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Why this retreat at Italy’s Palazzo Fiuggi is arguably the chicest boot camp in the world

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

Since the early 14th century, royalty, popes and Renaissance masters – including Michelangelo – have come to rest in this wooded valley famous for its healing waters.

The Ranch just opened its first European outpost at the Palazzo Fiuggi, following the gilded heels of its famed Malibu, California retreat 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 a health boost. But my goodness, the rules are strict. All guests must sign a privacy policy and are encouraged to make drastic diet and lifestyle changes one month prior to arrival.

The Ranch, a famed retreat that originated in Malibu, has just opened its first European outpost at Italy’s Palazzo Fiuggi (above). Miranda Taylor tries out the new boot camp

The Ranch is popular with the likes of Michelle Obama (above)

The Ranch is popular with the likes of Michelle Obama (above)

Founded in 2010, The Ranch founders Alex and Sue Glasscock noticed their friends gaining weight and lethargy. So they decided to create a program themselves, hired a vegan chef and developed a very structured format. Broadly speaking, The Ranch’s philosophy is that a gluten-free, plant-based diet reduces inflammation and the risk of disease.

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

As prize fighters, we are weighed and given an EKG heart and blood test, have our waist and hip measurements taken, and undergo an hour of fitness class followed by a vegan organic dinner.

Miranda's week-long stay includes 'lack of food, no alcohol;  walking, fitness and yoga and, practice, massages'.  Upstairs is the hotel's spa

Miranda’s week-long stay includes ‘lack of food, no alcohol; walking, fitness and yoga and, practice, massages’. Upstairs is the hotel’s spa

The hotel is located in the Apennines east of Rome, around the spa town of Fiuggi

The hotel is located in the Apennines east of Rome, around the spa town of Fiuggi

“Thank God, the rules are strict,” Miranda says of Palazzo Fiuggi boot camp (file photo)

Miranda's group is made up of high-flying professionals who have flown in from New York, LA and London.  Upstairs is the palazzo's restaurant

Miranda’s group is made up of high-flying professionals who have flown in from New York, LA and London. Upstairs is the palazzo’s restaurant

The Ranch philosophy is that a gluten-free, plant-based diet reduces inflammation and the risk of disease.  Above is one of the dishes from the boot camp

The Ranch philosophy is that a gluten-free, plant-based diet reduces inflammation and the risk of disease. Above is one of the dishes from the boot camp

We then get some key Ranch mantras to chew on: abdication of responsibility; achieve all you can; focus on you; get a little dirty; allow consciousness; being in the present moment. I’m starting to think Gwyneth Paltrow might show up. That night I don’t sleep well, waiting for the 5:30 wake-up call and wondering how I’ll survive a week on 1,400 vegan calories a day.

We dutifully stretch at 6am, eat a small granola-type breakfast (no yogurt) and go for a walk at 7am.

When the road is particularly steep and rocky, voices of encouragement crackle over the walkie-talkies we all carry in our daypacks for safety. “We’ve got this, Ranchers,” they say, and “Go to us.” Our group dynamic plays out: the tall, enthusiastic social media influencer leads the charge, the smooth banker agrees, the powerful boardwoman finally relaxes and talks to me about her kids, and the insurance CEO chuckles his dream order for a cappuccino at the top.

Miranda is awakened every morning in the palazzo (upstairs) by a wake-up call at 5:30 am

Miranda is awakened every morning in the palazzo (upstairs) by a wake-up call at 5:30 am

One of The Ranch's walks in the Italian countryside.  Groups leave at 7am, Miranda reveals

One of The Ranch’s walks in the Italian countryside. Groups leave at 7am, Miranda reveals

The spa town of Fiuggi.  'Since the early 14th century, royalty, popes and Renaissance masters - including Michelangelo - have come to rest in this wooded valley famous for its healing waters,' writes Miranda.

The spa town of Fiuggi. ‘Since the early 14th century, royalty, popes and Renaissance masters – including Michelangelo – have come to rest in this wooded valley famous for its healing waters,’ writes Miranda.

When I drive back from the four-hour walks, I often feel dizzy from the lack of food and exercise. 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 we have all climbed personal mountains. The brain fog of my cancer clears, courage returns, a post-pandemic uncertainty about travel and socializing is dusted off. By the end of the week, one member of our group has lost a whopping 17 pounds, while most of us have lost between 3 and 6 pounds.

More importantly, we all feel energized and grateful for such an unusual and regulated break from our working lives.

TRAVEL FACTS

The Ranch Italy at Palazzo Fiuggi, four days from £4,034 pp. Use code DM203 for 20 percent off through May 1 (theranchmalibu.com). Returns from Gatwick to Rome Fiumicino with Wizz Air are from £35.98 (wizzair.com).

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