Why are we obsessed with wellness retreats? It’s just not British

The thermal pump room in Vichy - Alamy Stock Photo

The thermal pump room in Vichy – Alamy Stock Photo

The place was Vichy, the queen of French spas. At the thermal plant, the masseuse was suitably businesslike. She dipped into a small package and handed her something crumpled. I opened it to reveal what looked like a face mask to keep Covid at bay. The masseuse then indicated less on the face and more on the loins. “We call it a ‘posing pouch’ in English,” I said. “Few gentlemen wear them in public.”

Suffering clouded the young lady’s face. She pointed to the locker room. “We massage the whole body,” she said. “If you don’t wear this, your buttocks won’t be hydrated.”

“My buttocks have gone many years without being hydrated,” I said. “They’ll be fine in the morning.” And so, still wearing my knee-length swim shorts, I climbed onto the table and laid flat on my stomach. The masseuse started massaging my calves. Within moments I was asleep.

Then I woke up, got up from the table, thanked her, and headed for the bar. ha. some bar. With grim inevitability, he gave out only water, fruit juice and herbal tea. The space was divided by people wrapped in both white robes and the smug calm of worshipers at the temples of their own bodies. about her. When you need a scotch, a sausage roll and something sonorous from the Status Quo, verbena infusion misses the mark by miles.

Guest having a massage at the Center Thermal des Domes hydropathic center in Vichy - Alamy Stock Photo

Guest having a massage at the Center Thermal des Domes hydropathic center in Vichy – Alamy Stock Photo

I don’t want to overdo it. I felt pretty good in the spa. But then I’m usually quite fine at 11 a.m. without intervention draining the wallet of treatments and drinks that no sane adult would think of at that hour. In other words, I feel good enough without any “wellness” malarkey.

wellness, eh? It crept up on us – or at least on me – without much warning. And we’ll no doubt hear a lot more about it as 2023 rolls around. I remain amazed. We were there, moving on, confident that long walks, longer lunches, and a glass of Bowmore at dusk would keep us healthy (the historic term for “wellness”).

Then suddenly the world – and the holiday world in particular – was flooded with spas, Turkish baths and kale. Every luxury hotel has started offering a menu of treatments ranging from enzymatic heat to shiatsu – which apparently involve “pressing along energy channels” rather than laying small dogs on their backs.

Abstinence is also said to be breaking out everywhere, giving new impetus to the 1830s work started by Joseph Livesey and the Preston Temperance Society. Granted, when it comes to our visits, my hometown is on the verge of total abstinence – but elsewhere alcohol is apparently old hat.

A bowl of kale salad with boiled eggs and avocado - Getty Images

A bowl of kale salad with boiled eggs and avocado – Getty Images

Listen now and you’ll hear Pharisaic murmurs all over the country, “Yeah, actually Geena and I are doing a dry January this year.” (I tried it once – well, on dry January mornings anyway – and gave up when I found that herbal tea didn’t work as a lunchtime aperitif. As anything else, to be honest.)

Of course, I don’t care if people drink or not – as long as, if the latter, they shut up about it. Unfortunately, people once addicted to alcohol become addicted to talking and writing about renunciation. It has reached saturation level. If I read one more account of how an ex-drunk, once face down at rogan josh nightclub, is now light-eyed and bushy 24/7, I’ll reach for a blunt instrument.

And let’s not even start with veganism. Again, eat whatever the hell you want throughout January – or any other time – but stay away from moral superiority. Sheep graze there. If you insist, I’ll defy Baconuary by barging into supermarkets to yell at people buying quinoa, agave syrup, and “oat milk.”

Hydrotherapy clinic in Vichy - Jean-William

Hydrotherapy clinic in Vichy – Jean-William

But it’s the spas, whether in hotels or holiday destinations, that are the most perplexing in this brave new world of wellness. I’ve been a few times and come out a little wiser, none fitter. In Vichy, the day after the pouch episode, I was honored with a four-handed massage by two women dressed as slaughterhouse workers: wellingtons, coveralls, plastic aprons. They promised that their massage would “feed my skin”.

“Fantastic,” I said. “It’s so rare.” This time it didn’t either. I didn’t guess any difference, although the ladies seemed happy to talk about their children’s elementary schools, so it worked out well for the two of us three.

Elsewhere, in Digne-les-Bains, a handsome woman in a bathing suit was massaging my thighs in the shower, not relieving the tension she was creating. In Baden-Baden, on the other hand, I was less impressed by the succession of saunas followed by a cold bath, and more by the fact that in the end pools where the male and female circuits intersected, huge naked women floated through the water like a flotilla Count Speep.

Meanwhile, at Serge Blanco’s thalassotherapy center in the French Basque Country, willing people smeared me with mud and tied me up like a broiler. They then locked me in an oven, a process whose main purpose seemed to be to provide light entertainment for the staff. I left red and exhausted. I doubt they ever did to rugby legend Blanco, who seemed more interested in criticizing the overuse of substitutes in his sport than talking about mud and stoves anyway.

And who could blame him? Spas, treatments, saunas, peelings, Naga massage (“inspired by Buddhist snake deities”), aromatherapy – for God’s sake, the whole wellness cabal – not only does not have a positive effect on me, but is as tiring as talking to the neighbor’s mother inflammation peritoneum.

Mind, my the mind freezes. I wouldn’t do it any more on vacation, or even on a short break, than spending my free time in a psychiatric ward or at an MOT center.

In any case, these are deeply un-British concerns. Although our aristocrats bathed in Buxton, Bath, and perhaps even Montecatini, these were only covers for gambling, debauchery, or finding a husband for a troubled daughter.

Roman Baths in Bath, England by Edward Haylan

Roman Baths in Bath, England by Edward Haylan

Throughout the Orient’s development of essential oil spa treatments, to stimulate inner energies (nuad borarn) or to “vibrate blocked areas” (Tui-Na), we led the agricultural, then industrial revolutions, pioneering almost everything that has happened since then. has brought prosperity to the rest of the world, higher wheat yields thanks to mining, textiles, metallurgy and heavy industry.

Along the way, this was financed by the ancestors, who then invented penicillin and many other things more useful to mankind than putting barely visible fish in a bowl for them to nibble on with their bare feet.

And when we relaxed, it was with meat spread sandwiches and pots of (not herbal) tea on the beach. Wellness getaways ranged from charabs and chips to Bangor or shoes and beer to Lakeland. Massages were something that happened when no one else was looking. And the rest? Can you imagine your grandparents indulging in something inspired by Buddhist serpentine deities? Really? In Portsmouth, Pontefract, Penrith or Pontypridd?

Me neither. It wasn’t British and still isn’t if I have anything to do with it. The British see the body as a way to move, both at the forefront and on the front lines, not as temples to be adored with chili oil ointments and herbal massages. We keep them fit by eating, drinking and playing football, rugby and cricket.

On holidays we can increase the amount of wine and the amount of baths. It’s in line with tradition. But at least I will respect our heritage, in 2023 like every year, completely avoiding any suggestion of Ayurvedic or qi energy flows. First of all, I will keep my distance from posing handbags.

Would you go on a wellness retreat? Share your thoughts on the habit in the comments below

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