Modern life (as my mother calls it) rarely spares time for self-indulgence and addressing the elusive work-life balance. And whilst I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am to work in the travel business, there is the occasional moment when hunched over the desk at Silver Towers surrounded by paperwork and deadlines, that I feel a long overdue need to practise just a little of what I preach.
When an opportunity presented itself to escape to Portugal for a couple of days and relax those hunched shoulders with a dose of the three S’s (that’s sunshine, sea and spa of course), naturally I leapt with the joy of a spring lamb. Added to that the bonus of a little bonding with my 22-year-old daughter, it was a recipe for a perfect weekend break.
The Algarve is a favourite year round destination for the British and has become a second home for some. As Matt, our taxi driver from the airport explained in his broad Yorkshire accent, it’s the sunshine, the friendly people, the food, the sea, the low cost of living and the easy pace of life. What’s not to like? Having relocated here 7 years ago at the age of 46, his only regret was not having made the move sooner.
Our destination was the elegant hotel Sao Rafael Atlantico near Albufeira, and my schedule for the next two days was to be the unashamedly self-centred and intense pursuit of personal wellness in the sumptuous spa. A glorious collection of designer pools of differing sizes and shapes were complemented by multiple treatment rooms where a friendly but serious team of ladies in white coats calmly went about their work to restore health and vigour to body and soul.
So what is wellness exactly? Defined as the active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life, it’s becoming increasingly popular as a preventative medicine; even a prescription for longevity. It wasn’t that I was in a state of unwellness, but middle-age does bring the odd aching joint and physical weariness from time to time. What’s more, a recent back strain (doubtless caused by far too much hunching over that desk), meant that I was in just the right frame of body and mind to sample an antidote to modern life.
I studied the glossary kindly provided by Sara Ismail, whose company Trip for Wellness, brings together a range of spa and wellness programmes in Portuguese hotels. And what a lot of therapies to choose from: thalassotherapy, balneotherapy, hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, fangotherapy – using medicinal clays – and the rather tempting vinotherapy using grape skins. A perfect prelude to a nice glass of Rioja I would imagine.
Before any hint of the grape however, I was called to take part in an introduction to Tai Chi with handsome Helio and a gentle round of linked moves which are not as easy as one might imagine. My daughter rocked with laughter as I rotated in the opposite direction to the rest of the class.
Nicely limbered up, I was ready for my first spa treatment, a full body massage with top to toe pummelling. “You spend far too much time sitting down” admonished the therapist severely. Well of course I knew that as she worked her magic into those aching shoulders. According to Trip for Wellness, just a single massage has medically proven benefits such as reducing stress and pains, whilst improving skin condition, vascular function and sleep. The latter was certainly true as I was awoken from a deep and relaxing slumber around 30 minutes later.
My next treatment was to be a Vichy shower, a soft barrage of warm water jets across my back and legs, whilst lying face down. My therapist arrived and briskly stripped down to her bathing costume to administer the accompanying massage, while I experienced a sensory overload of water beating gently upon me. It really is a most pleasant and unusual experience, and extremely relaxing.
Feeling fit and mellow, my daughter and I then ventured down the immaculate gardens and past the open-air pools to find, to our great delight, that the Hotel Rafael is located on a perfect sandy beach. In the warm October sunshine, what a pleasure to stretch out on the sand, although the water was a little cool for swimming for all but the hardy locals.
And fortunately we also had time the next morning for a short visit to Albufeira which is around 10 minutes away on the hotel’s free shuttle bus. It’s a tourist town, but with a great deal of charm and stunning views. It’s also well worth a detour for that essential Portuguese delicacy, a custard tart in a seafront cafe.
We couldn’t stay for long though, as I was booked for a final session at the spa, a therapy massage including facial. I wish I could tell you more but after the first 20 minutes of deep tissue manipulation (any remaining tension in the shoulders now firmly despatched), I again slept for most of it. Suffice to say that I floated back to my room in a state of soporific contentment.
The lasting benefits of a short spa break are significant. Not only had I enjoyed two lovely days with my daughter, but I also felt revitalised, refreshed and extremely ‘well’. I returned home energised, and ready for all that a damp British winter could throw at me. Even several weeks later, my sense of wellness remained, and not a single ache or pain in the joints. Really these breaks should be on prescription, I am sure it would save the NHS a fortune.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Trip for Wellness who offer spa and rejuvenation breaks across Portugal with personal service to ensure that you book the right break. They have a full range of programmes on offer for detox, fitness, weight loss & slimming, health & wellness and stress management.