We heard tell that a combination of sea water therapies and Mediterranean diet – lashings of olive oil, fresh produce and even pasta and red wine - hold the key to eternal youth. Eager to see if this splendid news is true, Beverley Byrne heads to Italy for a health break with a difference.
What’s on offer?
Opened in l996, the five-star Masseria San Domenco Hotel & Spa dates back to the 15th century when the Knights of Malta used the fortified farmhouse (Masseria) as a defence against Ottoman attacks. Dazzling white walls, piazzas and arched passage ways create a tranquil village atmosphere, while seductive floral scents accompany you on walks through the immaculate tropical gardens. There’s a stylish beach bar and an Al Fresco restaurant overlooking a curvaceous swimming pool; here, too, is a spacious Jacuzzi and wading pool, although this is not intended for children: the hotel is strictly adults only. A private beach on the Adriatic coast is a pleasant stroll away; walk through the ancient olive groves to reach it – these supply the Masseria San Domenico with the ‘elixir of life’: olive oil.
Situated in the Spa wing, our room (one of 40) features shuttered French windows leading to a private terrace. Other rooms and suites overlook extensive olive groves. Inside, the design is simple yet sumptuous with toiletries in the bathroom made from olive oil.
The spa’s central feature is an indoor sea water swimming pool (main picture)heated to 37/38 C. Drawn from a natural spring buried deep underground, the purified mineral rich water might not make for a refreshing swim but it will relax, revitalise and sooth aching muscles and joints. You can access the Thalassotherapy Centre from here, while further treatment rooms, a sauna, steam room, cromo-aromatic shower and gym facilities are located in a calm, subterranean area resplendent with David Begbie mesh sculptures.
Tell us about the treatments
We tried a Three-day Sculpt and Shape programme which includes daily use of the Thalasso pool, Kniep routes, sauna, steam room and gym.
During the initial Biologic Nutritional Consultation, doctors in white coats hook me up to a machine which, in under a minute, analyses my body composition and metabolism. It’s not great news: results reveal serious dehydration, some muscle loss and low bone minerals (hello osteoporosis). But there is hope – by drinking more water and following the Mediterranean diet which, in my case, includes plenty of extra virgin olive oil and anti- inflammatory produce such as brassicas (brocolli and kale), as well as confining meat to once a week and limiting cheese, I can combat these issues. Another machine analyses stress levels and I’m taught a bespoke breathing technique which I should practice for ten minutes each day.
My first treatment, a mineral wrap, is conducted by chirpy Thalassotherapist, Antonella who has worked at the Masseria for fourteen years. Applying a chock full of proteins, vitamins and minerals seaweed emulsion to my body and wrapping me in polythene like a human burrito, she leaves me simmering gently. Thirty minutes later, my perspiring, slimy body is immersed in a warm, soothing sea water bath. My soporific reverie is interrupted by phase three: Antonella hoses down my wobbly bits with a forceful jet of warm water. A final cold water hose down makes a shocking but invigorating finale.
Said wobbly bits are also targeted during the Thalgo Sculpturing Oxygenating treatment. My therapist, Marion, applies an oxygenated unguent in preparation for ‘cupping’ therapy. Said to aid relaxation and help with pain, inflammation and blood flow, this ancient form of alternative medicine uses suction to give a deep tissue massage (and if it’s good enough for Gwyneth Paltrow…). Half way through Marion asks me to feel my hips: is there less of a curve on the side she has worked on? I can’t be sure but at the end, my skin feels like chiffon.
Day two kicks off with an energetic aqua gym session in the heated Hydro pool with personal trainer, Fabio. Then it’s time for the surrealist Hydrocryotherapy treatment, essentially, a bicycle immersed in a shriek-inducing cold water bath, which apparently aids lymphatic drainage and water retention as well as speeding up cellulite reduction. It wasn’t an experience I was looking forward to but, after a hot gym session, the freezing water is refreshing and I cycle happily whilst practicing my new breathing techniques.
By day three, I’m an eager beaver and relish my Carita Tecno-led Remodeling facial. Using a Carita device, Marion delivers micro current technology - including phototherapy and ultrasound - to tone and diminish skin problems. It sounds all very hi-tech and sci-fi; surprisingly, I don’t feel a thing.
A cycling tour with Fabio later that evening - through olive groves and fields where broad beans, cabbage and fennel flourish alongside wild flowers - confirms just how energised, fit and firm I’m feeling. When I arrive home, I’m convinced my contours are more streamlined.
The Mediterranean Diet Menu isn’t about calorie counting: simple, fresh ingredients that are rich in vitamins, fibre and essential minerals, strengthen the immune system and delay the ageing process. According to Dr Grassi, a renowned nutritionist working in collaboration with the hotel, the Mediterranean diet does not offer a quick fix for weight loss but, as part of a daily routine, eliminates fat rather than water, thus maintaining weight for longer.
If the delicious, imaginative and attractive dishes served at the Masseria San Domenico are anything to go by, I won’t starve - or even have to give up pasta and wine. Now that’s a lifestyle choice I can cope with.
The Masseria San Domenico is a relaxing retreat offering an opportunity to rethink your lifestyle choices in sensible, achievable and sustainable ways. In just 24 hours I feel less stressed, less bloated and more in tune with my body.
Lunch at the Masseria’s sister hotel, Masseria Le Carube. Located just 6km’s from the stunning Renaissance city of Ostuni, this luxurious, rustically-designed hotel serves only locally-sourced, seasonal vegetarian food. The inspiring, extensive and kaleidoscopic and menu (especially panzerotti, a feather light calzone) will test the resolve of the most committed carnivore.
Rooms at Masseria San Domenico begin at £289 per night based on two adults sharing a Deluxe Double room on a B&B basis, excluding VAT. The three-day Sculpt & Shape Programme costs £473. Add a Biologic Nutritional Consultation for £131 and a Hydrocryotherapy Session for £61. Upgrade to the full-board Mediterranean Diet Menu for £52 per person, per day. Tel: +39 080 482 7769 | masseriasandomenico.com