To celebrate the launch of a new British Airways route, with 21 services a week from Gatwick Airport to Alicante, reporter Joshua Powling was invited on a trip to the renowned Spanish SHA Wellness Clinic.
I am perfect. Mentally and physically. I am in peak condition I tell you. ‘Narcissus’ I hear you cry. Nonsense.
So when I was told I would be going to one of the most renowned spa and wellness clinics in Europe I wondered whether I should be inventing phantom conditions, or taking up smoking, heavy drinking, and eating junk food.
In the end I did eat a plate of barbecue spare ribs, the night before flying to Alicante, my final destination being the SHA Wellness Clinic, which bills itself as a spa retreat and medical clinic.
Boasting Kylie Minogue, Naomi Campbell and Simon Cowell among its client base, the resort is fast building itself a world-class reputation, along with picking up a slew of awards.
It offers a broad range of massages, facials, cutting-edge medical treatments and experts for a range of conditions.
The SHA method is based around a daily programme of diet, exercise, classes, and therapeutic treatments, which sees an individual plan drawn up for every guest.
The hotel has 93 rooms where the occupancy rate is about 1.3. Mostly it appears to be businessmen from Spain, the UK, the rest of Europe, and increasingly Russia, looking to lose weight, give up smoking, or just live a healthier or stress free life. There are a few couples seen walking about, and a smattering of families, but no young children.
The food is fantastically presented, the staff charming, the hotel extraordinary, and the facilities amazing.
You are surrounded by villas,are halfway up a mountain looking down on a valley, and can enjoy 25 degree temperatures, absolute quiet and a very gentle sea breeze.
FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING
SHA is selling an idea.
Plastered on room keys, brochures, and walls is the phrase ‘health is not everything, but without health, everything is nothing’.
The clinic was founded by Alfredo Bataller Parietti, who struggled for 30 years to find a proper solution to various digestive problems he suffered.
After being introduced to a naturopath, he found a solution in a matter of weeks, and decided to build a place where ancient eastern techniques could be coupled with advanced western medicine.
I have never had a massage, nor a facial or anything remotely like it before. Walking around in a white bathrobe for most of the day seemed very alien to me at first.
I’m told very early on by masseurs that I have trouble relaxing. And it’s probably true. I enjoy facing challenges in life and work, and I often feel coiled, like a spring, waiting to unfurl.
The facial and hair treatments I would definitely have at home, were I able to afford them on a regular basis, and without being rumbled in the act by friends or colleagues.
SHA’s signature massage was perfect on a day when I had woken up at 4am, while the deep tissue and Tai massages are experiences in themselves.
‘YOU HAVE TO PAY’
During the trip Dr Vicente Mera, in charge of anti-ageing and internal medicine divisions, explains that while the SHA method cannot guarantee an extended lifespan, it can help people live without major health problems for longer.
He explained that maintaining a healthy weight was key to this.
“Do not think you can get that for free. You have to pay in terms of money or time. If you want 60 years of life free from illness you have to pay,” he added.
“We do not want to give problems to people, we want to give solutions.”
The key to wellbeing for SHA is to be found in diet and exercise, with the resort espousing ‘macrobiotics’, merging elements of Mediterranean and Japanese cuisine. Red meat, refined sugar, milk products and chemical additives are all off the menu.
I feel overawed by Kenneth Prange, natural therapies and macrobiotic counsellor, who gives me a personal consultation, me in my white bathrobe, him in his suit. After a discussion about the food pyramid, whole grains, vegetables, and beans at the bottom and red meat at the top, he takes my hand like a palm reader and proceeds to tell me that my kidneys, liver, lungs, colon, small intestine, and nervous system are all under performing.
I stare back at him disbelievingly.
Similarly when I am told later I should not eat a certain foodstuff because it has ‘bad energy’, or grows at night my eyebrows furrow slightly.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
Food is the chief topic of discussion during and between meal times. When I lovingly describe a perfect full English breakfast on one of the coach trips I am politely asked to stop by one of the other guests.
We are told not to drink liquids during eating and they suggest you chew each mouthful at least 20 times to aid digestion.
On the second evening when we have a group outing to the picturesque nearby town of Altea, several people purchase ice-creams. I stand firm, but when another orders a cup of tea, I guiltily take a sip of lukewarm milk from the metal jug.
Only when I am back in my hotel room am I beset by cravings. If I had even a small packet of sugar then I would have downed it without hesitation.
While the food is filling at first, the space between mealtimes can feel like an aeon.
A tuna lasagne is one of the best things I have ever eaten, the fish cooked to perfection. Other courses, especially deserts, seem to suffer slightly from a lack of dairy or sugar.
I expected to see but failed to notice any patients dragged away by staff kicking and screaming during my time at SHA, although whenever you break with the SHA ‘rules’ you are asked to sign a waiver, for instance if you wanted coffee, or anything outside of your prescribed programme.
Exercise is the second strand of what goes on at SHA. After an hour of Nordic walking (the one with the poles) I marvel at its ingeniousness and wonder why everyone isn’t doing it. A brisk stroll to a nearby lighthouse before breakfast one morning leaves me feeling similarly blissful.
However on my third day, playing the hard man, I tell Fabiana, the personal trainer, that I am as fit as a fiddle and can leap tall mountains at a single bound. Half an hour later and I’m valiantly trying to keep my breakfast down.
“Come back,” I plead with it as the gorgeous food disappears down the plug hole. Five minutes later I emerge, a touch shamefacedly, and ask if we can reduce the intensity of the morning workout. She smiles.
The clinic holds flamenco shows and movie clubs in the evening, with a range of fitness classes and things like cooking classes available during the day.
Then there is always the odd hour to spend basking in the sun with a book, or time to have a dip in the indoor and outdoor pools.
A deluxe double room is €290 a night, with a superior suite €550. Packages usually last around a week, ranging from a four-day discovery package at €950 to reduce stress levels, to the 14-day absolute rejuvenation program priced at €10,000. The detox programme costs €2,050 for seven days and €3,400 for 14 days, with the weight loss similarly priced. Extra treatments can be booked for an additional charge.
So have I personally taken anything from my four days at SHA? Some things in my diet I need to drastically cut down on, including red meat and sugar.
There are some other minor adjustments I can make quite easily, such as eating more whole grains, but a full conversion to everything espoused at SHA seems, at this point in my life, an impossibility.
I lost a kilo and a half during the four days, no mean feat considering I often worry I’m underweight.
For a person who went into the trip feeling a bit sceptical, I have emerged a cautious convert to many of the things I experienced during my time at SHA.
However for the coiled spring, I fear I will end up like the Slinky you were given for Christmas and break two months later, tangled beyond repair.
Imperfect after all.
SHA Wellness Clinic offers all-suite accommodation with rates from EUR 230 per night based on two sharing, and it is located 40-minutes from Alicante International Airport and 80-minutes from Valencia International Airport by car with VIP transfer service available.
British Airways offer a seven night fly-drive to Alicante from £139 per person based on travel during September 2013. Includes return British Airways flights from Gatwick and inclusive Avis car rental for the duration. For reservations visit ba.com/alicante or call 0844 493 0758
For more information visit SHA Wellness Clinic’s website.