Stylist’s beauty director Joanna McGarry is revived on Spain’s tourist-free east coast...
Sometimes, I wonder if, as humans, we’ve taken on a bit much. Aren’t we designed to just rear the odd farmyard animal, make vegetable soups in a big sturdy pot and, well, sleep a lot? We’re not physically built for city life. Which is why God (or some angel-like creatures) created Sha Wellness.
It may sound like one of those places that require you to subsist on a daily shaving of kale and waddle about in a soft white robe until you’ve completely forgotten who you are, but it’s not. I promise. OK, robes do feature prominently, but Sha – which, notably, calls itself a clinic – is not a weight-loss bootcamp or even a spa. It’s an entirely indispensable interlude to city life, which – in lieu of ever having time to go to the doctor – genuinely helped me to take stock and find some tangible sense of how to live better. And, staggeringly, it’s turned me – lover of the white carb – into a card-carrying follower of the macrobiotic diet.
Set back in the mountainside of the charming little Alicante town of Altea, Sha Wellness is one of a handful of destinations the fashion pack flock to, to decompress after the month-long floggings that are the Fashion Weeks. It’s also the secret that’s passed from the lips of wealthy European businessmen looking to reverse the damage of a life of rump steak and pinot noir. And then there is the smattering of lone rangers, like me, enjoying a little respite from the thrum of urban living.
Upon arrival, I am ushered straight in to see one of the resident doctors, to analyse my current lifestyle and state of health. I am nervous. Quite rightly, I’m told I’m in danger of burning out so I’m to undertake the three-day Discovery programme, which aims to offer a slice of most things on offer at Sha. Those staying a week or longer will have a blood test, the results of which are used to fine-tune your individual programme for maximum benefit. Other programmes include Essence, a week-long transformative experience, including consultations with fitness experts, doctors, nutritionists plus acupuncture and massage.
A macrobiotic lifestyle is the very backbone of the Sha philosophy. And, despite its celebrity links, I quickly learn that an everyday macrobiotic diet is completely doable. On top of the reading material I was handed, I spend a little time each day Googling the mechanics of a macrobiotic lifestyle. The direct translation of macrobiotic is ‘long life’. It fuses eastern values with the best (read: Mediterranean) parts of the western diet. So, that’s no dairy, no meat, virtually no sugar – and in its place, whole grains, mountains of seasonal vegetables and the odd bit of fish. Plus soya, tofu and seaweed. Crucially, macrobiotics at Sha is not about ritualised hunger. Each meal consists of three reasonably proportioned courses, presented like little plates of modern art. One dinner featured foaming beetroot, fennel tempura, red mullet, apple and ginger flan and shredded apple with a dollop of chocolate sauce, while a live pianist played Somewhere Over The Rainbow. I trotted off to my room feeling contentedly full, watched three episodes of Girls and felt so happy I could have cried tears of liquidised joy.
Forgive me, but I have to say this – the colonic irrigation is really worth enduring. I say enduring as, honestly, it was far more uncomfortable than I had ever imagined. Not only that, but for a long time, awkwardly, nothing was happening. Mercifully, the therapist administering the treatment had a soothing bedside manner and spent 25 minutes helping to calm my, er, stage fright. Call it a placebo effect, but I felt somehow lighter and purer, and the whites of my eyes gleamed afterwards. And in keeping with the inescapable Gwynnie-ness of the weekend, I opted for a session of cupping – to quench my curiosity more than anything. To the groan of a machine that sounds like a techno record skipping, glass suction cups are placed all over my back which, while not painful, is disconcerting. I am told little more than the areas that go most red are those that require the most detoxification. But, ultimately, I left none the wiser and felt no different.
Even a few days at Sha is a hefty investment so use the time wisely – don’t leave. Split over four floors, the clinic is ample enough that I never once felt kettled in. Still, for those with itchy feet, there’s catamaran sailing, golf, jet-skiing and walks of varying length and terrain. I, um, forgot my trainers, so made do with afternoons lazing by the pool, with a gaggle of Italian housewives for company. I whiled away an hour daydreaming about the décor of their casas and, for the first time in forever, my mind felt quiet.
Five months have passed since my mini-jaunt to Sha, and the most mind-blowing thing is I’ve managed to work the macrobiotic philosophy into my own chaotic life. I’m not remotely evangelical, and quickly realised this was only going to work as a Monday- Friday thing, but it’s given my body the jolt of extra energy and verve it needs to keep it from burnout. And all from just four days of solitude at Sha.
Essential Escapes offers seven nights at Sha Wellness Clinic from £2,989 per person based on two sharing including transfers, accommodation in a deluxe suite, full board, a general medical check-up, and treatments and massages. Book at essentialescapes.com; shawellnessclinic.com