Ruby Wax in Portugal: Face up to the full treatment
The Longevity Wellness Resort in the Algarve offers diets, personal trainers that stretch you (literally) and ... blow-up pants. Ruby Wax succumbs
Friday 28 September 2012
I'll begin by telling you I lost five and a half centimetres around my waist in the four days that I spent at the Longevity Wellness Resort in the Algarve. It may not mean much to you but my daughter Marina thought I'd been pregnant for the last five years. She was sad to see it go because we had already named it.
As you arrive at Faro airport in the Algarve, a "big mistake" sign flashes in your head because you're immediately confronted by brightly burnt tourists stuffed like sausages into T-shirts. Then you realise with relief that they're heading like fat ants to the ram-packed sandy beaches to get even more burnt, while you're taking twisting empty roads that loop around dusty red hills coated in olive groves and exotic palms. You pass cobblestoned villages with vine-covered, pastel-coloured shops and little espresso cafés. You witness the obligatory hunched-over, seemingly dead old person with whiskers and flat cap, drinking melosa, a local drink made of brandy and diesel fuel. Then you look up and above you is what seems to be a gigantic square spaceship made of white concrete, steel and glass. You've arrived at the Longevity Wellness Resort.
I'll be honest: architecturally it was not to my taste. But the German and Dutch guests raved about it. It's early Bauhaus, defined as "German modernism; a new rational social housing for the workers, rejecting bourgeois details", which sounds about right. The large lettering that spelled "LONGEVITY" was a little too large and loomed ominously on top of one of the three cubes that made up the building. It seemed to be demanding that you live a long time – or else.
The building looked scary but I was told it's friendly to the environment, and that's all that matters these days. It's friendly because the lights turn on one by one as you move toward them and off as you pass by; the flat roof has solar energy panels, greenery grows on all the terraces and only natural products are used for anything you put in your mouth or smear on your body.
You enter via a very modern lobby where it's hard to distinguish the furniture from the art. I liked the idea of sitting on something that Saatchi would hang from his ceiling. The oddest part about the lobby, though, is that it's on the 11th floor. To get to the spa you have to descend to the fourth floor then walk through a tunnel, through the mountain, and then take a completely different elevator up to the seventh floor. I lost most of my weight while roaming the corridors.
But the staff – who I loved and wanted to take home with me – would practically carry me on their backs whenever they found me lost in a hallway. Usually in luxury hotels the staff all bow and smile and you know inside they hate you. But the Portuguese gaze straight into your eyes, into your soul, and then serve you a fish. (A fish which, by the way, must have been caught in the kitchen it was so fresh.)
Where I fell out of love was during my physical assessment. I was hooked up to some clips (a small version of the kind they use when your car battery goes flat) and connected to a computer showing a graph representing my insides and how much fat mass I was carrying. The red lines represented my plain old fat mass, the blue lines were for no fat mass, and the pink lines were for cellular mass. I was very confused as to what was good mass and what was bad mass. And what was mass anyway? I enquired about how it all actually worked and was told: "We are not engineers."
They then gave me my metabolic age. The nurse-person said, "Mrs Ruby, I have good news." I thought she was going to tell me I was carrying the baby Jesus. But instead she told me I was 15 years younger than my chronological age, which is a different sort of miracle. Next I was sent to another elevator and told to push "5" for the medical centre. Here I was met by a doctor, who went through a list of diseases I might have. I had none. She seemed proud until I told her I did have depression. She looked at me with disbelief; it was as if I told her I had just eaten a barn owl. I told her I wasn't constantly depressed; sometimes there was a five-year gap before I had another episode.
She said, "This is a bit strange. If you are not always depressed then you do not have depression." She then gave me her theories on the subject. "Depression goes back generations," she said. "The last member of the family carries it." Therefore I should say to my mother, who is very dead: "This belongs to you, it doesn't belong to me." Then the depression would disappear.
I happen to be something of an expert on depression, not just because I have it, but also because I'm currently studying it at Oxford University. This theory has never been mentioned as part of my Master's degree. I was then given a list of instructions to improve the quality of my life. One was to make my bedroom Zen and take everything out of it. She also looked into my mouth and told me to take out my mercury implants. I don't have any mercury implants.
