Spas peel away old image

Clinique La Prairie is located on the "Swiss riviera", Lake Geneva

Switzerland's natural beauty and serenity has for centuries made it the perfect place for relaxation and recuperation.

This content was published on November 9, 2002 - 10:59

Samantha Tonkin discovered that a burgeoning "wellness" industry has broadened the appeal of health and fitness holidays beyond the silver-haired generation.

A sleek limo rolls up to Montreux train station to whisk me away to first-class spa Clinique La Prairie located on the shores of Lake Geneva.

We cruise over to the luxurious clinic famed not only for its cosmetic products, but also for its unique anti-ageing treatment on offer - more about that later.

But visitors here I learn, don't have to have crossed the mid-life rubicon to find a reason to indulge.

Tired-out twenty-somethings with the cash to spare are increasingly joining the retired folk in the hot spring and hamam Turkish steam bath, according to Switzerland Tourism spokeswoman Silvia de Vito.

The industry's first-ever directory of "wellness" hotels and spas, as they have become known in Switzerland and Germany, offers an extensive guide to the retreats that cater to individuals' needs.

Pure heaven

My peek into the world of five-star pampering at Clinique La Prairie proves a real eye-opener.

For one, I was astounded by the number of doctors, surgeons, physical trainers and beauticians on hand to ensure that the week or more spent at the clinic is a time of renewal.

After a thorough medical check-up, clients can indulge in a package of their choice: there is the Skin Pampering Programme which includes lymphatic drainage, body peel, intensive facial care and something called cellu-M6.

Alternatively they can opt for a more stringent programme at the Beauty-Med centre, which offers laser and botox treatment against wrinkles, as well as plastic surgery.

More than appearances

Attention is not only focused on honing exterior appearances, said Nicole Hungerkamp who oversees the clinic's health and beauty services.

The resort's holistic approach means that visitors' psychological needs are also attended to.

Specialists in fields such as menopause are on hand to treat specific issue areas that might be troubling clients.

New image

The beauty rooms are ideally located to take in the view of the lake and Alps. Here visitors are massaged and exfoliated, cleansed and toned by top class professionals in the business of making customers feel like a million dollars.

Recently, spas and clinics have undergone a transformation of their own.

The average age of clients has dropped by about 30 years and Hungerkamp believes that spas or clinics have shaken off their old image.

"Generally speaking in Switzerland, spas and hot spring areas that were considered to be for elderly people have over the last five years changed their image. There is a big trend for 'well-being' holidays," she told me.

Seeking a cure in Switzerland is increasingly popular with young women in their twenties, said de Vito, and there are many resorts now that help them to take a break by offering child care as part of the package.


For those who need a little extra help to feel and look younger, the Clinique La Prairie Extract is a cellular therapy that claims to reverse the effects of ageing.

People come from around the world to receive the treatment at the Montreux centre.

"It goes back 70 years and the idea of it was to take young, or even better, unborn cells from organs to restore biologic activity of a diseased organ in the receiver," explained head doctor, Dr Thierry Waelli.

"Dr Paul Niehans, who was the pioneer of this treatment, injected fresh cells taken from organs of an unborn sheep and used them to treat diseased glands. He had tremendous success.

"Experiments show that immune response can be rejuvenated as well as many other 'pathways' of ageing people and they usually feel strong energy gain and cope better with life once treated," Waelli said.


Over a calorie-controlled three-course meal of lobster terrine, grilled filet of char and tiramisu, Dr Waelli espouses the virtues of detoxing and de-stressing from young adulthood.

However he is horrified at the number of young women who completely overhaul their look - distorting their "real" selves.

While plastic surgery and revitalization treatment may not be on my agenda just yet, I reassure him before leaving that I can certainly swallow the luxurious food served up, the plethora of pampering sessions on offer, and the beautiful surroundings of Montreux.

The Clinique La Prairie price tag though, definitely IS difficult to digest.

A week's worth of attention and fitness starts at SFr9,500.

For information on cheaper and more family-friendly spas, check out Switzerland Tourism's website.

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin

Key facts

Top tips:
Clinique La Prairie is located one hour away from Geneva airport and three hours from Zurich.
For prices and bookings, check out their website.
Switzerland Tourism's spas guide will help you select a resort that best suits your needs.

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