The Dead Sea has been a centre of therapeutic excellence for at least two thousand years. It was so renowned during Cleopatra’s time that she is said to have persuaded Mark Antony to conquer the region for her and build the first pharmaceutical and cosmetic factories. Dead Sea treatments are still used to alleviate a wide range of chronic conditions, particularly asthma and other breathing problems, arthritis and skin diseases, eye conditions such as uveitis, as well as hypertension and Parkinson’s disease. The therapy is so highly regarded by some EU countries, notably Germany and Austria, that long stays in the area are available courtesy of their health insurance plans.
This is not a policy that extends to the UK where hydrotherapy and other forms of naturopathy are usually regarded as quaint eighteenth-century – and ineffective – phenomena. Perhaps the factor that stretches our credulity most about the claims of Climate Therapy, as it is known, is that it consists of simply being there – breathing in the air, sitting in the sun, bathing in the water and maybe massaging a bit of mud into the skin. Be that as it may, it has a wide following, especially among Europeans, who are looking for a treatment with no nasty side-effects, often when all mainstream therapies have failed. They go to the Dead Sea Medical Center on the Jordanian coast of the Dead Sea.
Having said that, you don’t need to have psoriasis or arthritis to benefit from this unique environment. You can see a difference in your skin after a day and that’s just from the air quality and the sun. In fact, if you’re a sun worshipper, this is the place to go (though not in the middle of summer – ouch, it’s hot). This is the only place on earth where you can sunbathe for extended periods with little or no sunburn because the harmful ultraviolet rays are filtered through three natural layers – an extra atmospheric layer, an evaporation layer (all those minerals to breathe in) and an unusually thick ozone layer. And because it’s the lowest place on earth (over 400m below sea level) there is high atmospheric density and pressure and the air is super-rich in oxygen. So, basically, the place makes you feel well and it’s known as a haven for the stressed and strung out. And, for most of the year, it’s warm to very warm and an easy place to unwind.
I was staying at the Crowne Plaza which has its own Dead Sea beach. Be warned, though, the Dead Sea is not like other seas. Obviously, because of the high salt (your average ocean x10) you can’t swim, only float. Also, it is a bit of an acquired taste – the mineral-rich water has a slightly oily feel not to mention an interesting aroma. And don’t go in if you’ve got a cut and definitely don’t let it get in your eyes – it gives a whole new definition to the idea of a “sting.” So while you have to try it you might want to do a bit of swimming in the pool (there’s an adult one and a vast family one).
In the resort’s equally vast Sohum Spa you can have the salts, mud and water applied in a variety of forms and without the sulphurous smells. And these are very effective products especially for detoxifying, cleansing and toning the skin. Much of the spa comprises wet areas. There are pools for floating (with aroma-free Dead Sea water) as well as for hydrotherapy and swimming. There are hydrotherapy techniques that use the Dead Sea water and German equipment (the Germans are very big on hydrotherapy). There are whirlpoools, a Laconium and Caldarium (Roman sauna and scented steam) hydrotherapy baths, a Vichy shower (like a tropical rainstorm), a Kneipp hose, a hammam and dry floatation – this is, as the name implies, floatation without getting wet. You’re wrapped up, usually in mud and plastic, then float on a “bed” of warm supporting water. This is absolutely blissful, the ultimate relaxation and I defy anyone to stay awake.
I start off in a very hot steam room while my pores open to receive the mud. This is applied by Chandra (who, like many of the therapists here, has come from India) and she basically cooks me in the stuff. Already hot from the steam room, I lie on a heated table lined with plastic and, once covered in the mud, I am wrapped in the plastic and covered with heaps of towels. I roast for half an hour until I’m allowed to rinse it all off in the shower. This is a relief but it takes some time as the mud really doesn’t want to leave you. And then I drink some water in the relaxation room while my temperature returns to something like normal.
Next up is a massage and Chandra and I move to the dry part of the spa. Though it’s billed as a “Swedish massage” (the granddaddy of all massages) it uses plenty of oil and features Thai and other eastern techniques. In fact, for most of the massage, Chandra seems to be on the table with me, rolling and pressing with such pressure there’s no air left in my body to speak.
The massage leads on to the facial with lots of Dead Sea products. Chandra starts off with pressure point therapy (said to reduce puffiness) and goes on to apply lots of cleansers, masks and potions and finishes off with a major scalp massage including coating my hair in mud. She advises me not to shower or wash my face and especially not my hair. Everything should be left to work overnight. I agree reluctantly as I’m off to the resort’s lovely Lebanese restaurant tonight and had not planned on going with my hair in a muddy top-knot. Next morning, though, it has paid off and my skin looks sensational.
The Dead Sea has 330 sunny days a year so it’s a pretty good year-round destination and, besides the sea and spa, the region has great places to visit. There’s Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan just next door to the Dead Sea where John the Baptist baptised Jesus. The rose-red city of Petra. And Wadi Rum (Lawrence of Arabia called it “vast, echoing and God-like”), where you can stay in a desert camp and ride camels into the sunset.
Royal Jordanian flies daily from London Heathrow to Queen Alia International Airport, Amman. Return fares start from £501pp inclusive of taxes. For more information, visit www.rj.com.
Large double rooms at Crowne Plaza Dead Sea start from £85.00 per night. For more information on the hotel and its amenities, visit www.crowneplaza.com. For more information about Jordan, visit www.visitjordan.com.