REVIEW: VERDURA, SICILY

Here’s a shorter version of my review, which ran in The Sunday Times on February 3

Rocco Forte is one of the world’s leading hoteliers, and Verdura is his dream resort. He spent seven years (not always) patiently buying up bundles of Sicily’s wild southwest corner to create this five-star hideaway. It really is super-special. The only disappointment was the beach. Forte imported sand from Sardinia, but it still feels uncomfortably shoehorned into the site. Fortunately, there’s a 200ft outdoor pool to make up for its inadequacies.

Forte is one of those annoying people who runs 10km, bakes a cake and buys a business before breakfast. He has represented Britain at the World Triathlon Championships four times, he came second in the 2005 Iron Man event in Austria, and he looks a good decade younger than his 68 years. You’ll warm to him, though, with the news that he’s now sharing the secret of how to have more energy than a nuclear reactor. He has persuaded Dr Nyjon Eccles, one of the world’s leading experts in integrated medicine, to devise a preventative health programme for Verdura. Vita Health options include detoxification, weight loss, stress management and, my choice, better ageing.

The pre-arrival diagnostic tests I conducted at home were so complicated — involving collecting blood, saliva and urine samples (thankfully no stools) at specified times — I practically had to put on a white coat. Eccles analysed my results and tailor-made my programme.

As a regular spa-goer, I’ve had more health checks than an extra in Casualty, but nobody had detected that, like up to 70% of the European population, I am vitamin D deficient. Eccles thinks everyone should have their levels tested because of the vital role vitamin D plays in protecting the body against the degenerating effects of silent inflammation. A lack of it can also contribute to heart disease and cancer. My omega 3 and 6 counts, also common and worrying deficiencies, were good, and my stress levels normal… which is possibly abnormal in today’s society.

At the resort, further noninvasive tests on my body-fat composition, arterial elasticity and heart health would be able to detect potential future imbalances. A local doctor explained my results and discussed lifestyle pointers, including taking regular exercise, limiting meat to 30% of my diet and eating dinner earlier, preferably at 6.30pm.

Eccles is a firm believer in the power of nutritional supplements, so I swallowed 170 pills during my week’s stay. I also wore an electromagnetic device at all times, for general wellbeing. What I dislike about most “medical” spas is that they’re run by therapists channelling Rosa Klebb, whose aim appears to be to infantilise guests. They want you in a bathrobe and biddable 24/7.

Verdura’s approach is more sophisticated: my timetable left afternoons free for exercise and water treatments at my discretion, or for sightseeing. I preferred to stay put — Verdura is one of the most stylish spas I’ve visited, a glamorous cream edifice that flows gracefully from one inviting space to the next, via an impressive gym and workout studio. It has a vast hammam and alfresco hydrotherapy pools, with views over cypress-studded hills and the romantic silhouettes of ancient villages clinging to the mountain peaks.

Each day, I spent time in the far-infrared sauna, literally the hot new way to treat everything from obesity to stress. Surprisingly, it’s barely bigger than a telephone box, and randomly shoved in a side room, but I never had to share it with a stranger, so my stints were deeply restful. My daily energy polarity massages were excellent and relaxing. I had to drag myself to lunch — in the spa’s pretty split-level cafe or any of the other restaurants (making it easier if holidaying with “real” guests).

The Mediterranean diet of fresh local produce was nearly always tasty. Eccles collaborates on the menus with Fulvio Pierangelini, the resort’s Michelin-starred chef. Breakfast was usually flavour-packed fruit. To manage blood-sugar levels, we had delicious smoothies mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Lunch and dinner were grilled fish or chicken, with steamed vegetables — sometimes with the exciting addition of lunchtime carbs — and, of course, there were wicked desserts. No processed sugar, salt or dairy products passed my lips for the entire week. Coffee was also off limits, but, because I wasn’t detoxing, I was allowed wine. The recommended limit was one glass a night, but this spa treats guests as grown-ups, so nobody checked.

One afternoon, I helped the head chef make my dinner of sea bass and caponata — a cookery book is planned. Generally, staff were generous with their time and knowledge; I left feeling better informed about my health, invigorated and inspired.

This concept fills the gaping hole between purely pampering and ridiculously regimented spas. It’s ideal for those who want an intelligent kick-start for long-term change.

Verdura (00 800 7666 6667, verduraresort.com) has five-night better-ageing programmes from £1,325pp, including all food and treatments, and three-night detox packages from £1,025pp. Those prices don’t include accommodation — doubles start at £228 a night, room-only. Airlines flying to Palermo include easyJet (0843 104 5000,easyjet.com) and Ryanair (0871 246 0000, ryanair.com).

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