I rushed to Italy to check it out. Long desk-bound months eating cake to get through the after noons had taken their toll.
Muffin-topped and slackjowled, I wasn’t that surprised when my editor began to hint that maybe it was time I headed out to review a health spa. Where to choose?
California’s Ashram, with 6 am starts and 19-mile hikes; coloncleansing at The Spa on Koh Samui; or Miami’s Pritikin, where alcohol, caffeine, dairy and sugar are banned? Unappetising prospects all. But then I discovered there is another way: a new spa experience that promises to be far more my cup of tea.
Sugar-coated luxury The moment the porter closes the bedroom door behind him, it’s clear I’ve come to the right place — L’Andana in Tuscany which is probably the only spa in the world where the reception area features two menus: one for treatments, body wraps, scrubs, facials and the like; the other for tea and cakes.
While many spas take guidance from ayurvedic gurus and other such ascetics, L’Andana’s regime is designed in consultation with a pastry chef. All this is less surprising when you learn that the spa, or ‘beauty farm’ as it calls itself, is the latest venture of Alain Ducasse, who, on the basis of Michelin-star tallies, is the world’s number one chef.
“While being groomed with natural products, you can savour delicate pastries,” says Ducasse. “Being pampered, feeling relaxed and at the same time being offered some gourmet food: that’s a true bliss.”
Feels like heaven The high concept is that each spa procedure is matched to a particular cake, mousse or tart and a freshlymade herbal tea, which work together to complement the spa treatment.
So, for example, a soya milk pannacotta with seasonal fruits is recommended after an intensive facial, while a ‘life-saving back massage’ should be followed by a bitter chocolate mousse. Ingredients for the teas (rosemary, lemon, fennel flower, elderberry and sage) and the cakes are picked from the surrounding gardens.
Which food goes with which treatment was thrashed out at a summit between Ducasse, his patissier Nicolas Berger and experts from British spa designer.
Quite how this beneficial interface between food and treatment is meant to work seems to have been lost in the murky world of spa science.
I signed up for a holistic back, face and scalp massage with hot stones, for which Elisa, my therapist, prescribed a thin lavender tart and an infusion of camomile and wild rose.
Lavender aromatherapy oils would be used in the treatment, she said and the ‘very strong’ smell of the freshly made infusion would aid relaxation.
Anyway, when Elisa spent an hour or so kneading my back with hot volcanic stones, “stimulating and balancing vital energy points”, before giving me an oriental head massage ‘to calm the spirit and ease facial tension’, I was led to a poolside lounger, where cake was placed in one hand, cup in the other.
It felt supremely relaxing: the tart was tasty and the tea was packed with fresh flowers and leaves. But let’s not get carried away. Only in the parallel universe of PR could tea, cakes and a nice sitdown be called a “fusion of exceptional cuisine and outstanding spa innovation”.