First-time Spa Treatments in Sauze D'Oulx, Piedmont, Italy
Confessions of a spa virgin
Against his better judgement, David Whitley heads off for his first ever spa break, and ends up feeling rather humiliated.
Oh no. It’s one of the scary Orange Women; the stuff of my worst nightmares. This is something that has always disturbed me. You see them prowling around the ground floor of department stores, pouncing on innocent strangers and subjecting them to death by mascara. Quite why anyone would want make-up tips from a luminous hag that that clearly can’t apply it properly herself is beyond my tiny mind.
Yet, now I must face one, trapped in a small, darkened room and entirely at her mercy. She’s not so much got foundation on her face, but walls, roof, turret and spire for good measure. She points at a small eye mask lying on the table, mumbles something in Italian, and leaves the room.
This is all quite frightening. Up to this point I have managed to bluff, bluster and downright lie, but the truth is that I have never been in a spa before. Until now, they’ve been safely stored in the back of the mind under the category of Girl Things. But, as a trade off for doing proper Man Things like snowboarding and quad biking, I’m now completely trapped in one, waiting for a woman with a healthy Oompah-Loompah glow to make me beautiful. The horror… the horror.
It appears as though the first hurdle is a particularly high one too. The eye mask is shaped like no other I have seen before, almost like horse blinkers with two little strings attached. It half covers the face, leaving cheeks, ears and forehead exposed and making me look like a Hollywood serial killer. It’s either a spectacularly poor design or not an eye mask after all. Let’s see how it works on my head, protecting my hair…
At this point, there’s a knock on the door, and the Orange Woman reappears. She looks at me aghast, the sort of look reserved for lunatics sat down on a bed with their pants on their head.
Hand slapped against forehead, she peers through her fingers, points at my boardshorts and says: “No, no, no. You must change.” It finally dawns on me what my fetching new hat really is. I have reached a new low.
As it turns out, the only thing more humiliating than being caught wearing a posing pouch on your head is wearing it properly. They may be fine for steroid-ridden musclemen with long hair and adoring hen night audiences baying at them to strip, but they’re simply not a good look for any normal member of the male race. Worn in the changing rooms, this ultra-revealing monstrosity would illicit scorn forever more. Worn in the bedroom, it would be a one-way ticket to returned rings and a lifetime of microwave meals. This had better not be on CCTV, let’s put it that way.
High up in the Italian Alps, isolated in a mountain retreat, there is little option but to press on regardless, though, and I lie down to face the worst.
Head down on the weird, space-age bed, with my modesty spared by what may as well be two strips of dental floss, some slop lands on my back. I have no idea what it is, and I’m not sure I want to know either.
It’s fairly abrasive as it’s rubbed in from shoulders to feet, but this is supposedly a good thing. I believe the term is exfoliation, and my skin will undoubtedly be soft, smooth and wonderful afterwards. If only it didn’t have to be rubbed over scars, minor cuts and nasty spots as well, it’d be almost tolerable.
Next comes another layer of grit-in-sauce, which obviously has finer lumps of gravel in it as it doesn’t feel quite so harsh, and then it’s the real good stuff. According to the glossy brochures, I am undergoing grape therapy, a local speciality. This realistically means that the dregs from the wine-making process are slopped all over you, allowing their natural goodness to seep into your skin.
Ooh! It feels really slimy; the sort of stuff that would ooze out of baddies in Ghostbusters, or would get poured over the heads of children’s TV presenters for charity appeals. The spine tingles a little as it sloshes around on top of me, gradually becoming enmeshed in the two previous layers of, er… things.
The whole process is repeated with me lying on my back, yet I can still barely see a thing. With head slumped resolutely into the pillow, I have to crane my neck to see even the slightest thing that’s being done to my body. I can vaguely see little red specks; it looks suspiciously like the debris you’d see on a wine glass in the morning when you have to do the washing up from the previous night.
So then… what on earth am I supposed to do from here? Just lie here, a greasy mess? My tormentor attempts to explain as she holds the edge of the layer of plastic I’ve been lying on. She folds it over on top of me, and then does the same from the other side.
With a soothing smile on her face, she then reaches for a much thicker layer of plastic that, up to this point, I had not noticed. That goes over the top too, and suddenly things are beginning to get more than a little claustrophobic. Help! What are you doing to me, you witch? I wriggle my arms, just to see if there’s any possibility of escaping this cocoon, but they just slide helplessly like thongs on black ice. Sweet heavens, I’m well and truly trapped, completely at the mercy of one of the Orange Women. And she’s doing something to the space bed, too. Is it too late to find religion and be excused for all the bad things I have done in the past? Pinch me, wake me up, anything to get me out of this dark netherworld.
The solid bed I’ve been lying upon slowly disappears beneath me, and I’m suddenly floating in lovely warm water. The lights in the room are going haywire, gradually morphing between reds, blues and greens. Whether this is supposed to simulate a near-death experience or alien abduction, I’m not quite sure.
Left to my own devices for a few minutes, there is little else to do but to listen to the soothing music - which appears to be an Italian lounge act version of Kylie Minogue’s Better The Devil You Know with added pan pipes - and gently loll backwards and forwards.
And if it was claustrophobic before, then it’s only getting more so. Being in the water creates a tightening effect, like the muck-and-plastic shroud is a python slowly constricting around a rabbit, lining it up for the kill. Movement is increasingly restricted, but it feels strangely comforting, like a warm, languorous embrace. With head snugly on pillow, the triple covering of gunk now seems like a particularly cosy blanket. Time for a nice slee…
… The knocking sound arrests the slumber. Given that leaping bolt upright, alert and attentive is a practical impossibility, the only option is to slowly raise the eyelids and gradually focus, the blur in front eventually becoming a clear picture. Hmm, it seems as though that wasn’t so bad after all.
The water chamber becomes a bed again, and I’m encouraged to shower off before heading out to the rest of the complex. Given that I look like a sticky leper, this is perhaps a wise idea.
To the unititiated, spa treatments are a terrifying experience. You don’t really know what’s being done to you, what effects it has or whether those effects are a good thing or not. It is a consummate exercise of putting trust in a total stranger, which is particularly taxing when your brain simply isn’t wired towards the whole pampering ethic. Whatever happened to no pain, no gain?
Mercifully, the rest of the package is fabulous. Undoubtedly the best part of a spa break is the big pool of bubbling water that is designed for splashing about in, sitting on top of spouts, and leaping around under waterfalls. It’s like a children’s water park in there, with a new surprise every few seconds. And if you get it to yourself, it’s absolutely fantastic – you can leap around like a salmon through a babbling stream, ducking through the foaming torrents and riding the powerful currents. Er… that is what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it?
David stayed at the Grand Hotel Besson (+39 0122 859785, www.grandhotelbessoon.it) in Sauze d’Oulx, Piedmont, Italy.
on 27 June 2007.
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