With a backdrop of the Sierra Helada Natural Park and about 40 minutes drive from Spain's Alicente airport, SHA Wellness Clinic is a renowned health mecca for the burnt out, stressed, and in-need-of-a-break set, that is believed to include Gwyneth Paltrow, Kylie Minogue and a host of football stars.
This world-class medi-spa looks like an all-white beach club meets ultra-posh private hospital featuring 93 thoroughly modern suites and a massive 2,000-square-meter spa (SHA is currently under renovation for an expansion). With huge day beds around the infinity pool and lush-green creepers tumbling over balconies stylish comfort and pampering is hot on the agenda.
The very reason SHA exists is a tale of recovery as founder, Alfredo Bataller, suffered from chronic digestive problems for many years and only found a cure when he turned to a symbiotic combination of macrobiotic nutrition, Eastern philosophy and Western technology - a prescription that remains steadfast at SHA.
The macrobiotic diet lies at the heart of the SHA philosophy with every meal (without exception) overflowing with whole grains, seasonal vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, seaweed and the most appetising and tastiest deserts I have eaten (think macrobiotic tiramisu and chocolate fondant!) all presented like colourful works of art. The food is utterly superb and the team in the restaurant are ever obliging. One of the main reasons dairy, caffeine, alcohol, meat and refined sugar are excluded is that they are believed to increase inflammation in the body which is now strongly associated with the global epidemic in obesity and general ill health. Hence the focus on anti-inflammatory foods (think whole grains, legumes, green tea, berries, turmeric, ginger, green vegetables, shiitake mushrooms, miso and sauerkraut). Miso first thing in the morning to kick-start the digestive system - I could get hooked! Each guest's diet is tailored and adjusted depending on their programme and individual goals - with a Kushi menu for weight loss, Biolight for detox and a general SHA menu option. I chose options from all and in all honesty, not once did I feel like I was deprived - except of course missing my morning caffeine fix - but I got through that!
SHA spa & programmes
The spa at SHA is split over four floors complete with therapy rooms, fitness zones (featuring the best equipment, naturally), indoor pools, hydrotherapy circuits, steam rooms, cognitive unit, Chinese medicine zone and more more. The treatment menu is amongst the most comprehensive I have come across in my many years of travel, featuring the latest innovations in revitalising medicine (UV light phototherapy and more) from sleep recovery, anti-ageing, cognitive stimulation, healthy menopause, detox, weight loss, genetic medicine, bio-energy consultations (measuring the level of your cell batteries as such), gut health analysis of the types and amounts of microbial cultures in our digestive system, Chinese medicine and an aesthetic menu featuring the latest in wrinkle reducing therapies (think Botox, fillers, lasers, Ultherapy, Mesotherapy etc) and of course yoga, pilates, tough Nordic walks - in essence an East/West hybrid with equal emphasis on both.
The immensely popular four day SHA discovery programme hand picks the most transformational therapies and during my brief stay I experienced a taste of the best, with a full-on day including varied medical and nutritional consultations, a cognitive rehabilitation assessment with the fascinating Dr Bruno Ribeiro, yoga, acupuncture (with the gorgeous Eva Escorihuela), hydroenergetic Detox therapy, Indiba body sculpting (using radio frequency to rebalance my ageing body), hands-on facial and a deep tissue massage.
All of this said, what I found staggering is that amongst the vast menu of cutting-edge therapies, weight loss is top of the list for the vast majority of SHA's well-heeled guests which to me is a very sad reflection on the state of our global health and indeed our mindset.
Even over a 2-night stay it's impossible not to embrace the SHA ethos with a full menu of mind-and-body classes, personal trainer sessions, yoga, stomping Nordic walks in the hills etc. Everything is designed to de-stress and sleep, from the exact room-temperature setting to the pillow menu and downy comforters on the beds.
Must try: The cognitive development unit is worth a visit in itself. I could have spent my entire time with Dr Bruno Ribeiro watching my brain in action on the big screen! You can journey as deep as you wish (as far as your pockets allow really!) to explore the working sof the brain and learn how best to protect against neurologial decline.
Top Tip: Even a few days at SHA is a hefty investment so use your time wisely – don’t leave. The clinic is ample enough that I never once felt caged in. With so much on offer navigating your way through the options can be stressful in itself (my day of therapies began at 9am and finished at 7pm - granted I was squeezing extra in as time was limited). So, proper planning in advance will reap its rewards down the line.
Room for Improvement: Although the food is exemplary and the restaurant is wonderful sitting in the same, rather formal, space for every meal can get somewhat repetitive (especially if, like myself, you prefer a more casual vibe) so a cosy, more casual cafe serving light lunches and snacks would be a worthwhile investment.
Will I return; I would adore to but a stay at SHA doesn't come cheap!
Cost: Programmes start with the 4 day (3 night) SHA discovery at €1,250+
Further information here