Healthy eating, rejuvenating beverages, spa, fitness and psychological wellness allure longevity seekers. I am a hedonist, loving life, great food and wine, yet following the Hippocratic premise that “a dose makes a poison” I try to balance these indulgences with moderation. In my quest to balance my body and mind, my best recent rejuvenating experiences holistically calmed or invigorated me when needed. This is the equilibrium of health that we instinctively seek.
Pampering my health in the Mediterranean, on the road in Africa, America and Asia, I share the best rejuvenating experiences at luxurious, rustic rural or revamped ancient public spa resorts worth investing in whether you are nearby or plan a special journey around their promise to balance your health.
Seeking health must be a priority, yet over two decades of nomadic lifestyle I learned that one has to be flexible when on the road. Directly from nature’s pharmacy I devoured with a healthy relish the mountain vegetables (sensai) in Japan, Naturopathica’s herb bar in New York settled my spinning mind and so did hikes around LA, snow-clad strolls around Aspen, Arlberg and St Moritz, while the freshest spring green tea detoxified me in China. While staying at a spa resort is a luxury, nature provides free for all healthy lifestyle. Just open your mind to its opportunities.
Seasonal opportunities ripened to rejuvenate
Winter’s bounty stretched my legs on the Alpine snow in Austrian Tyroles and the Italian-Swiss Engadin mountains (the river valley cross-country marathon trails are impeccably maintained). An ad-on infra sauna après-ski in St Moritz warms you deep inside more than mulled wine. In summer these river trails turn into safe cycling, rollerblading and running routes.
A truly royal hamam at the Royal Mansour Palace Hotel in Marrakech rubbed my skin to pristine cleanliness in balmy February.
The desert wilderness of Arizona in spring charmed my soul when hiking the red hills and relaxing during a crystal bowl concerto.
A seriously deep foot reflexology and organic face pampering inspired by the Siamese royal court with ‘Erb’ botanical potions beautified me in Thailand. Later, embalming autumn chills in natural Japanese hot springs at Beniya Mukayu and the luxurious Amanemu on the spiritual Kii Peninsula, I wrapped up my annual Asia trip. Taking on the legendary Kumano Kodo trail, I realised that forest bathing can be enjoyed throughout the year anywhere where the soil does not get muddy after rain.
In summer, returning to La Reserve de Ramatuelle, my favourite hotel retreat in the Mediterranean, totally “happified” me – coastal hiking, massages and swimming always feel ageless! Karl Lagerfeld used to channel the creative energy here every August in the last decade of his life.
In fall, I retreated to the most celebrated and exclusive spa in America, checked up with my genetic health potential on a clinic in Spain, and bathed my mid-thirties in restored Roman Baths of old Girona (AQUA BANYS ROMANS).
Psychological & physical wellness united for health:
I find mental balance through contemplating, hiking, meditation, running, water activities and quality sleep.
Experts warn that anxiety is the pandemic of the 21st century and insomnia has spread with mobile phones on at all hours. Pricy sleeping retreats get booked months in advance. SHA Clinic in Spain, Lanserhof in Germany are one of the most luxurious and tech-savvy spas in Europe offering such sonorous reeducation. I had not napped myself a decade younger and slimmer as some popular authors vividly described in their recent books, but I tried a sleep program at Kamalaya on Koh Samui in Thailand. A burbling waterfall next to my room kept me up most nights, so the program failed to sleep me rosy despite the calming spa treatments and herbal brews. The 24/7 technology flood, family health and the endless to-do-lists can roll behind my closed eyes like an endless movie when trying to fall asleep. How many of you battle sleeplessness these days? One report says that about 70 percent people do not sleep enough. Are we living through an epidemic of mind’s restlessness?
A hermit might not have as many distractions as a social being, yet most of us crave balance between the two. Going to an ashram or having time on one’s own may seem unrealistic for busy parents, but you can get your slice of peace in nature, cocooning in a meditation booth, contemplating at church, and even while musing over the depths of life at a cemetery. The escape from the noisy urban world feels like bathing in a cashmere wool after walking through a field of cacti.
In Morocco, I found my mental balance while running through the manicured olive orchards in Marrakech. It’s safer than hiking alone in the stunning Atlas where some recent incidents rattled even the most adventurous women.
Crossing over to Europe running (again!) through the olive trees laced farm in Portugal built my appetite for a generous, locally-sourced breakfast (if there exists only one place to eat meat sustainably, it’s in the Alentejo). While jogging the dirt roads shared with freely grazing cattle, I passed a lake and an ancient fortified village embellished my vista. Here, at the historic São Lourecao do Baroccal, plumped up to a luxurious spa hotel, my mood was tuned to a mesmerised mode. Fragrant ripe oranges and the vine-framed view from the bath keep you soaking for an eternity.
Happiness is health
In California, a deep state of focus and inspiration blessed my weary mind. Discovering traditional healing powers of Native Americans, I found new ways to engage with my aching body and heal it rather than abuse it. Read about my transformative, weeklong stay at the Golden Door to spy on where the Hollywood (I hula-hooped, practiced taichi with Julia Roberts, who hugged everyone and smiled so wide that the movies pale next to reality) and accomplished American businesswomen (men retreats are rare as this is mainly female-only retreat) recharge for health.
London finally got an excellent breath work, meditation and sound relaxation centre. ReMind nests practically near the industrious hub of the Victoria station. My frequent lunch reset in Marylebone, Yeotown Kitchen not only offers balanced and healthy food, but its underground meditation booth stills your spinning urban mind before or after the meal.
