OK, I admit it. I am a bit of a detox junkie. Most people think this is crazy, imagining some kind of ordeal where you’re miserably hungry all the time with a constant headache and cravings for coffee. Now admittedly, some detoxes can be a bit on the clinical side and a bit boring (I’m thinking hard core Mayr here – identical foods day after day and lessons on how to chew them). It doesn’t have to be like that. I’ve just discovered Ronacher where detoxing is easy. Really easy.
At Ronacher they have the balance so finely tuned that the meals are – while purifying – delicious and varied. So for breakfast, I had fruit, juice and porridge; for lunch, not one but two courses (salad and a vegetable dish); and soup at night. To be honest, I didn’t have time to feel hungry as I was busy with what the Austrians call sports (this includes going for a walk) and treatments. And clinical? Forget it. This is partly because you’re in a 5* hotel and the feeling is one of relaxed luxury mixed with traditional Austrian. I went in feeling exhausted with the first signs of a cold. I came out glowing, with fantastic skin, a kilo or two lighter and full of energy. What’s not to like?
The place itself is beautiful. Ronacher is in 1000m up in Bad Kleinkirchheim in Carinthia, Southern Austria. In the early morning wood smoke appears to be rising across the village. Of course it isn’t that at all; it’s steam from the thermal waters in the pools. There are mountains and forests all around and there is zero – zero! – pollution. Even if you just come here and breathe for a bit, you’re going to feel better.
The thermal water is, of course, why this place is here. In German “bad” means “bath” and every spa is prefaced with this (think Baden Baden, so good they named it twice). The thermal waters come out from a spring, over which a church was built in the fifteenth century (Bad Kleinkirchheim means “Spa of the little church). It’s all a bit pagan but then Nature here is part of the Cure.
So the first part of the Cure is the thermal water. It gushes out at 38C and flows straight into the pool at Ronacher. It comes in at a constant 4 litres a second so the pool is forever renewing itself (no chemicals required). This warm water is beneficial for joints, skin, eyes, muscles – you name it.
The second part of the Cure is Nature itself. Much of my exercise regime here is walking in the forest. Already 1000m up, all of the walks take you higher and walking uphill – often at speed. I walk every day, including one walk in the Nockberge mountains, a cable car ride up to 2000m, from where you can see Austria’s highest peak, as well as Italy and Croatia. All of this Nature (with a capital N), is not only beneficial for your body, it calms your mind and spirit, too.
The third part is my regime within Ronacher’s Spa. This is a combination of naturopathy (swimming and exercising in the thermal water) and high-tech innovations (see the cell gym, below).
It all starts with the doctor’s test. I’m given a questionnaire that, to my surprise, isn’t asking whether I smoke or what my exercise routine is. Instead it asks whether “I think less than once a week about nature” or “I’m often very exuberant or boisterous”. The scoring system ranges from good to emergency. Apparently, I’m an emergency. Fortunately, when I meet him, twinkly Dr Hofmeister tells me I’ve been too hard on myself and I’m not really such a hopeless case.
So I pick up my detox treatment schedule and find I have a daily core of three. The first up is “body detox” – through the feet. With my feet in an electrolysing footbath, I watch the clear water turn to a scummy brown. This is a process in which your feet act as your kidneys – the skin excreting acids (you’re after alkalinity). The idea is that what you want is the negatively charged ions that leave electrons on the skin, while the positively charged substances on the skin (acids and toxins) are neutralised. The good electrons (the negative ones, not the positive – with me so far?) then pass into the bloodstream and neutralise acids and toxins in the bodily fluids.
Next is the Cell Gym. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this but the last thing that crossed my mind was something involving an oxygen mask. So, you lie in a comfortable reclining chair for 50 minutes on a cycle that delivers 5 minutes of oxygen rich (36%) air followed by mountain air (14% or less). This stress on the body produces more new red blood cells and encourages the removal of damaged cells. Now this may sound odd but all I can say is Mo Farar sleeps in an oxygen-reducing tent as part of his training. I work my way up to 12% or, in terms of altitude, close on 4000m.
