2018 Platinum List Focus: Golden Door

When she needs an escape from her globe-trotting television adventures, Platinum List expert Ashlan Cousteau heads to this exclusive California retreat renowned for its personal attention to guests

WORDS Sandy Cohen
September / October 2018
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Ashlan Cousteau’s day job might look like a vacation to most people. She and husband Philippe Cousteau—grandson of pioneering ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau—scuba-dive in some of the world’s most spectacular locations for their Travel Channel series, Caribbean Pirate Treasure

But when Cousteau wants to unwind, she heads home to Southern California and the exclusive hideaway Golden Door. Nestled in an agricultural neighborhood just north of San Diego, the luxury spa brings new meaning to the term “all-inclusive resort.”

“It really is this beacon of light,” says Cousteau, who even finds the 110-mile drive down from Los Angeles relaxing. She treated herself to a brief visit recently after wrapping production on the second season of her pirate adventure show. Beyond the fitness classes and spa treatments you might expect—daily massages and facials are standard services—Golden Door provides all the workout clothes you need, calorie-controlled meals fresh from various gardens on the property, an array of healing experts from acupuncturists to shamans, and a feeling of fellowship.

“It’s just one of those places where you can get whatever you want out of it,” she says. “If you want to go for weight loss, you can do that. If you just want to go on a nice hike and hang out, you can do that. If you really want to go and do more soul-searching within yourself, you can do that, too. It’s awesome.”

Cousteau learned about the spa—long favored by stars such as Barbra Streisand and Oprah Winfrey—while working as a correspondent for E! News and Entertainment Tonight. “They used to give spa packages in the Oscar [gift] bags,” she says. “I remember thinking, This place sounds magical.”

She never had the opportunity to visit while working as an entertainment reporter, which she did for a decade before a chance meeting with her future husband inspired her to aim her journalistic curiosity underwater instead of at the stars. She went to a talk he was giving in L.A. about the 2010 BP oil spill “and we’ve been together ever since,” Cousteau says. They married in 2013. Now she blends her reporting skills and entertainment know-how with her husband’s ocean experience and legacy of exploration to make engaging educational programs.

Besides Caribbean Pirate Treasure, the couple produced and starred in the Discovery Channel documentary Nuclear Sharks, about how sharks in the Marshall Islands adapted to survive American nuclear testing during the Cold War; they made Treasures of the Terai, a takepart.com series about animal poaching; and created a collection of online shorts called The Aquatic World of Philippe Cousteau. The duo also works directly with children to get them excited about science, technology, exploring the planet and improving life for its inhabitants.

“If it’s not going to create a positive change, then it’s not the right project,” Cousteau says. “Now I feel like everything I do is exciting and different, and I wake up with a smile on my face.”

Encouraging conservationism and solving maritime mysteries with her husband doesn’t often feel like work to Cousteau, but long days filming can take a toll on even the most enthusiastic explorer. That’s when she heads to the spa to recharge.

Established in 1958 by wellness trailblazer Deborah Szekely (who co-founded the still thriving Rancho La Puerta spa in Mexico nearly 20 years earlier), Golden Door is an intimate retreat on 600 acres of gardens, groves and wooded hills in San Marcos, California. The Japanese-style inn houses just 40 guests, who are individually accommodated in every way. Each receives a personalized daily schedule that includes an in-room massage, private sessions with a personal trainer and aesthetician, and free time to choose from scores of classes and lectures, from yoga and Zumba to meditation.

Golden Door caters almost exclusively to women, with just a few weeks a year set aside for men’s camps and coed events, like an upcoming food-and-wine week in November. Cousteau’s globe-trotting job keeps her from ducking behind the Door as often as she might like, but she keeps its lessons with her, even when things get hectic.

“It’s so important for everyone just to take that time for themselves,” Cousteau says. “Everything is competing for our attention—our co-workers, our family, our electronics, media—and it’s nice when you can bring that attention back to yourself, even if it’s just for a few moments a day.”

To discover the 2018 Platinum List winners for Best Wellness Resort, click here.

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