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Beth Weitzman | Photo: Courtesy Images | November 26, 2012
In the hills of eastern Spain, a destination wellness spa of the future emerges in present day.
Perched high in the Sierra Helada Mountains in Alicante, Spain, overlooking the shimmering Mediterranean Sea, Europe’s lauded SHA Wellness Clinic (shawellnessclinic.com) astounds with its super-chic, stark white and glass façade. But its contemporary ethos belies unorthodox beginnings.
Given its revolutionary wellness concept, based on the macrobiotic lifestyle (the first of its kind in Europe and nonexistent in the United States), one might well assume SHA is the brainchild of an experienced hotelier moonlighting as a nutritionist, when in fact the opposite is true. Its owner, Alfredo Bataller Parietti, is not a seasoned hotelier at all—not even close. He’s a businessman who battled digestive issues and an equal number of failed treatments for 30 years until, on the advice of a friend, he saw a doctor specializing in natural medicine (who is now an integral part of SHA’s expert team). Within weeks of his visit, and after subscribing to a macrobiotic diet and lifestyle, he experienced a full recovery. Personal results, as well as those achieved by friends and relatives who followed his lead, convinced him to consult with the world’s foremost authority on the topic, Michio Kushi. Soon after, Bataller Parietti decided to help others make the same life-transforming discovery. To this end, he elected to tear down his family’s holiday home to make way for the SHA Wellness Clinic.
A waterfall percolating at the entrance of the progressive retreat transitions weary travelers such as myself to the SHA state of mind: relaxed, rejuvenated and reinvented. Merging Western techniques with Eastern wisdom, SHA’s core philosophy centers on achieving and sustaining overall health, well-being and longevity. Ushering these goals along are dietary, medical and lifestyle overhauls facilitated by a skilled team of counselors and physicians (some of the world’s finest). From the cuisine and wellness programs to the accommodations and simple surroundings, SHA supplies a clear-the-mind, unclutter-the-soul experience similar to the tenets of its macrobiotic muse.
The experience starts with its stunningly sleek architecture: SHA could seamlessly move to the sexy shores of South Beach or glistening Saint-Tropez without missing a beat. Elemental spaces featuring bridges, gardens and waterfalls connect a series of 93 luxurious suites (in five categories) up to 3,500 square feet in size. Joining these restful points of anchorage is the Royal Suite. Formerly SHA’s premier Presidential Suite, it is the chicest and most expansive of all guest sanctuaries. Three new Presidential Suites are set to debut in 2013. No matter the size, all suites boast contemporary living spaces (sumptuously dressed beds and large walk-in closets are bedroom staples), organic bath products and a healthy minibar, as well as the latest in technological accoutrements. Large terraces offer sweeping views of the city, mountains and water, while automated blackout curtains allow for restful sleep. Select havens are outfitted with terrace Jacuzzis and Hydro-Spas for even more relaxation.
The core visual theme continues throughout SHA’s facilities, which include a sprawling deck with surreal views; urbane cabanas; an infinity pool and Jacuzzi; a state-of-the-art fitness center; yoga and meditation areas; and the macrobiotic restaurant SHAMADI, commanded by chef Pablo Montoro, who spent years working at Spain’s famed elBulli. There’s also a bona fide heliport for the truly high-flying.
As impressive as this package is, it does not outshine its star attraction: the newly revamped and expanded Clinic and Spa. The spaciously remodeled facilities now boast an ample 14,000 square feet divided into two parts: the hydrotherapy area and the treatment zone.
The former houses numerous mini therapeutic reservoirs—immersion points include a floating therapy pool, a tone-up pool, pebbles bath and more, along with a steam room and sauna. Cozy couches appoint the ultrachic relaxation area, providing the perfect setting from which to sip organic tea and enjoy breathing in oxygen therapy (ah, so good!).
Indulgences continue in the treatment zone, where more than 40 uniquely designed treatment cabins set the stage for an impressive lineup of cutting-edge spa therapies—from baths and wraps to facials and bodywork—as well as specialized mending based on traditional Chinese medicine. New additions include curative mercies such as laser treatments, sensory experiences and detox bioenergetics. A savvy hair and nail salon is the go-to for beauty enhancements, while steady and experienced hands conduct hardcore aesthetic medicine, including the latest in noninvasive procedures as well as cosmetic dentistry. The menu of service options available in this arena is seemingly endless.
