Mature Japanese gardens capture the spirit of Golden Door. Zen rock gardens that feed the soul. Roji, simple rustic gardens, for engaging with others over tea, and kaiyu-shiki-teien, stroll gardens that engage visitors in the richness of the garden experience.
As Japanese gardens feed the soul, our culinary gardens will feed your body. Fresh vegetables rise from the earth in our vegetable gardens. Oranges may be plucked fresh from our giving trees. One day, the olive trees of a grove reclaimed will bear their nutritious fruit.
There are more than 600 acres of nature to hike, run or simply explore at your own pace at Golden Door. Mountains to climb. Vistas to discover. A bamboo forest that gives voice to the wind. Natural life that gives visitors the gift of boundlessness.
Being in nature not only feeds the body, but can feed the soul. Sometimes, the best exercise doesn’t feel like exercise at all. With more than 30 miles of hiking trails that trace mountainsides or meander through meadows, there’s a natural path to fitness for every guest.
My wife, Krissy, said, “Ludo, you need to go here.” I thought, “I’m a man, no way, no way.” But it really changed me. Nothing is more precious than to be peaceful and not be spinning in your life. It’s a luxury.
What first brought you to Golden Door?
Ludo: I went for the Men’s Week, three years ago. I was very tired in my life, exhausted. Life is very stressful, it’s fast, you work 24 hours, 7 days a week. You never really have time to yourself.
I don’t know if I ever spent a week just by myself. After 2 or 3 days there I started to change. To just be with myself. You have lots of people around you, of course, but at night you are alone in your room. It was almost magical the peacefulness. It was calm.
What did you learn about yourself?
Ludo: Just to be myself. They also taught me how to breathe with yoga. I learned how to meditate and I learned Tai Chi. The Tai Chi is amazing!! The best thing is to wake up every morning at 5:15 and go on the hike for 5 miles. You go when its dark, you watch the sun rise. It was really a great feeling.
Everybody needs to have a week like this. To reboot yourself. To retrain yourself about life. For creativity. It’s good for my job to be creative, to hear myself think.
How has Golden Door changed you?
Ludo: The first time I came back, I didn’t drink alcohol for almost 10 months. Because you go there and for the first six days you have no alcohol. “Oh S@#$!” And by Saturday night when they bring you a glass of wine, I didn’t care.
And now I still don’t drink alcohol anymore. I mean I have a little glass of wine sometimes, you know, but I don’t drink.
They taught me to moderate alcohol, take care of my body. They teach you how to eat. The food there is amazing. Chef Greg is so passionate. I don’t know how they do it.
The most important thing when you’re there is to reconnect with your heart and to learn how to love yourself. If you don’t love yourself, I think you cannot love people. No way. It has to start with you.
So how do you feel about Men’s Week, now?
Ludo: You meet some good buddies. When I talk with guys, I say you need to go to the Golden Door. You need to go to the Men’s Weeks. They say, what? Just with men??”
I say, "It’s fun! It’s great! What’s wrong with going to relax with just men, you play soccer on a team you’re just with men…
“It’s like summer camp.”
Have you had an “aha” moment there that you can describe?
Krissy: The first day they say, “there’s a hike at 5:15 and I’m like, “you’re crazy, I’m sleeping in, not happening”. But then the second day I just sat down after lunch, sitting by the pool relaxing, and the tears just started coming.
I don’t remember the last time I did “me”. You know, my whole life I was always worrying about somebody else. I never, ever felt that moment that I felt of “somebody is taking care of me.” It was so insane and you can just feel it. And everybody needs that moment of not having the burden of “the world.”
You can love your family, you can love your friends, you can love your job, but at some point you have to say, “this is me and what do I deserve?” It was pretty incredible.
So the next morning, I was like, “Hell yeah! I’m going on that hike!” It’s just felt so good. It was literally like a state of euphoria. I had a hard time giving up the phone the first time and the second time I was like, “Here, take it,” at the entry.
How would you describe Golden Door?
Ludo: It’s not a spa or a boot camp. You learn about you. You learn about your body and how to take care of yourself. It’s to reconnect with yourself.
Krissy: For me it’s putting myself in a safe place to try things that I’ve never done or don’t want to do. Why would I want to do a 5:15 a.m. walk? Why the hell would I want to do that? But this time I did it every single day.
Ludo Lefebvre is the acclaimed French chef, restaurateur, pop-up impresario, author and celebrity chef of The Taste, Master Chef and Ludo Bites. Krissy Lefebvre is the other half of the culinary power couple, VP of Ludo Management and producer of Ludo Bites America.
This place saved my life. It really taught me how to care for myself, because I was taught to take care of everyone else. I’m Italian so I learned from the masters of making sure everybody else is well fed and well cared for. Here I found my inner tools that had gotten lost.
What first brought you to Golden Door?