I was by now transfixed. In the end, after taking my pulse and telling me I had weakness in my heart, small intestines, liver and gall bladder, she recommended I have some ozone therapy. Apparently they take some of your blood out, add a little ozone to it and stick it back in. When I asked why – which I did a lot – she told me that ozone detoxifies and that it was not just 02, it was all-new 03. Like that would shut me up.
There were other treatments on offer. My personal favourite was pressotherapy, where you're put in a pair of rubber pants and they pump air into them so that they blow up like a fat suit and you're "pressed", like the name claims. Again I asked, "Why?" The answer, inevitably, was this: detox.
Besides the medical centre there is also a spa centre. I felt safe here; I love being covered by the contents of a fridge. I tried lime, yoghurt, fruit, sea plants, oil, mint and cucumbers. Again the word detox came up as I was being smeared in foodstuffs. How does detox happen during massage? Are the toxins squished out of you like toothpaste on to the towel?
What is fantastic at the spa centre is its state-of-the-art gym. Here you get not one but two personal trainers, both of whom are experts at torture and fitness. At one point, one took my ankles while the other took my hands and they stretched me. If the idea was to make me taller, it didn't work, but I loved the attention. Also there's a nutritionist, Rita, who gave me a blood test – finally, something I could relate to – and told me to eat five small meals a day rather than binge, which is my usual modus operandi. I'm now de-bloated (she was right about my allergies) and thinner than I have been for millennia.
She put me on a gluten-free diet with small snacks between meals. The waiters would hunt me down to ensure I didn't miss a feeding. In a completely disarming manner the people here have learnt to talk you down from the temptation to cram the whole dessert buffet down your throat. When I sneakily ordered a mango milkshake, my waiter gently suggested I have iced water flavoured with mango. I took the water but only because of him and his concern for my health. Monchique, the village nearby, is known for natural spring waters discovered by the Romans 2,000 years ago. They're meant to rejuvenate you, which is why so many Romans are still around. It is delicious, as far as water goes, and slightly sweet.
The temperature here apparently remains pretty much perfect all year round: sunny but slightly air-conditioned by a cool breeze. So I went on one of the daily morning hikes. I was told it was only 45 minutes long but it turned out to last three hours. I wept all the way, but again the walk leader had that Portuguese "look into your soul" thing, so I did it for him. You begin with a gentle walk up the slopes passing incredible white and pink estates with tree-lined driveways. The hills are dotted with blindingly turquoise swimming pools.
Every bush leaves a scent of some herb or fruit: rosemary, mint, lemon, eucalyptus, coriander and orange. Then gradually you realise you're almost falling straight down the mountain, crashing through the lush pine forest grabbing at branches, jumping from boulder to boulder, leaping over narrow waterfalls. (The path is about six inches wide.) Our leader told us he takes his mountain bike on this particular route; to him it's a straight road. The views are spectacular: tall pines and palms dotted with glistening turquoise pools.
When we finally collapsed, my fellow hikers raved about the Longevity spa and said it was the best health resort they'd ever been to. They were lawyers, CEOs and property honchos who regularly spa-hop – and many revisit this one every year. They all said it makes them feel better.
I thought, "Who are you, Ruby, to criticise?" Maybe I'm wrong and this stuff works when you believe in it. So in the end I just lay back and let them take my blood and blow up my pants. When I left I felt lighter, happier and as if I was floating on air – mainly because I had been pumped full of it.
My advice? If you want anti-ageing treatments, see a plastic surgeon. If you want to feel better and lose weight, come here.
Faro is easily reached from all over the UK. Direct links are offered by Monarch (0871 940 5040; monarch.co .uk), easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet .com), British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), FlyBe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com), Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com), Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2 .com) and Thomson (0871 231 4691; thomson.co.uk).
Longevity Wellness Resort, Monchique, Algarve (00 351 8550 232; longevity wellnessresort.com). Doubles start at €250, with half board, €20 spa credit and access to "Vitality Activities", such as Pilates, yoga and fitness classes. A double room with spa treatments starts at €502.
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