Travel: Feel­good fac­to­ries Anna Paster­nak

Europe’s best spas can work mir­a­cles on jaded bod­ies and minds, says Anna Paster­nak. And if you can’t af­ford their prices, there are more mod­est al­ter­na­tives closer to home

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

We are light years from the days when a coun­try house ho­tel boast­ing a Jacuzzi, a sauna and a me­diocre mas­sage could le­git­i­mately call it­self a spa. The cur­rent spa in­dus­try is a boom­ing, multi­bil­lion-pound heavy hitter in the well­ness and travel busi­ness. The world’s top spas are often in stun­ning lo­ca­tions (jaw-drop­ping views are es­sen­tial) and of­fer medi-clin­ics, Zen re­treats, so­phis­ti­cated detox cen­tres and spir­i­tual odysseys. The buzz word is awakening: awakening from the tor­por of a slug­gish, un­healthy ex­is­tence and mov­ing to­wards op­ti­mum health and ful­fill­ing your po­ten­tial for greater longevity.

Thank­fully, we’ve moved through the Eight­ies phase of de­pri­va­tion and the Nineties fad for over-ex­er­cise. Puni­tive star­va­tion is passé. Yes, we may want to shift a few pounds and tone some flab, and there are mil­i­tary-style fit­ness boot camps to knock us into shape, but mod­ern spas are ed­u­ca­tional and even life-chang­ing, recog­nis­ing that we need a proper eval­u­a­tion of our men­tal, phys­i­cal, emo­tional and spir­i­tual health.

The finest spas are like holis­tic heal­ing hospi­tals with stag­ger­ingly im­pres­sive di­ag­nos­tics. They don’t claim to heal ill­ness but to act as siren calls. Blood tests, ECGS, hor­monal checks, even tests for pre­dict­ing Alzheimer’s can be pro­vided. The choice can be dizzy­ing, so you need to match your needs with the right spa. That way, you won’t leave feel­ing wiped out, per­son­ally or fi­nan­cially. Some of these spas do not come cheap – they can cost around €3,000 (£2,600) a week – but by now don’t we all agree that good health and a fight­ing spirit are price­less?


Nes­tled in the foothills of the Ital­ian Dolomites, this grand for­mer palace is lux­ury per­son­i­fied: all ta­pes­tries, Louis Quinze fur­ni­ture and Euro­c­racy guests. Get over the loi­ter­ing body­guards, as the staff are un­fail­ingly kind and the doc­tors out­stand­ing. You will leave slim­mer, fit­ter and with an en­cy­clopae­diac knowl­edge of your body. They have a lab­o­ra­tory for test­ing your DNA so they can pre­dict fu­ture ge­netic weak­nesses and po­ten­tial for dis­ease. Bone-den­sity scan­ners will tell you the ‘age’ of your spine, your chances of get­ting os­teo­poro­sis and, no mat­ter how thin your thighs, scare the hell out of you by alert­ing you to fat around your vi­tal or­gans. So­phis­ti­cated hor­mone anal­y­sis will ex­plain why you’re al­ways shat­tered.

Through a week of rag­ing hunger (the detox diet de­liv­ers tiny mouth­fuls of ex­quis­ite food), the mirac­u­lous Chenot Method, a re­mark­able mas­sage tech­nique which in­cludes cup­ping and acu­pres­sure to elim­i­nate tox­ins, the re-en­er­gis­ing ses­sions where more currents of elec­tric­ity are zapped through you than an elec­tric fence – en­ergy is reignited. You’ll be hooked up to cou­ture vi­ta­min drips and wired daily to ozone ther­apy, where your blood will be sloshed about and pumped up with stress­bust­ing, cir­cu­la­tion-boost­ing oxy­gen.

The first three days are a hellish com­bi­na­tion of hunger and headaches but stay with it – the re­sults are me­te­oric as you leave look­ing and feel­ing a decade younger.

A one-week stay costs from £3,690 per per­son, full board, on a six-day detox pro­gramme;


This is a won­der­ful veg­e­tar­ian re­treat cen­tre in ru­ral Dorset with ba­sic ac­com­mo­da­tion and su­perb in­tu­itive treat­ments which of­fers a sen­si­ble detox. Six nights cost £600 per per­son; www. mid­dlepic­


Parkhotel in Igls, Aus­tria, is a mod­ern di­ag­nos­tic detox spa over­look­ing the moun­tains. It has a clin­i­cal feel but man­ages not to be de­press­ing. Here they prac­tise the Mod­ern Mayr cure, de­vised by Aus­trian doc­tor Franz Xaver Mayr (1875-1965), who be­lieved that good health be­gins with a prop­erly func­tion­ing di­ges­tive sys­tem. There is much re­search emerg­ing con­cern­ing a con­nec­tion be­tween an over­taxed and toxic sys­tem and the de­vel­op­ment of neu­ro­log­i­cal prob­lems, es­pe­cially Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

To­day’s guests, fifty per cent of whom are over sixty, come be­cause of the out­stand­ing level of health anal­y­sis. It is

like stay­ing at a pri­vate hospi­tal aimed at pre­ven­ta­tive medicine. It of­fers an ex­clu­sive test to see if you are pre­dis­posed to de­men­tia, as the re­sult of its ex­clu­sive re­la­tion­ship with a wellestab­lished MRI in­sti­tute in Inns­bruck, which scans the brain, then sends the re­sults to a highly qual­i­fied re­search cen­tre in Ham­burg where the re­sults are cal­i­brated.

