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It worked for me says Maggi Loshak..

2001 was a bad year for me. A particularly sadistic virus wrote off most of it with recurrent lung problems. I began to despair of ever getting back to former fitness. I was fed up with feeling sluggish and lacking the enthusiasm I’d enjoyed before.

So, casting about for ways of making an effort - and, as I`m not exactly a sporty type, an effort which wouldn’t actually involve much effort - I dug out an article, one of a series on health spa holidays, that I’d kept for reference, never imagining that I’d ever get round to following it up.

I had to overcome an initial reservation: I found it hard to think of parting with what seemed like a lot of cash (the best part of £1,000) for a week of thalassotherapy - immersion in sea water - at a spa near Saint Malo on the Brittany coast in chill April. But I decided to investigate anyway...

At Spa Health Specialists in Harley Street, their Consultant patiently talked me through my questions and concerns.

  • Q  Would the treatments help or hinder my beaten-up lungs?

  • ‘A doctor assesses each person`s needs and ability on arrival’, said the consultant. ‘The spa caters for guests with all kinds of health needs as well as those who simply want to re-charge their batteries. Exposure to fresh air and immersion in sea water - warm, not cold ­ is good for pulmonary problems’.

  • Q  Did the spa’s treatments involve strenuous workouts? (I`m not known for my love of exercise!)

  • A  Almost all the exercise I’d do would be in fresh, filtered and heated seawater. The body is thus totally supported and any exertion, however thorough, will feel light and manageable’.

  • Q  Confessing my weakness for newly baked bread, pain au chocolat, wine and puddings, would I be so tempted by the food that it would cancel out any gains?

  • A  All meals at La Verrière, the Spa’s dietetic restaurant, planned to the last calorific detail, are, I was told, cooked and presented so that it was unlikely anyone would want more. I remained to be convinced - we’re talking serious chocolate gobbling here.

  • Q  Would I feel out of place in what sounded like quite a smart and exclusive environment?

  • A   Towelling robes, supplied on arrival, are worn most of the time. Many guests are ordinary French folk of all shapes and sizes. Some are even prescribed thalassotherapy by their own doctors, for problems such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis and other joint difficulties, back pain, weight loss, weight gain, post-operative care and childbirth recovery. Others save up to go to Saint Malo once or twice every year as part of a health maintenance regime.

Taking the plunge

Reassured, I booked my week. I also persuaded my long-time friend Sue, that she could benefit by coming too. Meeting in Paris we drove to Saint Malo, both toying with thoughts of humiliating exposure of our unfitness. It was good to share the experience with someone who knew me well.

The immediate impression on arrival at the Grand Hotel des Thermes was of the great spas of Victorian Harrogate or Scarborough. The Maitresse welcomed us warmly and we began to settle into the sealed-off world that would cosset us for the next six days. Nothing for it now but to freshen up and take our first calorie-counted, nutritionally perfect meal.

Our dinner was indeed parfait. No alcohol, but a bewildering choice of waters from all over Europe (we were encouraged to drink two litres a day, brought to our room daily), no salads with celery sticks but a choice of dishes, each a superb balance of ingredients, beautifully prepared fresh fish, vegetables, meat or fruit puddings. Eaten slowly to prolong the pleasure, each was enough to satisfy.

Next morning, after our health check with the in-house Dr. Ridoux, we took her recommendations for our daily itinerary to the booking clerks. Each day included four treatments per morning or afternoon alternately. The rest of the day was free for visits to the ‘aquatonic’ pool, strolls along the long, sandy beach or resting. 

My programme included pool exercises while water-jets targeted my faulty lower back; 20-minute baths with jets powering and bubbling up and down the body; pressotherapie, a treatment I called ‘elephant legs’ as it entailed lying flat while huge grey boots slowly inflated and deflated from toe to groin - bizarre but very relaxing; and a manual massage given while water-jets continuously toned different muscle groups. 

All wet treatments used warm seawater. The aquatonic pool, too, was a joy and despite my lifelong fear of water, I found it thoroughly relaxing. Each part of the body was buffeted by 100 water pillows, loosening up long-tensed muscles, infusing the skin with cleansing and rejuvenating minerals and swooshing away accumulated surface cells long past what I’m tempted to call their cell-byebye date.

All these treatments soon took effect. On day two, I developed a 24-hour headache but the therapists approved - it was a positive sign of de-toxification, they assured me.

Sue and I took occasional strolls on the beach but never strayed far before returning to the cocoon. I happily dozed or read wherever there was a lounger to stretch out on, waiting for the next treatment, or, of course, the next meal. Bliss.

After effects

Since returning from Saint Malo four months ago sporting softer skin and brighter eyes, I’ve maintained my three kilo weight loss, felt more alert and energised, managed my breathing problems much better and have even been seen running in the park with my dog.

Sue had been shocked at the Hotel’s gift of chocolates left in our room. ‘How can we take our fitness seriously if we’re tempted by these?’, she asked. A good friend, I removed them from her temptation - into my own suitcase.

What I’ve since realised is that I’m so much fitter now following our stay and I can afford to eat a goody or two without affecting my shape. Because I feel fitter, I’m more active; because I’m more active, I burn more calories; because I burn more calories, my muscles are less likely to store unused carbohydrates.

There’s still room for improvement of course. I might just need to book another visit soon.... and yes, I ate the chocolates.

Maggi's holiday was arranged through Spa Health Specialists Ltd, 150 Harley Street, London W1G 7LQ.
Tel: 020 7935 9044. Fax: 020 7224 4289

Maggi and Sue stayed at Le Grand Hotel des Thermes, Grande Plage du Sillon, BP 32-35401 Saint-Malo, France.
Tel: 00 33 2 99 40 75 75

The cost per person was £895.04 (low season rate) based on two sharing for 6 nights. This included a very comfortable twin bed 'Transat' room (without sea-view), en-suite bath/shower with separate toilet, dietetic full board in La Verriere restaurant, 4 treatments per person per day and unlimited use of the Aquatonic Pool.
The cost did not include travel to and from Saint Malo although Spa Health Specialist are happy to arrange this through their regular travel agency.

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