Waiting at arrivals at Alicante’s International airport was a handsome dark-haired young man carrying an iPad. He was wearing a smart, short-sleeved beige shirt and Thai fishermen trousers. He was somewhat incongruous to the other rabble of holidaymakers around him; there seemed to be a notable inner calm in his eyes. But then I looked at the iPad screen. Out shone the words ‘Mr McLean’. In a flash, this cool hypnosis vanished and instead I found myself breaking a cold sweat. They say miracles can’t happen overnight but this man was from a wellness clinic where all sorts of interesting aesthetic procedures are performed, and I was quite sure that a sex change was not what I’d booked in for.
Fortunately this classic ‘lost in translation’ moment was short lived and upon arrival at the SHA Wellness Clinic, set into a hillside that overlooks the pretty el Albir coastline below, I was transported into the ‘just glimpsed’ world of calming serenity that our driver’s eyes had initially conveyed. My heartbeat returned to its usual pace, helped by the soothing background of floor to ceiling white and the carefully chosen scent of orange and cinnamon that is wafted through all rooms; redolent at every angle.
The silver Porsche parked on the driveway matches the overtly ‘no expense spared’ signature on this two-year-old property that now attracts the rich and famous from around the globe (Simon Cowell and Kylie Minogue are among just two of the rumoured clientele). Acting suitably au fait with this behaviour then, I trotted off to my overnight abode, waltzing through the varying split levels of its white cruise liner style of architecture.
The SHA boasts a cool 93 suites, yet you could easily be forgiven for not noticing them all, such is the intelligence of the layout: intimately designed to leave you with a boutique VIP feeling. Flashing my key over the door’s sensor entry pad, I stepped over the threshold and into my 70m2 suite, which as the smallest of SHA’s offerings, still dwarfs even the most un-boxlike of rooms back home. I wandered out onto my own private terrace complete with table and sun loungers – perfectly placed for watching the sun dip over the distant marina’s twinkling blue sea that is hugged by a rugged range of mountains.
The suites speak a language of naturally inspired ultimate relaxation, from the corner sofa that fronts the plasma-screen TV and design led books on your coffee table, to the magnificently comfortable double bed, adorned with only the finest of Egyptian cotton – you even get a pillow ‘menu’ to ensure you’re perfectly catered for when it comes to dropping off. Bathrooms come replete with plush Verbena perfumed L’Occitane products and a superbly powerful shower (say goodbye to the dribble). Colours are earthy and muted. And there’s a walk-in wardrobe that would make even SJPs eyes glow green.
Aside from the sweet indulgence of this suite, there’s nothing here that’s remotely saccharin. Closer inspection of the mini-bar reveals fruit juices, water, oatcakes and almonds – you won’t find a gin and tonic or a Mars Bar in sight, and atop the fridge where you might expect the coffee to be hiding, any hint of caffeine has been intentionally replaced with a selection of herbal teas. Leave the cigarettes at home because ashtrays are equally not the de rigeur here – yes, even outside. And any smuggling in of prohibited items is most definitely frowned upon (wine bottles included – not even if you attempt to classify them as ‘fermented grape juice’, ahem), although there is a great list of natural wines in the restaurant.
The mini-bar’s theme runs in line with the centre’s overall commitment to the philosophy and practice of macrobiotics – a healthy approach to life as much as diet. Our first ‘taste’ of this way of life was in the panoramic SHAMADI restaurant over lunch where a very earthy, unrefined, vegetably sort of scent crept up our noses as we sat down to eat. We chose what we could understand from the a la carte menu – and although I speak fluent Spanish there were still some words I wasn’t acquainted with. One of those words was in a dish highly recommended to my fellow detoxing companions. I opted for something different – scallops in a cold super-food gazpacho, complete with edible smoke – Heston Blumenthal eat your heart out. Unfortunately when the other mains arrived, they weren’t greeted with such avid enthusiasm. Thick noodles coated in some sort of black tar (what we later discovered to be squid ink) was not exactly what my compatriots had been expecting.
Fortunately, pudding successfully re-placated our palates and we were happy once more. The food, as we tasted again later that evening, is really quite spectacularly created. But then you’d expect nothing more from Head Chef Pablo Montoro, once resident chef at El Bulli. And given the limited ingredients of no meat, only some fish and a prominent base of wholegrain, with no sugar or other refined additions in sight, the result is mouth-watering, tasty and exceptionally healthy. You can see more of the very interesting menu here.
The theme of macrobiotics is continued hotel-wide. From the classrooms on the third floor where you can attend seminars on the subject and related topics such as ‘What is Stress?’, through to cookery demonstrations in the library and tea room, and in the dance studio (learn to samba, salsa or tango with nobody watching). A whole host of activities are organised for guests’ enjoyment so that they can get as much out of this philosophy as possible. In our sports-clad outfits we participated in a bout of pilates, although sadly we were rather too lazy on day two to be up close to sunrise (well, 8am) for anything more strenuous. Other guests told us that the Nordic walk to the nearby lighthouse, however, is stunning.
The spa of course is one of this venue’s biggest talking points. And it’s possibly the best equipped in the land, if not this side of Europe. You’ll find 18+ spa stations in the pool area – though you’ll soon be so relaxed you’ll quickly lose count. Try walking over water-covered hot and cold stones, blast away your aches and pains under the water jets and flush yourself back into reality under the Scottish shower. And if you can bear to face it, there’s an ice-bucket ready for further chilly muscle therapy.
Outside of the spa is the tea bar, treatment rooms and space for all other medicinal and aesthetic consultations. And the list of what’s on offer is truly mind-boggling. From melt-away deep tissue massages through to cupping and treatments that involve caviar, you can very easily unwind to the tune of a variety of different healing sounds. The aesthetic medicine includes other interesting things like earlobe fillers, facial mesotherapy with DNA cellular protectors, and more rejuvenating peelings than you can shake a stick at. The clinic also specialises in sleeping disorders, healthy ageing medicine and has an anti-smoking unit.
As part of whichever programme you go for here you’ll be assigned a macrobiotic consultant for a chat about what you should and shouldn’t be including in your diet. For me it was anything ‘white, cold and sweet’ so goodbye yoghurt and ice-cream, hello radishes, sea vegetables and aduki beans. Apparently I need to watch my kidneys. Welcome your new diet (the waiters are pretty hot on knowing who should be eating what – so there’s no room for cheating!) and get that body looking temple-shaped in no time.
For somewhere that pitches itself as both hotel and wellness clinic, the palatial SHA offers everything you’d expect from such a top quality establishment. In company with hedonistic views, friendly service and a regime as strict as you choose it to be, you can watch yourself transform through body, mind and soul. And at the very least, you may also finally realise just how to let go.