Jo Foley on Spa Holidays

Jo Foley on Spa HolidaysJo Foley

For over quarter of a century, Jo Foley has been visiting and reviewing Spas, Sanctuaries and Wellness Centres on four continents and has written about them for many publications including the Financial Times, Conde Nast Traveller, Tatler, Harper's Bazaar, Daily Mail, The Times and Sunday Telegraph. She has observed as Fat Farms have morphed into Pleasure Palaces and Health Centres into Holistic Hideaways, and has experienced rather more than her fair share of ayurvedic retreats in India, to detoxes in the Dolomites, and hammams throughout the Middle East. Hence, she can spot a charlatan at fifty paces, and is quick to differentiate between those who can truly cure and those who merely con.


Interview with a Spa Expert

What are the essential ingredients for the perfect spa holiday?

Peace, quiet and a terrific therapist.

Which spas would you recommend to learn about preventative ageing and nutrition?

It depends on how much time you have and what your budget is…but nowhere offering these is particularly cheap. However Chiva Som is great for most things while the Mayr philosophy (you can experience it at either Viva Mayr, or Mayr&More both on Lake Worth in southern Austria) is particularly good at explaining the digestive process, how you should eat and what. Sadly there is no way you can prevent ageing…you may be able to slow it down…but very slowly.

What are your favourite spa destinations and why?

I love most places in India - both Ananda and Swaswara are favourites, but I also love the mountains and there are some really good places in and around the Alps, places like Bad Gastein and Gruner Baum, which are also great value for money. One of my recent favourites is in a glorious valley in Bavaria where you can have great walks in clean air - Schloss Elmau. But it also exercises and engages the mind with its libraries and concert hall, which hosts more than 170 concerts every year.

An exfoliation experience massage at Ananda, India

An exfoliation experience at Ananda

What spa trends are on the rise?

Anti-ageing, better ageing, preventative ageing are the buzz words. Spas offering such programmes are going down the road of medi-spas where they monitor your heart, blood pressure, fitness and stress levels. Vitamin injections, ozone therapy and sleep retreats are also often on offer, while on the cosmetic side you can have Botox, peelings and derma fillers. While SHA Wellness Clinic has just introduced genetic testing which can help pinpoint the individual's ageing potential.

Do you think there is any gender inequality at spas, or do you feel that spas cater for men just as much as women?

Men are much more used to visiting spas than they were 10-15 years ago and there are more and more treatments designed specifically for them. It would be foolish of spas not to cater for one half of the population…it may have taken them a little time to get used to the idea, but they are now embracing the male market.

Can you enlighten us why we don't hear so much about spas in America and Canada, as opposed to Europe?

Mostly cost. It's expensive to get there, as many of the best spas are not in major cities such as New York or Los Angeles but in places like Arizona, Baya California or the Rockies…so it is often more than one flight and then a car journey (which means car hire) after. Plus the treatments are pricey as are the service charges; nobody will let you get away with less than 20% on the bill!

Spa pool at SHA Wellness Clinic  SHA Wellness Clinic spa

The award-winning Spa at SHA Wellness Clinic

With the expansion of the spa industry, do you feel there is more to get out of a spa holiday than before?

Spas are offering more and different treatments and programmes, but I think spa users need to decide exactly what they want from a spa before booking. In general most of us just want a holiday with a bit of pampering and exercise thrown in but for those who want a real change either in fitness, relaxation or weight management then any number of spas offer these. However the onus is with the guest and they should take time to choose where they wish to go…do some research…ask friends or consult an expert.

We are becoming more spa savvy, but which spas offer the best detox and weight-loss programmes for long-term results, not a quick fix?

You can begin a weight loss programme at a spa…but most of us can't stay for months while it is monitored and overseen. Some spas do offer after care by telephone or email, but as we know weight-loss is a two way street, and the client has to play a full part. It is no point heading off for 7-10 days, losing weight and then returning home and reverting to the old way of eating.

With medical spas becoming more popular, do you think that spas without this facility are left behind?

More than anything I think this is encouraging spas to really think about what they can and wish to deliver. It is pointless offering everything, as no one place can truly do it all (with the possible exceptions of Chiva Som, Rancho de la Puerta or the Golden Door, and they have been refining their offering over two decades).

Chiva Som pool area sea view

The serene pool area at Chiva Som

In the pursuit of wellness, what are the fundamentals we need to promote a healthy lifestyle?

I think we all know the answer - a healthy diet, a good night's sleep and exercise…but I also think we should learn how to rest and exercise our minds with meditation or yoga or pranayama, and I think more spas are beginning to recognise the importance of a stress reducing element.

What is the future for Spa Holidays?

Rosy - if each spa defines what its offering is, amends and evolves that offering to keep pace with what is happening in the lives of its clients…but more than anything doesn't promise what it cannot fulfil.

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