Time to splash out on a spa break

The French take their health very seriously and can even get a spa break prescribed by their doctor. Samantha David looks at spa options from luxury detox to value family escapes

20 December 2017
Center Parcs villages offer a relaxing escape for adults and kids alike
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New Year is traditionally a time for struggling to keep ambitious resolutions and here in France many of them are about getting into shape after repeated feasting over the Christmas period. It is also traditional however, to give up soon, especially when faced with the temptations of tartiflette and cassoulet: after a few days of steamed vegetables and fish, resistance is low! It’s the same with exercise regimes; they’re easy to start and difficult to continue when it’s cold outside and a warm, cosy sofa beckons indoors.

This is where spas, wellness therapies and hammams can help. Apart from being blissful experiences in themselves, they can shore up our determination to stick to the straight and narrow; at least for long enough to get back in shape. The range of wellness treatments and experiences on offer is stunning, from afternoons in the local hammam costing around 20-25 euros to entire weeks at a glossy spa for as much money as you can earn. Why not check out what is available in your area?

Evian-les-Bains in Haute-Savoie is one of France’s oldest spa towns, famous worldwide for its mineral water. A stay in Evian is not complete without at least an afternoon spent getting wet in search of wellness. The town, on the banks of Lake Geneva has extensive public flower arrangements, narrow alleyways containing cafés and designer boutiques, a ferry across the lake to Lausanne, several luxury hotels, and of course an exclusive casino. You can, however, stay in a very reasonably-priced hotel or B&B, swim in the lake and simply fill your own bottle with Evian water for free. (The tap is at the Source Cachat, in Ave des Sources.)

For those with the cash to splash (quite literally) there are two world class spas (one at the 5* Hotel Royal and one at the 4* Hotel Ermitage). Both offer all kinds of beauty, relaxation and wellness treatments for both day-guests and hotel residents. And there is also the slightly more medically focused (but still very luxurious) Thermes d’Evian (lesthermesevian.com) offering much the same along with medical treatments for all kinds of ailments. A half-day starts at €77 and a whole day from €120. 

CaudAlie is a relative newcomer on the wellness scene but incredibly successful thanks to their red wine and chocolate treatments, and their unique beauty products are stocked in shops worldwide. Their spa retreat remains quite intimate and personalised, although of course it comes at a price. Why not try four days of pampering and detox, starting at €1,614 for one person or €2,485 for two.

The price includes a personally-designed exercise regime, sports coaching, and two half-days in the ‘Spa Vinothérapie’ enjoying bathing in red wine, getting a merlot wrap, and treatments involving crushed cabernet grapes and grape pip oil. Facials and a bath in ‘marc de raisin’ which is what is left over when you make wine. Full board includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, unlimited slimming tea and a seven-course meal in their 2* Michelin restaurant. You might not end up thinner, but it’s a fair bet that you’ll end up feeling marvellous.

If you are also concerned about the wellness of your credit card, you could check out a website like thalasso-passion.fr which, when we looked, had two nights and three days B&B in Port Camargue in January 2018, including six spa treatments for the bargain sum of €282 per person. Their last minute bargains in smaller spas all across France are impressive if you are searching for a short recuperative getaway without breaking the bank. It is also possible to use their site to get ideas of what is available and then book direct with the spas themselves.

A family option is Center Parcs (centerparcs.fr), which offers spa experiences for all the family, depending on which centre you choose. Their famous heated domes house pools which are artfully landscaped with lots of green planting, and areas for babies and kids as well as pools for adults to enjoy. They also offer babysitting options if you want to take advantage of their spa centres and get a massage in peace and quiet. Prices in January and February, especially at the last minute, are often discounted and it is possible to go just for a weekend. There are Center Parcs across northern and central France, and when we checked prices for January 2018 we found two nights for four people in a cottage in ‘Les Hauts de Bruyères’ Center Parc, Loir-et-Cher, for €189.

Relax all over France

Spa hotels such as Résidence Premium in Normandy offer reasonably priced short breaks

There are spa hotels all over France however, and prices in January/February are slashed. The Résidence Premium in Houlgate, just to the west of Deauville in Normandy, is a long-established apartment-hotel right on the seafront with views out across the English Channel. When we checked, the price of a flat for for two nights for four people was just €199. Obviously treatments in the spa are extra, but it is still a very reasonable price. The Deep Nature Spa offers all the usual treats; saunas, jacuzzis, plunge pool, relaxation area as well as a full range of wellness treatments including the blissful hot stones experience. A nice addition is an offer of massages for children or even an offer for a child to receive a massage at the same time as a parent.

(Many spas simply ban under-16s, which can be a blessing for adults wanting to escape the joys of youths, but is a scourge for parents with civilised offspring and no nanny. The sauna, hammam and jaccuzzi areas are not suitable for children, however.) Deep Nature spas exist all over France; find one near you using their website: deepnature.fr/en

Local beauty salons often offer ‘balnéothérapie’ (sessions lounging in hot water) as well as a range of massages, usually starting at around €70. Find them by searching pagesjaunes.fr for "instituts de beauté". 

Another more moderately priced option is looking for a local hammam. These steam baths, which originated from North Africa, exist all over France and are often spectacular value for money. For around €20-25 you can lounge around in a large tiled steam room splashing yourself with warm water, and at intervals wander into the sauna or take a dip in the jaccuzzi. For a few euros more you can get a full-body scrub with black soap, and possibly even a clay full-body mask.

Hammams also often offer a range of massages and beauty treatments. (These usually need to be booked ahead.) Many only offer single-sex sessions, but some do sometimes operate sessions for couples. Once you have finished splashing, lizarding, and lounging in the water, you put your feet up on a sunbed or a sofa and refresh yourself with mint tea and North African cakes. Find one by searching pagesjaunes.fr for “hammam”. 

But why leave the house at all? There is plenty of evidence to show that taking a break from alcohol is beneficial, and of course it can’t do any harm to exclude excess sugars and fats, or even include a little exercise. A stay-at-home approach could include unplugged modems and phones, home-made juice and vegetable soup, a porridge oat face-mask, a hot bath with candles and an early night.

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