Even Paris meditates. On cold fall evenings I enjoyed the yin yoga and gong meditation at Omm in the Marais, a two minute walk from the superb boutique Palais de la Reine hotel where I stayed. Strolling the City of Lights with a friend’s vintage Leica, snapping photos on a film connected me more than snaps with a smartphone. Slowing down and paying attention carefully before pressing the shutter felt so yesteryear — better to be precise.
In Vienna, Shambhala Center has for over three decades induced the stern Austrians to meditate in the hip Josefstädt near the Museum Quarter. Courses like art, qi-gong, taichi, yoga, enlightening lectures, traditional medicine education and live concerts enrich one’s city soul.
Soothing my mind was as important to my health as tuning to my changing body. Muscle mass deteriorates after 30, and even the former model whom the agents bullied for being too toned has had come to terms with the reality of having softer arms, bum and belly (I feel very feminine and comfortable though). Loving one’s body as it is, is even more important though than striving for constant improvements. I do not subscribe to the gym ratrace. Going through physiological challenges with the right attitude illuminated new paths to wellness. I see it as an opportunity to find something else that feels right for me uniquely.
A wrist injury and chronic pain accelerated my transition from highly physically demanding workouts to more mindful exercise and physical therapy that cares about my body rather than abuses it. More hiking and walking, instead of hard impact boxing, tennis and running too often, ushered me into mid-thirties. Restorative yoga won over power flow popular in the cities. Qi gong is an incredible old Chinese method to unite the mind with the gently moving body working like a medicine for the organs. There are great online classes in english with Sifu Anthony on his Flowing Zen website.
I noticed that I feel younger when tackling challenges outdoors, truly invigorated, injected with the solar Vitamin D and longer lasting endorphins than from the sweat-infused heavy weights in the gym or the gymnastics-like power yoga of today. I transformed my yoga practice. Returning to the real yoga of the union between the body and the mind, pranayama breath training and with gratitude to my India-born, california-based teacher Madhu, my spine (where all the chakras run) shed any tension accumulated from daily life.
I also love to jump in water with the retirees during aqua gym. My favourite pools for indoor water exercise are the beautiful Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo and Terre Blanche in Provence. Outdoors, the Golden Door in California and Monaco’s Beach Club, freshen me up with this low impact exercise. For me the Icebergs on Bondi Beach in Sydney is just too freezing, although they say the colder the salt water, the healthier!
The best HOLISTIC wellness concept I found is the Viennese quartet by Saint Charles. It rounds up a transformed pharmacy (Apothecary) with history going back to 1886 you get all health potions imaginable, organic cosmetics boutique (Cosmothecary joined by a beauty parlour Hideaway), wellness centre (Complementary – alternative therapies, yoga, et al.), and a healthy, herb-based organic seasonal bistro (Alimentary). All are on the Gumpendorfer Straße. The concept has recently expanded to Berlin. This socially aware business model alleviates the current refugee crisis as “unaccompanied, underage refugees are given the opportunity to go on one-week holiday camps and experience an unfettered break from the constraints of everyday life surrounded by nature” on a farm in Prigglitz, Austria.
At home in Monaco, where construction sites recall Dubai in its peak development, the Maritime Alps comforted me while hiking in solitude. My favourite new hikes in Europe straddled the rocky hilltops of the less populated, ochre-hued Esterel mountains in the South of France and along the westside of the Lake Como in Italy. Starting from the Sentee di Sort – da Rovenna a Moltrasio above Cernobbio, the gorgeous vistas from the poster-perfect rustic Italian villages and the well-marked trails to Urio’s boat terminal reminded me of simple life in traditional communities.
In America, the Temescal Canyon above and in the Pacific fog hijacks you from the car maze of LA (find a pal, it is quite dangerous). The ‘wild-west’ wellness week at the Miraval resort in Arizona was worth the trip. Beware, their famous horse therapy program is booked months ahead, but anyone can enjoy the best views from a yoga studio imaginable and their off-property hikes in the Sonoran Desert that schmoozed with my soul. Hiking through the rocky Ventana Canyon spiked with millennial cacti impressed me the most.
In Japan, I rustled off far too many snakes along my route to one of the shinto shrines surrounding Ise, otherwise I would revel in this less populated hiking area. While the signage is legible for foreigners alongside the well-trod UNESCO World Heritage Kumano Kodo, the most scenic stretches of the pilgrimage trail are now too busy for one to contemplate life. Cycling along the Kamogawa river North towards the mountains around Kyoto was the most authentic local exercise. This outdoor exploration is more interesting than being locked in a gym of one of the luxurious hotels that have reshaped the imperial city recently.
Beware of the sharks in the wellness industry: what works and what siphons your money away
I have it all, yet I appreciate zero cost as much as luxurious activities. Flags up! In the wellness business many cash draining offerings — pseudoscience treatments like ozone blood cleansing, oxygen inhaling (just go out to nature), wellness gene sequencing tests (5 -10% is your DNA, the rest lifestyle), fasting (paying for not eating), placebo (belief works), temporary or zero effect witchcraft, should keep your reason on alert.
Cure-all trends in health come with caveats. Personal differences must be considered. For example, I’m not the fasting type. For skipping only a meal can make me dizzy, jittery, tired, nervous, “hangry”. A broad genetic test confirmed my tendency for constant hunger, a sigh. Although I am thin, have high HDL cholesterol (the good one), which the test did not grasp, my food cravings rarely hit a pause. On the contrary, my husband boosted his immune system, reduced his arthritis and chronic swelling by fasting at the best clinics in Europe (his favourite is Lanserhof) and his strong will enabled him to continue at home. I bow down to his resolve.
Health is an individual path and we must listen to our bodies in order to treat them right. Genetics reveal only a tiny part of the truth, so no excuses since we can influence our environment and our lifestyles that change the rest. Start now.