Editor’s note: When we heard that salon owner and freelance writer Melinda Minton was taking a tour of European spas, we asked her to be our spy, seeking oat what’s new and unusual from the continent that, after all, originated the whole spa concept. Here, she enjoys a solar body wrap in a Tuscan garden.

I recently took a. whirlwind tour of Europe, sampling destination and day spas and bringing back a sizable list of new trends and treatments What impressed me most about Europe, however; was the general public’s complete acceptance of the spa as a place to visit for weeks or even months to renew the mind and body, it is not at all uncommon for a European to visit a spa for three or four weeks in the spring and then once again in the late fell Oftentimes employers will even send workers to a spa for three months or longer to unwind from the stresses of their jobs.

The other aspect of European spas that is quite unlike the American experience is their “no pain, no gain” approach. Every spa has a physician on hand who prescribes treatments, exercise, and diet. Many of the regimens followed at the spa are rigorous, while some are downright unpleasant. To the European, though, this is all part of getting to the heart of the matter and becoming healthier.

Here are some of the cutting-edge service options I encountered, along with the therapeutic claims made.


Caves in Italy and France are ideal for storing wine at appropriate temperatures while it gracefully ages. Caves are also ideal for spa goers as they do their best not to age. Peaceful by nature, these dark damp enclaves typically provide a variety of mineral pools of differing temperatures.


This is how the theory goes: On a physical plane we view color as a spectrum; the world is a rainbow of colors to our eyes. These colors impact our health, thinking, and spiritual well-being in either good ways or for ill. We call these colours pigmented. Color on the inner planes or the etheric rays of the rainbow are called radiant colours. Radiant light is perceived psychically, not physically, and emanates from our aura. When this light is out of balance, so are we. Color therapy works on both levels to correct any disturbances in our lives.


Human brains emit patterns of electromagnetic waves based on neuron firing and accompanying synaptic activity. Alpha waves are brought on by unfocusing one’s attention Beta waves are the result of heightened mental activity Theta waves are accompanied by feelings of emotional stress. And delta waves occur during deep sleep. By monitoring these brain waves, the therapist can assist with emotional trauma by utilizing methods of biofeedback, brain reorganization, herbal therapy hypnotherapy and classical psychotherapy.


Pronounced “ka nipe,” Kneipp is one of the age-old forms of balneotherapy. It’s a combination of very potent herbal sauna and bath treatments typically prescribed by a physician. Many treatments involve jetted walking pools, some form of water massage, and changing temperatures.


Currently the rage in Europe is a technique where the outer linings of your bones are massaged. “Does this hurt?” I asked with a scowl that hinted that I might know the answer “Like the dickens,” said my host. Apparently it is very good for arthritis and chronic muscular pain.


This is the European way of waking the client up between more pleasant services. In a tiled shower area, the client is asked to stand quite naked. A staff member of the same sex then blasts the unprepared client with warm water. The thrust of the hose is comparable to a fine hose. Personally, I was concerned that my spine might be dislodged before I was escorted out of the water massage chamber.


Rows and rows of respirators emit different types of medicine — whether it be an herb such as eucalyptus or mineral such as sulfur vapor. These machines serve guests who have asthma, bronchitis, or other serious respiratory problems.


I’m an esthetician and have received and given a wide selection of facials. In Italy, I was given a facial that was marketed as a fish oil, antioxidant moisturizing treatment Everything went swimmingly well until the masquing. A masque was applied and then suddenly the room smelled strangely of fish. “Perhaps just an algae product,” I thought. No. it was anchovies and they were being applied to my face as carefully as they would be applied to a pizza. It was explained to me that they were very special type of anchovy. “Oh, well that’s fine then,” I remarked, hiding my obvious shock.


Many illnesses are caused by lack of movement or the wrong forms of movement. Oftentimes these are repetitive movements brought on by one’s profession or daily activities. To remedy this problem, a physical therapist analyzes the client’s movement patterns and offers suggestions for change.


It looks like a tanning bed, but surprise! Envision a tanning bed with a lining of warm sand. The sand has an energetic vibration that mimics your alpha brain waves—deeply relaxing, but not to be taken before bedtime. This treatment refurbishes your adrenal system, resulting in renewed vigor and energy. This is one of the latest contraptions to hit the spa scene and is exclusively found in Europe.


Finding “the cure” by going to the seaside is not just something screenwriters inject into period films. I found small rooms, large rooms, tiled rooms — all filled with saline enhanced air. This air can come from a mineral pool, brackish springs, or some other revered source. The amount of saline needed varies from person to person.


It is rare to find a destination spa that doesn’t have a large warm saline pool for physical therapy, prescribed movement, and specialized exercises. This choice of treatment, in fact, is so popular that many spas have more than one large pool to accommodate clients.


Primarily for circulation, skin tone, and the never-ending battle of the cellulite bulge, plunge pools are administered between other services. The warm pools range from tepid to about 105°F. The cold pools, however, are best described as bone chilling. The idea is to go from the warm pools to the ice cold pools to invigorate the body and stimulate the circulatory system. A steady cadence of the minutes of warm to three minutes of freezing is the norm spread out over an hour or so of constant rotation.


Yet another relaxing service, this is a massage where at any given point various limbs are tied to ropes and suspended from the ceiling. It is intended to stretch the muscle groups while the therapist works on other parts of the body.


These are baths of a variety of sizes that emit ultrasonic vibrations to mimic the client’s “resting electrical map.” We each have electricity coursing through our body at differing rates. The aim of this equipment is to regulate your electrical pattern and return your body to its natural balance.


Very hot mud from the caves or mineral-rich volcanic material is used at around 140°F for peloid therapy. Let’s just say you need a doctor’s permission slip to experience this kind of intense heat. Typically the client is wrapped in material similar to cheese cloth so the mud surrounds the body but doesn’t actually touch the skin. Slowly, the healing fluids from the mud or volcanic matter seep onto the skin and into the pores. This sort of treatment is great for the skin as well as the muscle tissue. Additionally, rheumatic, orthopaedic, and skin disorders are helped with this treatment.


Europeans are masters at exercising without actually doing the dirty deed. Hence, “passive gymnasts” are clients who would like to lose cellulite, fat, and body mass without working up a sweat in any fashion. All sorts of wraps, packs, and serums are applied to work the muscle groups without requiring any sort of rigorous movement The closest thing to exercise a “passive gymnast” might encounter is beginning water aerobics in the saline pool.

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