Most popular, though, is SHA’s extensive suite of wellness programs, which run the gamut from four-day stays to lengthy two-week intensives. While the focus ranges from weight-loss and detoxification to sleep issues and aggressive medical treatments, all are directed toward achieving optimal long-term health.
An agenda-coordination specialist explains the multitude of options available to me, but the duration of my stay (a mere four days, not nearly long enough) leads me to the SHA Discovery program, which focuses on relaxation and revitalization through the principles of the macrobiotic lifestyle. Along for the ride is a customizable array of spa treatments (shiatsu, reiki, acupuncture, a deep tissue or hydro-colon therapy treatment, as well as a SHA massage or lymphatic drainage therapy), fitness classes and a cooking experience.
The great thing about SHA is that no matter which plan one follows, all stays are restorative—the cuisine is nutritious, and the classes, services and treatments are goal-specific. The coming year will introduce two inaugural seven-day offerings: the Intensive Weight Loss and Rejuvenation programs. Agendas for these and all other programs include a full array of treatments: clinical analysis, various consultations, medical checkups, therapeutic treatments, access to learning programs and more. (Aesthetic consultation and collagen testing are thrown in at no extra cost.)
Further tapping into its medical-spa tradition, SHA is now offering a groundbreaking anti-aging program said to be a clinically proven way to safely make one’s biological age fall behind chronological age via telomere length analysis. One of the few centers in the world to employ this type of innovation, SHA draws comers from every corner of the globe.
Essential to the SHA experience is nutrition, my personal concentration. Three types of menus (weight-loss, detox or à la carte) are on offer, but alas, coffee, dairy and sugar aren’t allowed, although tea and alternatives are provided. Alcohol is limited to organic wine. Though knowledgeable waitstaff trained in macrobiotic eating answer all queries on-site (and in multiple languages at that!), culinary classes introducing macrobiotic novices to the principles of the lifestyle’s particular food preparation are popular.
Meeting with a macrobiotic specialist made me want to strictly adhere to this diet, where whole grains and seasonal vegetables are the base of every meal, with meat and fish used more as garnishes. Although four days of eating cleanly at SHA felt great, it proved difficult to fully maintain once I returned home. However, I have implemented many of the lifestyle’s key principles into my daily routine.
Not surprisingly, with an elBulli alum at the helm, the cuisine is far better than anticipated—delicious, not drab. Fresh juices like carrot and ginger are refreshing, and sips of miso soup (for breakfast!), along with a full slate of all-natural foods, tantalize. Variety also impresses. Favorite starters (such as the tuna belly tartare with mustard mousse, seaweed mix, cauliflower and fennel pickles; and the baked octopus with sake, grilled cabbage, sweet potatoes trinxat and smoked paprika cream) are as good, if not better, than servings of five-star fare at marquee restaurants stateside. Entrées include a bevy of pastas (yes, you read that right!), and fish dishes and desserts absolutely sing—the Macrobiotic Nutella (creamy chocolate, cocoa and oat milk, hazelnut aired sponge cake and molasses crumble) is a heavenly memory.
All that lies beyond SHA proves equally satisfying. Although many choose to stay on property, others embrace the opportunity to explore. In the latter category, I join fellow travelers and stride to the lighthouse—a nice way to start the day and a workout to boot. If early-morning or group walks aren’t up your alley, a lovely 20-minute amble into town is a pleasurable alternative. Or head to Old Town about four miles away, taking note of bordering residential neighborhoods and lovely beaches as you walk. Serious inclines start at the base of Old Town, but they end with rewards at the top. Here, the vistas are even more awe-inspiring. Take pains not to fall prey to the many fragrant restaurants and drink spots along the way (remember, you love how macrobiotic eating makes you feel), but by all means poke into one of the cute shops dotting the road. The slightly more vigorous might consider hitting the links at one of the nearby golf courses. And if you break a sweat, a return to SHA will surely soothe.