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No Internet, TV, junk food or alcohol allowed at Aja, a new luxury retreat in Malibu

One of the guest rooms at Aja, a boutique-style health and luxury wellness retreat in the Malibu hills.
One of the guest rooms at Aja, a boutique-style health and luxury wellness retreat in the Malibu hills.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A sign at the entrance to Aja Malibu asks visitors to drop their cellphones in a basket. They are verboten during a stay at the new deluxe retreat, along with laptops and tablets. And don’t even think about smuggling in those Doritos or the rest of that takeout macchiato.

“We’re not going to deprive you,” said Inannya Magick, founder of Aja, which is scheduled to open its doors June 20. “But we want you to come here like you’re committed to trying a different way of living.”

Magick -- yes, that’s her real last name -- said she had long envisioned a place that was not just about weight loss (although, given the plant-based diet, that will probably happen). It’s not rehab either, nor a spa getaway. Instead, Aja -- the name comes from that of the goddess of medicinal herbs in African folklore -- is a place, said Magick, “that is about flowers and plants and healing.”

And it’s in a setting that would rival any five-star hotel.

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Magick and her business partner acquired the sprawling but disheveled 23-acre property off Latigo Canyon Road in Malibu eight years ago.

Now, there is a luxurious seven-bedroom home with a meditation room, a living room that also serves as a lounge and library, an apothecary, kitchen and dining room with a large communal table. The main house is set amid lush fruit and vegetable orchards and herb gardens.

Magick steps outside to pluck vibrant orange calendula flowers to garnish flaxseed crackers, or lemon verbena to infuse in tea. Throughout, the details are largely symbolic of other cultures and traditions: cushions in the living room are made from the grain sacks of Berber tribes; the Om Room -- set aside for meditation -- has a stone engraving of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of wisdom.

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There are about 200 brass Moroccan lamps around the property. Guest rooms feature sunken tubs, fur-covered bed spreads, everything in soothing shades of ivory and dove gray. There is not a TV or telephone in sight. Each guest is greeted with his or her own pure silver tea cup for their personal use while there; tea -- the making and drinking of it -- is a big part of a stay at Aja.

Not surprisingly, being there is an investment. Stays are Monday to Monday, no exceptions. The cost of a week at Aja, all inclusive, is $10,000.

A day at Aja starts with a 7 a.m. knock at your door with the delivery of hot herbal tea. Each day is dedicated to a different chakra -- energy points in the body -- so the teas are formulated with that specific body part in mind.

An easy hike on a nearby trail follows, after which guests can meditate or sit with their journals in one of the gardens. Shelves in the library are stacked with books on astrology and yoga.

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There are workshops to choose from -- an on-site “tea sommelier,” who happens to be the son of a shaman, walks guests through different herbs and berries and the like, and how they fortify the body; a favored blend combines ashwagandha, gotu kola, and schisandra.

Guests can also sit in on a whole-foods cooking class, learning to prepare delicacies such as lavender-infused cacao truffles or slivers of beet accented with herbed cashew cream.

The spa has a far infrared sauna, which uses technology that mimics the sun’s rays to slowly warm the body, as well as a warm plunge pool. Guests can also have massages during which the therapist uses Tibetan sound bowls to create soothing tones, and oils infused with herbs from the grounds.

Later, guests -- there will rarely be more than seven at a time -- gather for “soup and share,” which is just as it sounds, drinking a plant-based soup and conversing about their lives.

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The evening ends with a ceremony by the fire pit, storytelling and a drum circle before lights are out at 10 p.m.

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If it sounds indulgent and New Age-extreme, Magick makes no excuses for it.

She said that her own chronic health issues as a child in Australia led her to seek alternative treatments in homeopathy and naturopathy, and, through Aja, she wants to share what she has learned. That said, this is not a place for people dealing with life-threatening medical or serious psychological problems, a fact that is outlined in a pre-intake questionnaire.

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“I want to show how we can be in nature and beauty, eat these foods, share beautiful rituals together, and that can put us in a state of bliss without the use of alcohol or other intoxicants,” she said.

“So many people are stuck in negative thinking patterns. They are addicted to their phone, unhealthy foods, the TV, other unhealthy aspects in society. We need a place of respite and rejuvenation. But we’re also not reinventing the wheel. We’re exploring ancient rituals, and those will help us remember what we’ve lost along the way.”

Health@latimes.com

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