Robb Report Singapore
The European Detox
I’m covered in green mud and standing semi-naked in the hose-down room. A bespectacled attendant in white Crocs sprays me with a jet of water powerful enough to put out a fierce fire. Bridget’s not just rinsing me off. This procedure is designed to stimulate my body’s meridians, like an acupuncture session, but the pressure is so high it hurts.
It’s only day two of my week-long detox (from US$8,300 per person) and my patience is already waning. Perhaps my hunger-induced headache is making me paranoid. Maybe the smell of vegetal mud mingling with the barky earthiness of the dandelion-root tea still on my breath is causing hallucinations. Whatever it is, I think I see a glimmer of schadenfreude in Bridget’s eyes.
Though at times I feel as if I’ve been dropped into a dystopian movie, I’m actually at a Swiss facility called Chenot Palace Weggis. While iterations of Chenot spas have existed for decades in Italy, Greece and elsewhere, this flagship location on Lake Lucerne opened in June 2020. It consists of a renovated wooden hotel originally built in 1875, buttressed by a brand-new white-timber-clad wing that houses modern suites and a labyrinthine medical facility.
The word ‘clinic’ is eschewed here, but anyone craving an old-world sanatorium vibe would feel at home. The hose-downs, for instance, are a ritual of Chenot’s famed seven-day Advanced Detox, the pillar programme created in the 1970s and customised with rigorous diagnostic testing to address each visitor’s specific needs. The protocol, like the others on offer here, is based on the Chenot Method, developed by Henri Chenot in the 1970s to excrete metabolic waste and toxins, repair defective tissues and restore hormonal balance. Its unique mix of results-based science and luxurious accommodation has attracted everyone from Luciano Pavarotti to Naomi Campbell.
As with any structured spa detox, the giving-up parts are hard. During the week, all guests forgo salt, sugar, booze, dairy, meat and caffeine. Everyone, regardless of size or gender, starts with a diet limited to 850 calories per day, a metric Chenot claims supports vital bodily functions while still promoting cell renewal. As a result, headaches are common and usually peak around day two or three. To quote a friend of mine who’d experienced Chenot’s Advanced Detox before me: “Day three is a bitch. Power through it.” I could almost guess which day the other guests were on. The beige-robed Germans, French, Greeks and Hollywood types began their weeks grousing to staffers (who always took it in stride) before finally acquiescing into submissive kittens around day four. Evidently, hose-downs can humble even the biggest egos.
What most impresses me is the variety of medical tests and how they empower me to better understand my body and its weak spots. Each guest is assigned a general physician, a nutritionist, a masseur and a traditional Chinese medicine doctor. My week is arranged into a tightly scheduled regimen of medical appointments and daily massages. There are even cosmetic appointments if you so choose. But science is at the root of everything Chenot does.
One examination, a heavy-metaland-mineral test reveals that I have high counts of mercury and aluminium but am low on selenium, phosphorus, iodine and some vitamins. I take supplements and eat a diet rich in seaweed and probiotics, so this news surprises me. Spirometry lung tests reveal a below-average lung capacity, but cardio-fitness exams determine I have an unusually high resting
metabolic rate – 2,414 calories to be precise – which means I need to eat at least that much every day just to break even. Other tests measure my posture and movement, vascular and artery functions and bone density.
Finally, a proprietary biofeedback test identifies my parasympathetic levels, which indicate the body’s ability to de-stress. Mine are so bad that I am called into the doctor’s office for a special session to learn about the potential cardiac risks. I am also encouraged to regulate stress with deep breathing and meditation techniques, best done in the property’s heritage bonsai courtyards. This information is particularly life-changing for me. All the results are printed out so that I can keep track of things on my own long after the visit.
Another highlight is Chenot’s bodycomposition analysis, which, among other things, assesses the ratio of two types of fat: the problematic vascular fat hidden around our organs and the easier-to-burn subcutaneous fat. “You’re lucky that most of your fat is subcutaneous,” says my nutritionist, Maria-Anne. “Many supermodels visit and they appear to have zero body fat but learn they have high counts of hidden vascular fat after the test.” I take comfort knowing that even supermodels have health problems. Schadenfreude strikes again.
Because you’re operating on limited calories, Chenot discourages too much exercise during the Advanced Detox. This is no bootcamp. Still, I swim in the lake every day, and I try some of Chenot’s fitness courses, among them antigravity treadmill training and aqua aerobics, both ideal for my Generation X knees. My trainer helps me gauge my aerobic threshold, used to determine my optimal heart rate for burning fat in high-intensity interval training, intel I still use at the gym months later. And one evening, I timidly enter the -110 degrees Celsius cryotherapy chamber, purported to help you sleep better and relieve sore joints, but it does little to assist me with either.
During the week, I test a handful of other unusual state-of-the-art treatments. I spend 30 minutes in a dark room wearing a headset to experience neuro-acoustic therapy, which uses auditory signals to decrease your autonomic nervous system’s fight-or-flight mode and crank up the parasympathetic levels. It is said to calm the body into deep relaxation, but I feel more irritable after it. I also sample photobiomodulation tests, a form of focused laser-light therapy that shows exactly where the body is experiencing inflammation, and it is nice to see an accurate visual of my body’s stressed areas. Chenot even has an in-house lab where it’s researching and developing highly specialised treatments for an individual’s specific genetic make-up.
If undertaking all these assessments on a near empty stomach sounds daunting, know that limited calories don’t mean boring food. Chenot’s vegan cuisine is stellar. The dishes are small but ornate in their presentation, placing a premium on colours, flavours and textures. They are also deeply comforting. Variations of lasagna, sushi, gnocchi, risotto, ravioli and eggplant Parmesan rely on nut creams and substitutions for traditional pasta grains to ensure that food is delicious and statistically non-reactive, so reputedly less likely to cause inflammation or digestion problems. Chefs and nutritionists choose ingredients that trick the body into thinking it’s fasting even though I continue to have small meals. I’ve even attempted to re-create a few of the dishes at home after a week of heavy eating and drinking.
I check out on day seven with a renewed sense of my body and its capacity to heal itself. And I am brimming with a focused, youthful energy I haven’t felt since smartphones took over the world. I’ve even lost 4.5kg.
The million-dollar question: did I keep the weight off? Not exactly. I gained 0.9kg back the following month when Switzerland, where I live, returned to a semi-lockdown. But I’ve managed to keep the rest off for many months. I now understand how to burn calories better by optimising the foods I eat and how to relax more intelligently. I also have a better grasp of my own body’s science and recognise the warning signs earlier, including paying attention to my stress levels and making sure I get the right amount of food, not more or less. I’ve made the Chenot method my own. And every once in a while, I still treat myself to a dandelion tea.
To quote a friend who’d experienced Chenot before me: “Day three is a bitch. Power through it.”