Spa of the Month: Adler Balance


So it’s that time of year again. One of you wants to go skiing. One of you wants to do a detox after all that festive gorging. What to do? Find a place that does both, obviously.

Adler Balance is in the pretty village of Ortesei in the South Tyrol in a staggeringly beautiful setting in the Dolomites. It’s a place that takes both skiing and health seriously. This area (Val Gardena) is the world’s biggest interconnected ski area and some of those connections are surprising. From the village you can take an escalator (really – it’s like going on the tube) to the cable car to Seceda. There are gondolas to the Alpe di Siusi with heated seats. And then there’s the Val Gardena Ronda Express, an underground funicular railway that takes you to the legendary Sellaronda. So, skiers all sorted then – back to the spa.

“Spa” doesn’t really do justice to Adler Balance. This is – in the real sense of the word – a holistic approach. You begin with an hour long session with the delightful Doctor Laura who goes through your lifestyle, diet and medical history and does a series of very high-tech tests which turn out to be very revealing. In my case, stress was playing havoc with my metabolism and causing all kinds of unexpected consequences – and not in a good way.

Nil desperandum and all that. Dr Laura had a plan and I left with it. I was going to detox, have selected treatments and exercise, practise deep breathing and take four different supplements to support my poor old depleted immune system. I also had a caddy of detox tea and a cuddly hot water bottle. What else could I possibly need?

My first treatment was a couple of hours later and I was back with Dr Laura for a Mayr massage. Now if you’ve heard about the Mayr method, you are probably starting to feel a little worried right now. At Adler Balance, though, you get Mayr without the misery. In full-on Mayr clinics, you are likely to be left to sustain life by chewing on a morsel of dry bread 40 times before you’re allowed to swallow it. Here, you get proper food, albeit food that’s designed to get the body detoxing. One Mayr principle is, though, upheld and that is that the gut holds all of the body’s secrets. So the Mayr massage focuses solely on the abdomen and it acts as a kick-start for the digestive system.

Adler Dolomiti - restaurant

Everyone at Adler Balance eats well. Dinner was our first meal and while the Major was planning to spend the entire time skiing and was offered a six-course menu, I was on the detox diet and had just the two. The first was always soup and the second cooked vegetables with a protein (fish or chicken generally), all quite delicious. I did, though, eye up with some interest what was appearing in front of the Major – wood-scented scallops, oyster risotto, duck with polenta, chocolate cone with passion fruit. So, I did go in for a bit of vicarious eating but, trangely, wasn’t in the slightest bit hungry. I did, though, insist the Major gave me a bit of solidarity and refused wine.

The next day, the detox started in earnest and I began with a long (75 minutes) yoga session. After this, my next session was described as an algae pack. I guessed this meant I’d have something warm, a bit like a hot water bottle, placed on my abdomen for 15 minutes. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was placed on a “bed” and I knew instantly what it was. You don’t see them nearly often enough and they’re more accurately called “dry floatation.” What they actually are is a little bit of heaven. So, no hot water bottle then. Instead I was painted with a green algae paste from top to toe, wrapped in cling film, then wrapped again in a huge waterproof thermal blanket. At the flick of a switch the bed disappeared and I was floating in warm water that supported my body to be in a perfectly relaxed and comfortable shape. Like I said, a little bit of heaven and I could have stayed there for hours but, sadly, it was just 20 minutes before I showered off the algae and went to my next appointment, a massage.

Adler Dolomiti - spa relaxation treatment

On my plan it said it was a basic Balance massage so I was anticipating a fairly utilitarian variety, a bit sport or Swedish style, probably. Again, I couldn’t have been more wrong. This was, in fact, the most extraordinary massage I’ve ever had. Andrea, my therapist, introduced himself and took me to the massage room where the heated table had a little shelf under the head rest for your arms – the most comfortable arrangement I have ever come across. Did I want a firm or relaxing massage, asked Andrea. Now Andrea is no weed and I thought his firm massage might be pretty strong. Anyway, bearing in mind my stress levels, I decided on relaxing. Andrea stroked the back of my head in a gesture of complete understanding and we began.

How to describe this massage? There was oil, quite a bit of manipulation as well as massage strokes, stretching, breathing in sync, pressure to guide the breathing – but this doesn’t even begin to explain it. It was the most nurturing, supporting massage I’ve ever experienced. There were moments when I was cradled and rocked, others that were more like physio. At one point, we linked hands and just breathed. And the wonder of it was, I had another one tomorrow.

The following morning I spend in the salt grotto. By some amazing chance, I have the place entirely to myself and I step inside a dark cavern with steps down to an even darker one. First stop is the salt sauna. This is a gentle sauna where you breathe in air that’s infused with Himalayan salt to clear the respiratory tract. It’s good for anyone with asthma or similar problems. I had the tail end of a cold and breathed deeply for 25 minutes hoping this would do the trick. And it did seem to help. It’s a glowing room with golden, amber and creamy rock salt “bricks” lit from behind and big cream loungers to stretch out on. It’s not as hot as a regular Finnish sauna so it’s easier to stay for a comparatively long time and it is, of course, deeply relaxing in all that heat.

Adler Balance floatation pool

As I make my way down the spiral stairway leading to the floatation pool, I can taste the salt on my skin. This pool is also pretty salty. It has the same mineral constituents as the Dead Sea. So I float effortlessly from side to side, listening to underwater music and watching the reflections play on the ceiling. You are weightless in this water, no effort is required except perhaps for a toe to lazily push against the side and send you back the other way, increasingly slowly until eventually you don’t know whether you’re moving or not. You enter a dreamlike state (surely good for my stress?) and just be. At the same time, the minerals benefit not just the skin and joints but the whole metabolism as the skin gratefully soaks them up.

Before yet another wonderful massage this afternoon, I have a bioenergetic footbath. This is a very strange experience. I place my feet into what looks like a perfectly normal footbath into which some salts are poured. There aren’t any jets or bubbles, so nothing much seems to be happening until you see the colour start to change. This water is ionised and during the electrolysis process, draws out toxins present in the body, especially heavy metals, ammonia and nitrates. After 30 minutes the water is a dark murky brown with bubbles rising to the surface and popping like some primeval swamp. Apparently, this is normal.

I see Dr Laura again for a couple of sessions to sort out my diet – especially for when I get home. There are restrictions but there’s nothing that’s impossible. In fact, much of it is about timing rather than exclusion. So, no carbohydrates or fruit in the evening; try to have the last meal of the day relatively early; drink red rather than white wine; favour goat and sheep (rather than cow’s) cheeses, yoghurt and milk; eat two fruit snacks a day; eat dark chocolate (yes!). This is a plan that is do-able. After four days of detoxing, I do feel a real difference in my wellbeing. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to kick-start 2017.


There are no children at Adler Balance but at its sister hotel, Adler Dolomiti, their speciality is looking after families. The two hotels are connected, in fact, by an underground corridor that passes the pools and the spa, so you can use all of those facilities whichever hotel you’re in. As well as the regular rooms, there are family suites with plenty of space, pretty children’s rooms with wooden bunk beds and generous bathrooms. There’s a sunny kids’ club with lots of activities, healthy meals and learn-to-ski courses. They even have special massages for kids in the spa. This is Italy, after all, the country that most adores children, so the only problem could be getting them to leave at the end.

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