I was in the restaurant industry, had lived in Italy for awhile, and always wanted to go back and get my MBA. In the meantime, I met my husband, graduated from business school, moved back to Italy for a few months to finish my degree and then came back and had two daughters. We started Pavi Wines and I also got into real estate at the same time.
Fast forward, things are going well, kind of living the dream and then my husband and I ended up separating and getting a divorce. Which is what brought me to the Golden Door.
The first time I went there I was sold, never need to go to another spa again.
One word you would use to describe Golden Door?
Transformative. The first time I came I was in such an extreme sadness throughout my life. And I had two daughters who at the time were 7 and 9. And whether I want to be or not, I am a role model for them. It was so important for me to get out of that sadness. This place really taught me how to care for myself and make myself a priority.
What made you feel human again?
There are only 40 guests at a time so the individual care and attention that the fitness people, the chefs, the masseuse, and all the inner focus people, they all somehow manage to figure out what each individual needs. So as guests leave on Sunday morning, everyone leaves in this glowing, glistening, fulfilled way that is so unique.
Also just the friendships you make meeting other women from all over the world. Seeing women who from the outside seem like their lives must be perfect, and then, whether its on a hike or sitting by the pool, you share a story and you realize everyone has their own story and everybody has challenges. Those are the memories for me that are just pivotal in my life.
Favorite things to do at Golden Door?
The hikes in the morning, for so many different reasons. I think it’s the safety factor, what people share. I know those first few years I was just so vulnerable but I felt so safe. I have friends that I made those first few years who are some of my closest friends today. It’s just amazing.
The second favorite thing for me, is the swimming. I swam in high school, I knew how to swim, but coming here and learning how to swim in a more proficient way was, again, transformative. And this is for my own ego and self-confidence. It had been severely rocked during my divorce but every time I get in the pool at Golden Door somebody says, “Oh! You’re a beautiful swimmer. Have you been doing this for years?”
How has your Golden Door experience changed for you over the years?
The first couple of years, I wanted to do every single class I could possibly attend. But my pace has changed, it’s different now. I’m much more in balance and giving myself permission to miss a class which, again, was transformative.That probably happened four or five years ago. I will spend time in my room, sometimes I’ll just go for a walk because the grounds are so beautiful.
And you took up running here?
I was never a runner, but I learned to run here, and then I did the New York Marathon! For one who never did a run in her life and who doesn’t even enjoy it, the fact that I learned from a trainer here made all the difference. He was so encouraging, and he coached me remotely and he’d check in and call every couple of weeks. He was great. I really give him a lot of credit for me being able to do that marathon.
What’s was an “Aha” moment for you?
The first time I was walking the labyrinth. I really felt loved and cherished in a way that I had never felt before and thinking, “Gosh, if I could just take that home with me and give myself a little piece of how special I felt at Golden Door, each day I’d feel a little happier, more confident and things would get better.”
I can see the evolution over the past eight years. I feel like I’ve gotten healthier, stronger and happier.
How do you feel about not having wine until the last night?
It’s not a big deal for me but I love Saturday night when we get a glass of wine.
Pavi Micheli Lawson is the co-founder of Pavi Napa Valley, offering classic Italian varietals.
My wish for them is to step outside of the rat race so they can check in on their hopes and wishes. This place brings you back to the core of yourself and connects you to everything. Especially each other.
What first brought you to Golden Door?
About 20 years ago, my husband Roger Ebert and I had been to many different spas, even in different countries. We decided to go to Golden Door because I wanted a more luxurious experience.
In the earlier years I would probably go once or twice a year. In more recent years when I have specific goals, when I was grieving after the death of my husband, I went more often. Sometimes I go when I’m writing or composing something. It’s a good spot to get together with another creative person.
It becomes a part of your life.
How would you describe Golden Door to people who haven’t been here?
Golden Door gives me a jump start on leading a healthy, balanced life.I call it a health retreat. I say I’m going on this beautiful retreat that’s built like a Japanese village in California! (Laughter)
When I come back, people see how energized I am. I look great and I’m glowing and then they’re interested. “Oh, what did you do?”, they ask.
What have you learned from your many visits?
If I had to say one thing, it would be living a purposeful life. Ever since my husband passed away five years ago, my philanthropy has become more important to me. I really try to work with programs endowing emerging writers, film critics, technologists and film makers.
Another highlight is the bee tour with Chef Greg. I knew from being an environmental attorney how important bees were. It gave me a better appreciation of the whole chain of life. That everything is interconnected. I thought about the hierarchy of the bees, I thought about the how each one has its function and how they work in harmony as a team. It made me look at things and just appreciate people even more.
Favorite things to do there?
A must for me is the morning hike. It just clears my head for day, I like to get up in the morning and commune with nature. It wakes you up better than a cup of coffee.
My absolute favorite are the dance classes. They’re strenuous but you’re having so much fun that you don’t even realize you’re exercising. Funky Da Vinci is one of my favorite classes.