You can have this done pri­vately in the UK for around £1,500 but in Inns­bruck, in­stead of wait­ing months for the re­sults, they come back in three days. The di­ag­no­sis is clear – yes, you are likely to get the dis­ease, within the next seven to ten years; or no, you def­i­nitely will not get the dis­ease in the same time­frame. Peace of mind does not come cheap – the test costs €1,750 (£1,520).

Af­ter a week here, pa­tiently chew­ing on dry bread rolls and slurp­ing de­li­ciously orig­i­nal soups, you leave with a gut re­stored from toxin over­load. Ideal for those with heavy, bloated stom­achs who want to re­gain their waist­line and zest for life.

One week’s Mayr de-stress pack­age costs £2,459 per per­son, in­clud­ing break­fast;


Also in Aus­tria, this spa is a mix­ture of Ger­manic ef­fi­ciency and spir­i­tual sup­port. It of­fers su­pe­rior mas­sage, daily yoga, and spe­cial­ists in nu­tri­tion, anx­i­ety and psy­chother­apy, com­bined with veg­e­tar­ian cui­sine adapted to your body type.

A three-night taster pro­gramme costs from £575 per per­son, full board;


Fi­nally, a med­i­cal spa that is truly holis­tic. Based on Ger­man doc­tor Otto Buchinger’s ther­a­peu­tic fast­ing, this is a rev­e­la­tory detox cen­tre out­side Marbella. Its hard-core ten-day fast­ing cure is aimed at spe­cific med­i­cal is­sues, from arthri­tis and IBS to low­er­ing stress, blood sug­ars and blood pres­sure, while shift­ing sig­nif­i­cant weight. Buchinger’s be­lief that when we fast the ‘in­ner physi­cian wakes up’ de­fines the ethos. While the weight loss – an av­er­age of 10lb in 10 days – leaves you eu­phoric, the in­ner self-heal­ing jour­ney is sur­pris­ing too.

If you are fast­ing, you’ll see the nurse for daily weigh-ins, blood pres­sure checks and en­e­mas, then be tucked into bed for an af­ter­noon’s rest and hot liver com­press. Ger­man ef­fi­ciency with nur­tur­ing. You’ll sur­vive on 250 calo­ries a day of liq­uid for six days, drink­ing buck­ets of the sig­na­ture ap­ple tea and bor­ing broths. You’ll en­dure the ‘Buchinger breath’ – they sug­gest cou­ples come separately, not be­cause of their stinky detox breath but be­cause the fast is seen as a spir­i­tu­ally re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the in­di­vid­ual.

But the real lure is the ther­a­pists. They are amaz­ingly in­tu­itive, as if they have been cor­ralled from some in­ter­na­tional spir­i­tual elite. This is the place to visit to clear emo­tional is­sues and soothe a shat­tered psy­che. The Ti­betan singing bowl treat­ment, in which bowls are placed on your body and an­gelic vi­bra­tions zing through your cells, clears stress, grief and shock. Clau­dia Hanisch for cran­iosacral treat­ment is worth the flight alone. She’s like a highly at­tuned body whis­perer who lis­tens to your aches and pains, then calmly re­bal­ances your en­tire be­ing.

This a won­der­ful place to re­lax and re­ju­ve­nate. The gar­dens are pretty: waft­ing jas­mine and banks of bougainvil­laea. Daily coach trips ferry you to the Marbella seafront for or­gan­ised power walks. What’s bril­liant is that if fast­ing isn’t for you, you can fol­low a scrump­tious, or­ganic, veg­e­tar­ian diet. You sit in a sep­a­rate din­ing room – which may be the saviour of your mar­riage if your hus­band is fast­ing and you need calm and nour­ish­ing. You may both ini­tially be starving on the fast or low-calo­rie diet but you won’t go short on soul food. You’ll re­dis­cover your cheek­bones and leave emo­tion­ally, phys­i­cally and, es­pe­cially spir­i­tu­ally, re­newed.

A ten-day ba­sic fast­ing cure costs from £2,900 per per­son; www.buchinger­wil­


The Clover Mill, near Worces­ter, is said to be the UK’S first bou­tique ayurvedic spa re­treat. Ac­com­mo­da­tion is in mod­ern eco lodges. It of­fers re­bal­anc­ing with a re­treat of yoga, ayurvedic mas­sage and nour­ish­ing veg­e­tar­ian food. A three­night re­treat costs from £795 per per­son, full board; www.the­clover­

Spa treat­ments of­fer an awakening from un­healthy liv­ing

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