Indagare Members Talk About the Best Options–and What To Skip.
All of us want to feel better in some area of our lives–from feeling anxious and sluggish to the more serious prevention and healing of cancer or other long-term diseases, plus looking our best as we age, because we know that does make a difference in how we feel.
Feeling well mentally and physically is not a bonus—it is the foundation of daily life.
When it comes to choosing a wellness retreat, there are so many options so we went straight to the source: Indagare members who have tested the range of holistic and medical options and detoxed, fasted and box-breathed their way through alternative and traditional therapies. Very few properties can achieve a high level of physical and mental innovation. It must also be fun on some level, or else what’s the point?
As Indagare member Giulia N. puts it, “Your body is your only asset, you better look after it.”
She goes once or twice a year, often to Lanserhof, for “deep detox from metals and chemicals and for immunity-boosting infusions.” Next on her list is “light detox” at La Pensée Sauvage in France. The experience also depends on the culture and country where the spa resides. “Germany and Austria are more medical and strict. Italy and Spain are more for well-being and weight loss,” Giulia says.
Below are some of our members’ favorite wellness retreats and their reasons why.
Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer to start planning your next trip to one of Europe’s best wellness and medical spas.
Known primarily for their fasting programs, the two Buchinger Wilhelmi clinics in Marbella, Spain and Lake Constance, Germany are based on the research of Dr. Otto Buchinger, who wrote Therapeutic Fasting in 1935 (it's still in print today) and said he healed his own health issues through fasting. Today, the clinics also offer alternatives to fasting, with 800- and 2,000-calorie organic menus, as well as therapy, hiking and fitness, beauty and skincare treatments and more.
I talked to a Mexico-based Indagare member who has visited Buchinger in Marbella three times, the last experience fasting for 28 nights, which may seem impossible for many people. But she swears by it.
Insider Take: “I had never fasted in my life and it ended up being an amazing experience.”
“The first time I went to Buchinger in Marbella was to be with a family member who had health issues and wanted to lose some weight. I had never fasted in my life and it ended up being an amazing experience. I have now been three times. The clinic and rooms are not super luxurious but it’s also very nice and the people are amazing.
When I come back from Buchinger, people ask me–what did you do? You have a glow. My eyes were actually glowing and I felt and looked amazing.
Two days before you start fasting, they give you a different diet to help prepare you. And after your program, you are on another special diet as you re-enter normal life. The first time I went, I did a week. Then I went with my cousin for two weeks. The third time I went—I am 50 now—I fasted for 29 days. And I absolutely would do it again, though maybe not for 29 days.
In the morning, you have a tea, a tequila shot-sized juice mid-morning and a half cup of gazpacho in the afternoon. But you drink water the whole time, it is everywhere. But you are not hungry, you start to eat less and you become super aware and peaceful. The first two days you don’t feel well and you feel tired. But after the third day—oh my God, you feel great, you feel all the energy, you start to look incredible.
They also do amazing things where they clean the colon and of course, massages, a pool and fitness classes. You can walk down the beach—Marbella is amazing—and they pick you up at the bottom.
When I got home, I did become more conscious about what I eat. I don’t need as much food as I think I do. You realize everything in your life is about food and coming back is a bit of a shock.”
One of Europe’s best medical spas, the Lanserhof brand has now expanded with a new location in Sylt, Germany (aka the Hamptons of Germany), joining Lanserhof Tegernsee in Germany, Lanserhof Lans in Austria, plus a clinic at the Arts Club in London.
This New York-based Indagare member has returned a few times to Lanserhof Lans, most recently with her daughter and her son’s longtime girlfriend.
Insider Take: “They’re so advanced at Lanserhof. There is openness and respect for lots of different modalities.”
“My daughter has some gut health issues that she’s been dealing with, but we didn’t know what to expect and were so blown away. It was so beautiful, just outside of Innsbruck. It’s a residential area, but right down the street, there’s an enchanted forest with pine trees and moss—we got a hiking guide and went on amazing hikes.
People go with whatever issues they have and you see a doctor who creates a program for you—everything from energy healers to endocrinologists. I had a sonogram of my arteries because my cholesterol had gone up a little bit to try to figure out what’s going on—you can also do extensive blood work.
Here in the U.S., it seems that you’re western and pharmaceutical or you’re woo-woo. The two don’t really come together, it’s very divided. But I saw one amazing doctor who went to medical school and also did my horoscope. Another doctor interpreted my blood and recommended supplements.
