On arrival at Bollants, you’re greeted with a glass of Prosecco. At least one of my treatments – the chill-out massage – was followed by another. But don’t get the wrong idea. This is not simply some fluffy, luxury spa. While it does admittedly have plenty of luxury, this is a spa that gets as serious as you want. And in my case, I decided to go the full nine yards and go on the Felke fasten. Now fasting is not an easy decision in a place has two fine dining restaurants, one of which has a Michelin star, and is surrounded by world-famous vineyards. But (am I crazy?) I decided to say no to that Prosecco and choose instead the road to ultimate detox.
If this does sound crazy to you, let me just say Bollants is a place where you can also relax, go to wine tastings, eat superbly well and throw in a few treatments if you prefer. The Jungborn Restaurant is one of the best in Germany and you can, besides tasting the local wines, choose the Carpe Vino therapy. It literally means “use the wine,” and grape seed oil, ground grape seeds and grape seed extract are used in highly effective anti-ageing treatments. I did try one of these. The Carpe Vino chill-out massage combines hot grape seed oil – the therapist even pours it on to the bed before you lie on it – with a variety of massage styles: Thai, lomi lomi, aromatherapy, manipulation and a curiously peaceful rocking motion. At the end my robe had been warmed up on the radiator and a glass of Prosecco – that I obviously had to turn down – was waiting for me outside. So indulgence is all around.
But back to that all-important fast. Now, this was quite a decision. I had been thinking of doing a light diet (they specialise in gluten-free, dairy-free etc) and have the treat of the grand dinner at the end at that Michelin-starred restaurant. But the fast won out. There simply aren’t that many places (none that I know of in England) where you can do a fast that’s monitored by a doctor and where there are so many other detoxing treatments on offer.
You’re not just on water for this, though you do have to drink a lot of it, as well as potfuls of cleansing tea that you sip all day. Breakfast is herbal tea and a freshly made fruit juice that you drink with a spoon rather than swigging it down, the thinking being that this makes it more satisfying and filling. At lunchtime you have a vegetable juice and a clear vegetable broth and, at dinnertime, more broth and tea. There are various mineral supplements and a strange brown drink that derives somewhere along the line from birch trees.
So, by this time, you’re probably wondering why anyone would consider fasting? People have been at it, though, for a long time. At Bollants they use a method developed in the 1930s by Dr Otto Buchinger who used fasting not just to cure his own ill health but saw it as a silver bullet that could improve everyone else’s. Although it’s a concept that’s been well regarded in alternative health circles for a while, it’s generally been regarded with scepticism in the Anglophone world and its health systems.
Interesting, then, that a few days before I left for Germany, I read of the 30 years of research by Professor Valter Longo at the University of Southern California and in Milan at the Molecular Oncology FIRC Institute. His findings include the fact that fasting causes the body’s cells to regenerate and thus slow down ageing and fight disease. His recommendation is for a fast of five days at least twice a year. So, what, other than a few pounds, did I have to lose?
Buchinger fasting is combined here with the traditional local mud treatments, championed by one Pastor Felke who in 1902 healed a young Andres Dhonau from a severe illness using natural healing methods. The grateful Dhonau founded a sanatorium which over the course of four generations in the same family has become today’s Bollants spa.
The Felke mud treatment is still part of the detoxing that goes along with my fast and I sampled two variations on this theme, though not the third and the most popular version – outdoor mud baths on the banks of the River Nehe where you jump in to rinse off afterwards. This can only take place in summer, so instead I tried the Rasul version, slapping it on in the steam bath where a shower comes on at the end to wash it all off for you. The healing properties, though, are much the same: strengthening the immune system, improving circulation, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol values, alleviating joint and skin problems and deacidifying the system.
This was all pleasant enough but even better was the ominously named “Healing Detoxification Pack.” Actually, it was bliss. The mud is applied all over then you’re wrapped in cling film and blankets, the bed disappears beneath you and you’re floating in warm water, in the most comfortable position you have ever imagined. You drift off for 20 minutes (or beg for an extra 10 in my case as it was so utterly delicious).
Just in case you’re thinking this all sounds a bit too easy, there are other more testing elements. There’s a colonic right at the start which is an odd process though not at all painful and speeds up the cleansing process. The therapist massages your abdomen the whole time, finding pockets to work on and assessing the state of your intestines. Mine she praised – I was so proud…
And not all massages come with a glass of (declined) Prosecco. My detox massage was not exactly relaxing. The therapist had thumbs of steel and applied them to various acupressure points and into long sweeps of my body in the most intense massage I’ve ever experienced. On top of this she had a secret weapon – a suction cup. This sucked up – quite literally – the toxins that she was encouraging out through my skin. At the beginning, she told me it was a bit on the strong side and afterwards I would find there was some red and blue. Bruising? I suggested. Yes, she said, this was quite normal but I would also feel fantastic. I have to say afterwards I was decidedly light headed and definitely needed a lie down.
And then there’s the start to the day – a cold bath. This takes place in one of a row of little baths just big enough to sit in with cold water out in the open air. You dip your toe in and shriek but that’s not enough. You’re then encouraged to sit in them, splash water all over yourself and those nearby and then you slide down to get your shoulders in. I have to admit, I didn’t quite manage the last bit. I argued to myself that I did have quite a bit to cope with. Firstly, I was on a fast and everyone else was eating normally. And secondly, I was English. I was also therefore the only person in a swimsuit. The Germans love to be naked, it’s their thing. Even the next bit, in the heated pool for exercises, they’re still naked. Then they run inside, cover themselves with ice from the ice fountain and head for the sauna.
One of the principles of fasting is that it applies not just to the body but to the soul. Buchinger liked his patients to listen to Beethoven and read Goethe. And the natural setting is vital, too. Bollants is in a lovely spot on the banks of the Nehe and surrounded by forest and vineyards. There’s the old house and the new spa and both are a thoughtful blend of old and new. So antique country furniture – chests and tables, rocking horses, a wall in the modern spa covered in ancient doors – sit comfortably alongside some thought-provoking contemporary artwork.
Much of this is for sale and I would have been tempted except I was travelling Ryanair. The very contemporary design of the spa is softened with terracotta tiles and old oriental rugs. There are many relaxation rooms, each with their own theme. One was full of old leather chairs and smelled of woodsmoke. Another has waterbeds and looks out over the park. There’s one with an aquarium, another full of books and one with hundreds, if not thousands, of vinyl records. Everywhere there are books, many full of just the right kind of soul food – Old Master paintings, gardens, landscapes.
And the fast? By the end, my skin was glowing and I felt truly energised and, of course, I’d lost a few pounds. And the funny thing was, I never once felt hungry….
Bollants Hotel and Spa, Felkestraße 100, 55566 Bad Sobernheim, Germany. For more information, including details of treatments and weakness packages, visit www.bollants.de.