The final part of my core schedule is a daily Shiatsu session focused on freeing up my flow of energy and increasing it. There are, though, other goodies along the way. I had a blissful Ayurveda massage, of which I most keenly remember the smells – oils of rose and white almond for my face, milk for my hair, macadamia for my body. There were seemingly gallons of oil applied very hot – and I was already on a heated bed. By the end I was giddy with the smell and as oily as a mackerel. I then went for a light steaming in the Turkish bath.
There was more steaming in my mesotherapy facial with the lovely Erica. This was probably one of the best facials I’ve ever had. I chose it because mesotherapy is quite unusual and also promises to get such rejuvenating goodies into your skin as hyaluronic acid and vitamins. The process is unusual. In my hand I hold an electrode that tingles throughout. Over my face, Erica runs a small hot probe, concentrating on the areas that really look like they need a bit of rejuvenation.
I was cleansed, toned, gently steamed, I had soft face masks applied and hard face masks that dried out and were peeled off skilfully in one movement. There were a variety of serums, one of which Erica massaged in for ages – face, arms shoulders (this goes way beyond a mere facial). The “meso” device means the active ingredients become deeply embedded in the skin and I see improvements over several days. Erica also decided it would be a good idea to colour my lashes and eyebrows – “I know what it’s like to be blonde,” she sympathised.
I wait for my treatments in the Waldraum (wood room) which epitomises the philosophy of Ronacher – the healing of body and soul in nature. Here, you look out onto beautiful forested mountainside though even inside there’s the scent of wood (it’s lined with wood of different kinds) and the only sounds are water running over pebbles and birdsong.
I spend a lot of time in the real mountain, too. Philipp gives me some personal training and, like everyone here, is very much attuned to the whole natural healing idea. So when we go on a walk through the mountains we stop off to do moves that will take my energy flow away from my head (I think too much) and down through my body or breathing techniques that imitate the cell gym. And the walks themselves are so beautiful – tumbling mountain rivers, forest, fungi and berries (it’s autumn), birds and old huts and mills built of wood. The air is so clean and of course being at 1000m you’re working harder – especially going uphill. And there are plenty of hills, some of which Philipp likes to take at speed. There are classes too – aquagym, stretching, HIIT (phew!), yoga, even riding a bike in the pool (yes, I know it sounds weird but it’s pretty tough exercise pedalling against all that thermal water resistance.)
Later in the afternoon it turns out Philipp is an aufgussmeister. A what, I hear you say? Well, sometimes known also as a saunameister which is a bit clearer, this is someone who puts on a performance in the sauna – wafting everyone with towels, adding certain herbs and scents to the air all of which have certain properties that aid body and soul. In this case, though I’d heard the infusion was to be lemon, Philipp had brought his shamanic kit from South America with raw cacao, rattles, strange liqueurs to be applied to the skin or inhaled. All this in 90C.
The hydrotherapy spa is beautiful with lots of different saunas and steam rooms, relaxation rooms (I love the swinging beds) and yet more water. (There’s a couple of warm saltwater outdoor pools here where you can swim under the stars at night.) Did I mention all of this part of the spa is naked? You can do a certain amount of strategic towel draping but skinny dipping is compulsory.
So, it’s a pretty full-on regime, but I have truly never felt better – not just physically but mentally, too: a combination of calm and positive. All this and with the ski season coming up (they start here mid-December) you can enjoy the best of both worlds. Ski and spa. Not bad. As I said, what’s not to like?
SKIING AT RONACHER
Ski season is coming up and this region has not just downhill skiing but cross-country, sleigh rides, curling and skating. If you an early riser (6am!) you can get on the slopes with the most famous downhill skier of all time, Olympic winner, Franz Klammer.
Winter ski packages start from €170, gourmet half board and all spa facilities. For more information, visit www.ronacher.com.
Photos by Christian Kerber