They’re so advanced at Lanserhof. There is openness and respect for lots of different modalities and the value in different ways to support one’s health and well-being.”
About 10 years ago, this Indagare member started taking health-focused trips, starting at the Viva Mayr Clinic in Austria before switching to Lanserhof and, most recently, Villa Stéphanie at Baden-Baden’s Brenners Park Hotel & Spa.
Insider Take: “It’s hard to imagine someone would come up with something better than Villa Stéphanie. It’s so extraordinary and I’m really picky.”
“Looking back, it’s Viva Mayr I like the least—it’s very hard-core. It was written about in Vogue and after that, we all went. But it follows the original FX Mayr method and then I found sort of upgraded versions of these places.
I then went to Lanserhof Lans in Austria, which is about 10 steps up. They made it a place where you go and get really, really healthy and it’s so comfortable, with a nice view. The reason people love it is it’s all about gut health and they teach you all about it. I wasn’t there for gut health, but I learned a lot about it, because it’s what they do—the understanding of what food does to your body. It’s very scientific and makes a lot of sense.
They have hundreds of different tests you can do—it’s everything you could possibly want in terms of health checks. I would give it an A+ especially if you’re interested in anything to do with your gut. It’s the Austrian thing, you know–they are just very serious about their method, which is good.
I was just working and having children and living my life, but I picked up so much. There’s the concept of intermittent fasting–maybe you should give your body a rest for a certain period of the day. And just understanding that it’s not just about fat. It’s about things that are really depleting your system and why certain foods are not helping you. It’s not about punishment and more about—hey, this is pure sugar and this is what it’s doing to your body and to your gut.
So yes, you’re going to leave and maybe still have your croissant and pasta, but you’re going to have a different feeling about the whole thing and you will understand it better. You’re less likely to binge and you’re more thoughtful about what you’re doing.
But last summer, I went to the be-all, end-all, the greatest place ever, where I’ll definitely go back. It’s like the Hôtel du Cap in France on steroids, in Baden-Baden, Germany—it’s Villa Stéphanie at Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa. A very similar vibe to Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc: aristocratic, old-school, palace feeling. It’s super close to the French border, which is a good thing—you have a lot of French influence. And Baden-Baden is such a beautiful, historic little town, where people have been going for wellness for hundreds of years. So it’s an experience beyond the spa. You’re surrounded by the Black Forest, so you have this amazing air quality and hot springs where the Romans went.
I went here to quit smoking cigarettes, which was one of my last massive vices. I couldn’t shake it. And I decided to go and treat myself and hope that air would inspire me to quit smoking. It did. I quit. It was my own little mission, not something they purport to be able to do for people.
Everything is extraordinarily beautiful, rooms with incredible windows and views. You’re a short walk from Brenners Park but it’s a separate wellness building with 15 rooms.
They have a whole different regime. There is Dr. König, who’s world famous for being all about integrative medicine, which I’m a big believer in. They have non-traditional things like acupuncture and reiki, things that can really help with anxiety, depression and so many of the things that many of us suffer from. We’d traditionally use Xanax and those medications, but here they’re saying, maybe this is the better approach. I think this place will really take off.
A lot of people go to these places for weight loss—it’s not why I originally went. But you go and you feel so amazing—you’re not eating any sugar or toxins and your skin looks amazing and you’ve never looked better.
It’s hard to imagine someone would come up with something better than Villa Stéphanie. It’s so extraordinary and I’m really picky. The Germans and Austrians are really good at this medical stuff. I prefer to go alone—I like to read, go on walks, maybe meet a few people in the program.”
Related: Best Wellness Retreats in the World
Location: Merano, Italy; Marbella, Spain
This Indagare member started by going to Lanserhof Lans about 15 years ago to “relax and detox.” She took home many of their cookbooks and makes many of the soups. “It’s often how I eat dinner or lunch—taking out of the freezer one of those little frozen soups I made batches of. They’re so delicious.”
After that, she started to go regularly to Palace Merano in northern Italy, followed by a few days in Milan. She is also a hotel lover outside of the wellness realm. “I’m an Aman junkie, I love the Splendido in Portofino, I’ve stayed at the Four Seasons in Milan for 20 years. One of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in was this past summer—Torre Maizza in Puglia,” she says. Recently, she did a 10-day clinical fast at Buchinger and loved it. Here’s her take.
Insider Tip: “Every time I go it’s like a reset and I leave feeling rested and energized.”
