Palace Merano is a neoclassical wedding cake in the pretty town of Merano, in the Italian Dolomites, with grand public rooms loaded with marble, crystal and antiques. Decadence and detox are unlikely bedfellows, but the grandeur takes your mind off the hunger… most of the time.
Henri Chenot pioneered the detox concept more than 30 years ago, and his fans include Princess Caroline of Monaco, Elle Macpherson and, a little less glamorously, the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger. Chenot’s “biontology” method promises to balance the mind, the unconscious and the physical body.
First-timers usually opt for the week-long Comprehensive Programme, which includes dietary advice, medical checkups and cleansing therapies. It sounds nice, but the detoxifying massages were excruciatingly painful, involving a high-tech version of Chinese cupping. I winced as the suction glass moved across my arms and legs, and when it passed over my stomach, I was reminded of that scene from Alien. I was told that Russians enjoy it. Each day, I soaked in a mineral-rich whirlpool bath before being painted in mud, wrapped in a blanket and left to snooze for 20 minutes on a water bed.Afterwards, I was marched to a white-tiled room where I had to stand naked while my therapist hosed off the mud as though I were a particularly filthy 4WD. It improves circulation, I learnt.
Everything from my blood to my bone density was thoroughly investigated, and a puzzling lung reading caused concern. Had I had a cold? No. Did I smoke? Never. The team were baffled — until the Chinese- medicine expert asked if I had received bad news recently. One of my best friends had had a devastating blow. Chinese medicine suggests sadness shows in the lungs.
Of course, detox is all about food — or the lack of it. The diet boils down to a couple of golden rules: fruit should be eaten at the start of a meal (left until the end, it ferments before being digested) and carbs and protein should never be eaten together. Carbs (with vegetables) are best at lunch, while vegetables and protein are ideal for dinner, to help overnight cellular repair.
The meals were delicious: there just wasn’t nearly enough of anything. I felt permanently tired and disorientated. When I mentioned this to my doctor, he suggested a fast. After 30 hours with nothing more than consommé and herbal tea, I was too weak to contemplate exercise, despite the regular classes and lovely pools. You’re also given laxatives, but that’s enough information.
Unlike most guests, I can’t say that my skin looked noticeably clearer or that I felt significantly better by the end of my stay, although I did lose 4½lb. The therapists were excellent and the service was impressive, as was the long-term advice: taking a daily magnesium tablet has dramatically reduced the computer ache in my shoulders, for example. If you have any specific health concerns, there will be an expert to address them. As the spa runs at about 80% occupancy, with 35% repeat visitors, there are obviously a lot of people who reap the rewards of detoxing.
Beyond the bathrobe
Franz Kafka, Richard Strauss and Ezra Pound used to holiday in Merano, and that’s the most interesting thing I discovered about the town. Nearby Dorf Tirol is the region’s lake district, with spectacular hikes, while Lana has rafting and cycle networks, and Parcines offers climbing and the highest waterfall in South Tirol. The area also has the world’s only Typewriter Museum.
The seven-night Comprehensive Programme starts at £3,446pp, including accommodation, all meals, daily treatments and medical checkups; book direct on 00 39 0473 271000, or at palace.it. Fly to Verona, a 90-minute drive away, with EasyJet (0843 104 5000, easyjet.com) or British Airways (0844 493 0787, ba.com).