouraged to make dramatic changes in diet and lifestyle for a month prior to arrival.

The Ranch, a famous retreat that originates in Malibu, has just opened its first European outpost at the Palazzo Fiuggi in Italy (above). Miranda Taylor gives the new bootcamp a try

Set up in 2010, The Ranch founders, Alex and Sue Glasscock, noticed their friends were getting heavier and more lethargic. So they decided to create a programme themselves, hired a vegan chef and developed a highly-structured format. Broadly, The Ranch philosophy is that a gluten-free, plant-based diet will reduce inflammation and risk of disease.

Our introductory talk by the charming, whippet-fit Italian staff gives me a chance to observe our group of 12, aged 20-60, all high-flying professionals who’ve flown in from New York, LA, and London.

Like prize fighters, we are weighed in and given an ECG heart and blood test, have our waist and hip measurements taken, and endure an hour’s fitness class followed by a vegan organic dinner.

Miranda’s week-long stay encompasses ‘food deprivation, no alcohol; hiking, fitness and yoga and, phew, massages’. Above is the hotel’s spa 

 The hotel is set in the Apennine mountains east of Rome, surrounding the spa town Fiuggi

‘Goodness me, the rules are strict,’ Miranda says of the Palazzo Fiuggi bootcamp (file photo) 

 Miranda’s group is comprised of high-flying professionals who’ve flown in from New York, LA, and London. Above is the palazzo’s restaurant 

The Ranch philosophy is that a gluten-free, plant-based diet will reduce inflammation and risk of disease. Above is one of the bootcamp’s dishes 

We are then given some key Ranch mantras to chew on: relinquish responsibility; achieve all that you can; focus on you; get a little dirty; allow awareness; be in the present moment. I begin to think that Gwyneth Paltrow might appear. That night, I don’t sleep soundly, waiting for the 5.30am wake-up call and wondering how I’ll survive on 1,400 vegan calories a day for a week.

We dutifully stretch at 6am, eat a small granola-type breakfast (no yoghurt) and are off hiking by 7am.

When the going is particularly steep and rocky, voices crackle encouragement over the walkie-talkies we all carry in our day packs for safety. ‘We’ve got this, Ranchers,’ they say, and ‘Go Us.’ Our group dynamics play out: the tall, enthusiastic social media influencer leads the charge, the smooth banker concurs, the powerful executive board woman finally relaxes and chats to me about her children, and the insurance CEO chortles his dream order for a cappuccino at the top.

Miranda is awoken each morning at the palazzo (above) by a 5.30am wake-up call 

One of The Ranch’s hikes in the Italian countryside. Groups are off hiking by 7am, Miranda reveals

The spa town of Fiuggi. ‘Since the early 14th century, royalty, popes and Renaissance masters — among them Michelangelo — have come to unwind in this forested valley famed for its healing waters,’ writes Miranda 

Driving back from the four-hour walks, I often feel dizzy from the lack of food and exertion. On day five, when a bowl of quinoa and carrot brings tears to my eyes, The Ranch team takes pity on me and brings a bowl of breakfast granola.

Yet all of us have climbed personal mountains. My cancer brain fog clears, courage returns, a post-pandemic insecurity about travel and socialising is dusted off. By the end of the week, one member of our group has lost a stupendous 17lb, while most of us have lost from 3 to 6lb. 

More important, we all feel energised and grateful for such an unusual and regimented break from our working lives.

TRAVEL FACTS

The Ranch Italy at Palazzo Fiuggi, four days from £4,034 pp. Use the code DM203 for 20 per cent off until May 1 (theranchmalibu.com). Gatwick to Rome Fiumicino returns on Wizz Air are from £35.98 (wizzair.com). 

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