“I love the Chenot program at Palace Merano. I’ve now been about eight times and it’s all about circulation—you’ll see there are whirlpools and a mud bath for detox and a hydro room where they take the mud off with a hose to help circulation. You get a massage every day, but it’s not just deep tissue, they go to the points where you need it. And there are all these extras, like drips. Every time I go it’s like a reset and I leave feeling rested and energized.
I’d say the reset usually lasts around six months and then you kind of go back to your habits of eating and drinking. But each time you go, a little more stays with you.
I have my own rhythm there. Breakfast is fruit and herbal tea and right into activities. I hire a guide for biking or hiking which I’ll do every morning—they have a gym but I like taking advantage of the environment surrounding it, so I’ll do a two- to three-hour hike and then come back around 11:30 for appointments—doctor, a drip or something else. Then lunch is around 30 minutes.
There’s a woman who handles aesthetics and has been there forever and she is amazing. And they do all these treatments for anti-aging or fat-burning, some of which aren’t FDA-approved here yet so you don’t have access to them in the U.S.
You learn that portion control is super important—you get with the program of eating a piece of fish that is four ounces and not 10. And when you leave, you kind of feel allergic to dessert but of course, I’ve left there and had a glass of wine.”
After loving your experiences at Palace Merano, what made you say, I’m going to try fasting at Buchinger in Marbella now?
“A really close friend of mine from London goes every other year and I knew it was a much stricter program. I had gained weight from Covid and I thought, if she can do it, I’m going to give it a try. And it was the most successful one, because I lost eight or nine pounds during the 10-day fast and I’ve kept it off.
It wasn’t very warm or fuzzy, but you also have to get to know the people and what’s right for you. I didn’t love the pool and exercise classes so after a few days, I hired my own outside guide as I wanted to explore further and in different places with gorgeous hikes.
The fifth day in, I was totally energized. When you fast, there’s about three or four days of being tired and then you get a burst of energy. So I hired a driver to take me to Málaga and to the Picasso Museum. There’s so much to do in the area.”
Last year, I spent five days at SHA Wellness in Alicante, Spain and am still reaping the benefits of the stay. SHA was founded by Alfredo Bataller on land that used to be the family's holiday home. After a colon cancer diagnosis, Bataller credited macrobiotic eating with helping his recovery and was inspired to help others use food as medicine. Thus, SHA was born—and has grown into one of the world’s most innovative and integrative medical wellness spas.
Insider Tip: “SHA is about better health and solving serious issues for many but it also can be a lot of fun, with a near-perfect winter climate.”
One night, a magician appeared at the dinner table. A group of us were waiting for dessert, discussing our various treatments of the day, when he whipped out a few card tricks that had us bursting into laughter and disbelief, adding levity and fun to a place that takes health and wellness seriously.
And yes, we had dessert, if we wanted it. There are three main eating plans: Kushi (900 calories), Biolight (1200) and SHA (1600). Based on my metabolic measurements and goals, the nutritionist put me on the SHA plan, though I could order from any of the menus if I preferred those options. The food is world-renowned for good reason—it’s absolutely delicious, filling and even comforting. You learn the value of fermented vegetables and miso soup to start the day and of ending most meals with tea that I came to call “apple pie in a cup.” A sample meal was butternut squash terrine, mixed vegetable tartare and a matcha tea cake with raspberry 'sorbet.' All of it is macrobiotic, focusing on what Bataller says was so curative for his own health.
There are five main programs: Optimal Weight, Rebalance, Healthy Ageing, Advanced Detox and an Intensive Detox/Weight program. “We had 12 and now we have five,” Vice President of SHA (and son of founder Alfredo) Alejandro Bataller told me. “People want simplicity and to be guided.”
The sheer number of options still may seem overwhelming, but you’re quickly taken in by SHA, through agend- planning and appointments.
“Health is not obsessive,” one doctor told me. “I eat pizza, but just one slice. I drink, in moderation.” The professionals are stand-outs: I would have done anything that the incredibly talented aesthetic doctor, Dr. Barbara Dalbos told me, as well as the calming Dr. Vincente Mera and Dr. Bruno Ribeiro, a brilliant brain and cognitive health doctor, who is guaranteed to make you cry (in a good way).
Sun loungers allow for time to soak up the near-perfect climate and sea views. There are not many attractions nearby, which adds to the allure of SHA—you’re there to soak up Vitamin D and take in all the clinic has to offer. If you love to walk, consider additional guided options for exploring the surrounding hills.
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