If you've ever spent time staring up at the stars whilst you laze in an outdoor hot tub, you'll know that there's something special about experiencing those sort of delights outdoors. A MIND-sponsored study carried out by the University of Essex has shown that there's a definite link between spending time surrounded by nature and boosting your mental and physical health.
The MIND study showed that, after a walk in the countryside, 71% of people reported a decrease in depression, and 90% felt their self-esteem increase. Ecotherapy, as it's called, can also lower blood pressure and reduce stress. Which is probably why I felt so utterly delighted in the thermal baths at Les Thermes du Saint-Gervais.
Brand new this year, "Les Bains du Mont-Blanc" are an exceptionally well-designed addition to the existing spa and traditional medical centre. The thermal waters aid recovery for those suffering from a wide range of ailments, from asthma and bronchitis to eczema. There is a huge wellness centre at the spa, the second-largest in France, but I was there to experience the softer side of the waters.
I was promised a "seven-stage multi-sensory experience". To my amazement, the hype didn't even come close to describing just how fabulous it was. The first stop was the "dry area" where I lolled in a '60s-style egg-chair while breathing in scented purified air, surprisingly relaxing. Next, was a darkened room filled with giant bean bags. I settled down and looked up -- the ceiling showed a film of jellyfish! Teamed with the gentle whale-song-meets-Ministry-of-Sound-Chill-Out music, it was oddly hypnotic.
Feeling suitably jellyfish-like, I tried the two steam rooms: one at 46°, the next at 48° -- both glitteringly clean -- before cooling down in a 36° bath of thermal water. I laid back and floated, I could see the trees outside, and I felt great.
Best of all was the hydrotherapy area outdoors which is kept at 36.5° all year round; perfect for post-skiing. The hydrotherapy area was superbly-designed, with a whole range of different "stations" with jets of varying powers at different heights to pummel the whole body. My beloved aqua loungers were there, as well as a brand-new (to me) experience: a pool area that mimicked the sensation of being in a glass of champagne! Tiny bubbles felt delicious on my skin.
Looking out from the pool, you're surrounded by vivid green tall trees in the shadow of Mont Blanc, breathing in that fresh mountain air. Best. Outdoor. Facilities. EVER!
Penultimate stage was a relaxation beanbag, curtained away by muslin drapes, where I topped up on water and nibbled on dried fruit. The two-hour "bains" experience ended with a mini-facial massage with a hydrating cream. A 150-minute session costs as little as 29 euros. Superb value!
But my time wasn't up; I wanted to see what the treatments were like, too. I tried an Alpine mud body wrap with warm mud that left my skin feeling toned and silky. However, my new Must-Do treatment was a Massage du Mont Blanc.
You lie on the couch, below four shower heads in a row, which rain down warm thermal water on your body throughout the whole treatment. The thermal water was just strong enough to provide a gentle massage on my back. My therapist then gave me an outstanding full-body massage, using oil! The treatment is messy and not suitable for the body-shy: I stripped to just bikini bottoms and realised after a minute that the water spraying up my nose, in my ears -- everywhere! But it didn't matter. My always-stiff neck was loose afterwards. Miraculous! A day later, my skin still feels superb.