Le Dolci Dolomiti
Climb new heights, eat clean, gain clarity: Reach peak health in the Italian Alps with The Ranch Dolomites.

Italy is known for its great wine, pizza, pasta, parmigiana, and prosciutto, so why would anyone travel here to willingly participate in a weeklong vegan diet sans alcohol? As one fit patron of the California-based Ranch Malibu (see “California Calm” in the US section of this guide) put it, "Why would you go to Italy to starve? I have done the program in Malibu four times and the last thing I want when I go to Italy are three almonds for the day." She, of course, was exaggerating; on hikes at the Malibu property, participants get two pieces of dried apricot to go with the three almonds. But in the Italian Alps, it’s a different scenario.

The Ranch Dolomites is the annual satellite program of the award-winning, results-oriented fitness and wellness retreats founded in 2010 by husband-and-wife team Alex and Sue Glasscock. For seven weeks during September and October, and in between the August summer rush and winter ski season, The Ranch Malibu decamps to Italy’s Alta Badia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the five-star Rosa Alpina, a family-owned hotel in the village of San Cassiano.

“Coming to do a rigorous program in the Dolomites is about challenging yourself to be disciplined, to steer clear of the temptation to order that pasta dish and drink that wine, that cappuccino,” explains Alex. “You are forced to focus on cleansing and detoxing your system, to learn how to enjoy things in moderation. It’s not about deprivation, it’s about moderation.”

Many alumni of the Malibu program attend the Italian retreat for that discipline challenge, because after all, this is Italy and there exists an unspoken leniency on those who want to stray and have an espresso at the piano bar or book a reservation at Rosa Alpina’s three-Michelin-starred St Hubertus restaurant. “It’s harder to control a large group of 21 when you have them in a public space like a hotel and not your own dedicated facility,” says Alex. “Those who give in to their desires are kindly asked to keep it to themselves, so as not to get everyone else following their bad behavior.”

Still, the Glasscocks believe Rosa Alpina is the perfect venue for their Italian basecamp. “The hotel is the right size,” says Alex. “It’s small enough to feel like you’re staying in someone’s home.” A program alum agrees, “There’s more of a flow here with the hotel and the freedom to do more. It’s not as isolated as the Ranch in Malibu. Isolation is good and a necessity sometimes, but here the program’s format works better.”

That format involves daily 5:30 a.m. knocks on the door to get everyone in the workout studio for 30 minutes of stretching before a quick breakfast and a 4-hour, 10-mile hike. Some say the treks here are harder than in Malibu; the altitude kicks in and two hiking poles are required to handle the steep trails. Local guides who freeclimb these mountains lead the group on a fast-paced rally, placing flags along the route for those who need to travel a bit slower. They change locations daily to make it interesting and different, and offer little surprises like lunch on a peak overlooking the valley or a meditation moment at a secret spot off the beaten path. All to help ease the strenuous effort required to make it to the finish line.

Yet the rigorous workout doesn’t end on the mountain. Back at the hotel, after lunch and an hour break, the day continues with three hours of strength conditioning, ab and core work, and yoga classes. In-room massages are a welcome part of the daily regimen, not as a luxury but as a necessity; each masseuse is a sports therapist skilled at finding and kneading out hiking pain points. To further alleviate muscle soreness, those with the energy to spa before dinner can take advantage of the hotel’s Finnish sauna (80 degrees Fahrenheit) and bio sauna (55 degrees with 35-percent humidity) followed by a quick dip in the ice-cold plunge pool.

The physical benefits, though, are not the only reason many decide to sign up; there are mental attributes to be gained from such a program. “We create a structure that allows people to focus on what is front of mind,” says Alex. “When you’re out in nature for four hours, you achieve great clarity. And it’s interesting how when you’re looking for an answer and you’re hiking with these strangers who become this bonded group for a week, you find the answers.”

It also helps that everything is taken care of and there is no need to make any decisions. “We are being bombarded all the time,” says Sue, “and there’s something nurturing about being told what to do and what to eat. We allow you not to think. The whole day is choreographed like camp. You just flip off the switch and let us take over. It’s mentally freeing.”

The Glasscocks make it easy to hand over that control with confidence, right down to the meals. To maintain the quality of the Ranch’s signature plant-based diet, they fly in their culinary team from California. All the ingredients are sourced locally and the Ranch’s chef collaborates with the executive chef of Rosa Alpina’s restaurant to infuse the local fare with vegan creativity. It’s not too difficult a task when the ingredients are naturally organic and the mountains are covered with herbs. It all translates to inventive dishes such as beet root pasta, cauliflower piccata, herbed tomato tart, and chickpea frittata, to name a few.

The program’s takeaway is a new knowledge for working out, stretching more, and eating right—whether it’s beet ravioli or gluten-free mushroom pizza, the craving for parmigiana and prosciutto is all but gone. From $10,000/person; theranchmalibu.com  —Deborah Frank