Gluten-Free Living sat down with Stacy Schwartz, CEO and founder of Ketanga Fitness Retreats, a wellness retreat firm that allows active, mindful travelers to eat well and exercise, all while exploring the world.
Stacy Schwartz, a born-and-raised New Yorker, has always loved to travel. It’s been part of her DNA since she was a little girl. As she grew up and entered the workforce, she’d constantly plan trips to destinations where she was seeking a way to keep up with her daily fitness routine while on the road. Try as she might, she wasn’t able to find a retreat or any group travel that offered the trifecta: fitness, adventure and relaxation.
It was then that she saw an opportunity in the fitness market to create her company, Ketanga Fitness Retreats. She left her job in corporate America behind and traveled alone for 100 days. It was during that time that she charted her own travel course, trying local, healthy foods, visiting local fitness studios and seeing the sights, but all the while wishing she could have this experience with other like-minded travelers.
“I had an idea to bring these kind of unique, curated travel experiences to people who liked fitness and to work with different fitness professionals and studios to host the trips, being the liaison that actually took care of the planning, organizing, logistics that often scare people away from travel completely,” Schwartz said.
Shortly thereafter, her dream became a reality. She started speaking with some of her favorite gyms and trainers about this idea, and they too, fell in love with the concept. Ketanga’s first retreat was to Florida, and now, to date, the company has hosted over 55 retreats and 150 events, all while keeping Schwartz’s “Travel Well” philosophy in mind, combining a special balance of fitness, adventure and relaxation.
The gluten-free connection
One of the core pillars of the retreats centers around healthy food and trying local culinary offerings. Given the types of people who are attracted to fitness retreats, Schwartz has no shortage of those who have dietary restrictions, namely being gluten free.
“Gluten sensitives are one of the more common dietary restrictions we see, and we are lucky to work with some incredible hotels and chefs who not only understand this restriction but are also able to create delicious gluten-free options for our guests,” Schwartz said. “In fact, we sometimes prepare gluten-free menus for all guests, who would never know the difference.”
Each retreat has its own unique location, itinerary and feel to it, as does each menu plan for the trips. Some take place in private villas or retreat centers where Schwartz liaises directly with private chefs for most meals. Alternatively, other retreats are located within cities or towns where part of the itinerary is dining out at local restaurants in the area. “While we love having variety on our trips, we always make sure there are healthy options and dietary restriction-friendly options available on any included meal,” she added.
Nicole Carrea, a recent Ketanga attendee, lives a gluten-free lifestyle and was so thankful she was able to take a vacation that suited her dietary needs. Initially, she was hesitant to take the plunge as she was worried about communicating her needs with a language barrier on her trip to Latin America, and she felt anxiety over traveling. “A phone call with the Ketanga team prior to booking the trip put my mind at ease, and once in Costa Rica, Ketanga’s insider knowledge of the area and personal relationships with local businesses ensured I had all of the accommodations I needed. I ate delicious, fresh, gluten-free food all week and even had the courage to safely try some local specialties,” she noted. “Their attention to detail and focus on guest experience will ensure food is a highlight of your trip and never a source of anxiety.”
When guests sign on for a retreat, they are asked to provide their personal information in advance so that Ketanga can accommodate gluten-free meals or any other dietary restrictions. Then, Ketanga gets to work marrying local food vendors and restaurants with their itineraries.
“In addition to building special menus at local restaurants for group meals, we have had cooking classes where guests get a hands-on look into how local specialties are created and then have recipes they can take back home,” said Schwartz. “Last year, we started working with a chef in Costa Rica who provided a local fruit workshop where guests tried about 10 different fruits they have never before seen in the U.S.”
Ketanga’s food philosophy is simple: It is not there to tell people what and how much they should be eating, but it does offer balanced and healthy options so that everyone feels welcomed, comfortable and satiated.
Fitness for the future
Schwartz’s company philosophy of “Travel Well” really boils down to two complementary meanings. One is to be mindful of including some wellness into your journey, which can be as simple as opting for a walking tour instead of a bus tour. The second is to make the most of your travels. She believes that if someone is interested in doing something or trying a new thing, it’s imperative for them to make it happen, because you never know if you will be back there again.
As for new launches, Ketanga is unveiling a host of unique destination retreats this year, including themed ones such as “Boxing and the Beach” and “Fitness, Food and Fun” in Costa Rica, as well as “Winter Escape Yoga Retreat” in Nicaragua and “Ride + Flow” in Ireland. It has also begun to offer a line of customized bachelorette retreats for bridal parties who are looking to feel their best before their big day as well as cannabis and yoga retreats that will dive into the healing effects of cannabis in a thoughtful way.
It is also offering 55 and over wellness retreats that focus on empowering adults to make healthy and appropriately active choices as they age alongside like-minded individuals.
As Schwartz looks to the future of Ketanga, she plans to launch new retreats with exciting activities and meals in destinations such as Portugal, Colombia and Denver.