The silent Tai Chi meditation hike on the mountaintop is another favorite. A very intentional silence just brings you back to the core of yourself and connects you to everything. You know this thing of connectivity, I keep going back to.
Frankly, I just enjoy the camaraderie of the other guests. The atmosphere that Golden Door provides is conducive to a very harmonious stay. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years there.
Golden Door is just fun! I love the idea of going someplace where you can pack as little as possible because they’re going to provide you with everything else.
I love when I go back to my room and the “magic hands” have taken away my laundry, the “magic hands” have put a fan on my tray in the morning with my schedule for the day because they’ve already talked to me about what I want.
What does your family get out of Golden Door in your eyes?
I would say the bonding experience of all of us being together. Stepping into a more mindful environment where they can think about the kind of contributions they want to make to the world.
They definitely like the exercise classes - the boxing, fencing, archery, personal training. I take several family members to the Golden Door. My son and grandson. My nephew, who is a marathon runner, loves to run up the mountains.
Chaz Ebert is the CEO of several Ebert enterprises, including President of The Ebert Company Ltd, and of Ebert Digital LLC, Publisher of RogerEbert.com, President of Ebert Productions and Chairman of the Board of The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, and Co-Founder and Producer of Ebertfest, the film festival now in its 18th year.
Security, happiness and peace. These are the hardest things to find. This place is a reprieve from our crazy, upside down world. That feeling of safety lets me throw caution to the wind and try new things.
What brought you to Golden Door?
I went down for the week, not really knowing what to expect and having really an open mind about everything. They called me the week before to get the low down on what I liked, what I wanted to do, what I wanted to eat, what I wanted to accomplish. And it felt very personal.
I wanted to use Golden Door as an opportunity to try new things. Here’s a chance to shake old habits or old routines and tackle whatever it is.
It wasn’t like, “Oh I gotta lose weight, I gotta do this or I gotta do that, it wasn’t like there was so much pressure.
Imagine if you went through a checklist, “How do I want my Shangri-La to be?” You get to pick out everything you want. Everything is so individualized there. It’s all about you.
What was transformative for you?
Golden Door makes you feel safe. I feel like it’s its own reprieve from the rest of the world. I drove down from LA they took my car and I’m literally parking my existence and shutting out the world as the door closes. You walk across that bridge into that amazing zen Golden Door world.
I think transformation is an incredible word, but I think of transformation there less in a physical sense but transformation more in a spiritual, mental sense.
What was your “Aha” moment?
I’ve never done fencing before so I went. It’s taught by a Russian coach who used to train people for the Olympics, no joke!” And I go there with, not low expectations, but no expectations, because I’m thinking, “How many times am I going to be sword fighting in my life?”
He starts teaching me the leg movements, the arm movements, the feet, the coordination. Within five minutes he’s like, “Are you a dancer?” Within 20 minutes I was so into it, I loved it so much and he was so into teaching me he said, “Are you sure you have never done this before? You should have started earlier, you could have competed professionally.”
WHAT?? Here was something I had no intention of ever doing in my life, probably will never do again, doing it because I was in the safety of the Golden Door world.
But that’s sort of what I was talking about in a way about transformation, it wasn’t physically losing weight but it was an “Aha moment”, this thing that I thought was silly, was actually incredible exercise but it was also a competitive sport that I felt like I was good at.
How did you feel as a fashion person wearing the same thing as everyone else?
I love it! It was Men’s Week, there were celebrities there, but we all wore the same sweat pants and the same T-shirt, we all wore the same robe, and we all talked to each other and sat at communal tables. There was such a camaraderie and I felt like that part was really nice because you can go on vacation, but it never really feels like everything is leveled out.
I’m still friends with some of those guys. I also love that you can have your private moments. You have everybody and you also have your time. And there’s no pressure to be either. It was really your own private oasis the way you wanted it to work.
Favorite things other than fencing?
My personal trainer gave me a workout that I still do. Having a healthier mind in the way I approach things. I did meditation, Tai chi - I’ve never done Tai Chi in my life. Literally with the guy, we’re up there “Pet the dragon, stroke the Phoenix!” I was like this is hilarious and kind of awesome at the same time. I don’t think I was very good at it, nobody told me to compete in the Olympics for Tai Chi, but it was very enlightening.
It’s those things, like being in the kitchen with the chef. And I still cook those recipes. I still make the spice ginger cake. They also gave me a tour with the chickens! That is still my favorite time. I’m a city boy so I don’t sit around with chickens, and I walked into the chicken coop and they all fluttered around my feet. They’re all around me, it was kind of awesome.
Joe Zee is a Hong Kong-born fashion stylist, journalist, producer, businessman and actor, known for Entertainment Tonight, FabLife and Celebrity Style Story. Zee served as creative director of Elle and was editor-in-chief and executive creative officer of Yahoo! Style until June 2017.