Ti Sana has the ambiance of a monastery: an ancient but very smart monastery. Set in the heart of a small Italian village, midway between Milan and Lake Como, the spa has been created from an eighteenth century noble’s house and is intimate, a cluster of buildings looking inwards on itself – all soft stone and thick rustic beams.
It’s on a firm mission – to bring you to awareness about your health; to encourage you to make conscious choices about your diet, exercise and general lifestyle – and they’re taking no prisoners. The owner, Erica d’Angelo, and her team are young and highly committed – they walk their talk every step of the way. But there’s nothing flakey about this place – everything they do is based on the firmest science they can find.
First stop for any of their detox retreats is a series of tests at the medical spa, followed by a consultation with the spa doctor. There’s no hiding, no fudging the issue – if you fib on your questionnaire about your eating or exercise habits, your sins will find you out as the tests can tell pretty much everything – for instance, not only if you’ve got too much fat, but where it is and what type it is. They can pinpoint deficiencies and highlight any inflammation or weaknesses. It’s pretty grueling and, in my case, quite depressing. Despite being a vegetarian who doesn’t drink alcohol or coffee, and who exercises like a fiend, there was still plenty of concern in my reports. ‘Sometimes you have to tweak what you’re doing,’ says Mario, the physical trainer who is part of the testing team. ‘For instance, you should eat more in the mornings and do your hard physical exercise then too, when your body is naturally producing cortisol, rather than in the evening.’
Food is medicine at Ti Sana and there are three paths to choose. You can go hardcore with a seven day juice detox or opt for the middle path with a raw food diet. Or there’s the ‘energy lifestyle’ which gives you a much wider diet, while still having a strong detox effect. I seriously had more than I could eat on the latter –but a fellow guest (and novice detoxer) struggled with the juice only option and begged for the occasional bowl of soup. The spa isn’t draconian though – if you must have salt and pepper (and olive oil and Balsamic) they’re provided – though you’re encouraged to try sprinkling a little seaweed on instead.
All the food is so squeaky fresh they dub it ‘live food’. The spa grows as much of its fruit and veg as it can, at their own organic garden, and do their own sprouting. Food combinations are chosen very carefully to bring out the nutrients in each meal, so they can be absorbed in the most effective fashion.
Mornings start with a walk along the nearby River Adda, a serene space where you watch the early morning mist unfolding while the swans glide imperiously and the moorhens perform their water acrobatics. Then it’s back for juice (some delicious, some not quite so) before a relatively energetic morning fitness class (rebounding or kickboxing were on the menu when I stayed).
Afternoons usually include some kind of educational talk or demonstration – how to detox, how to cook healthy food, even a trip to a local supermarket to teach you how to read labels and make wise choices for your shopping basket. But it’s not all dour and worthy – guests can also go on a boat trip on the nearby lakes or even check out designer shopping in the renowned outlets around Milan.
Then you need to carve out time for the spa. Again, it’s small but rather lovely. You can take a ‘journey’ through a series of showers (mimicking different types of rain with varying scents), saunas and steams. The ‘salt cave’ is a hydrotherapy pool with one of those light shows that goes through the rainbow and a series of water jets to pummel and massage you. Bowls of walnuts, prunes and apricots are hugely tempting, but if you want to shed pounds as well as toxins, stick to the herbal teas and broths that are on offer all through the day.
The spa menu is broad, a little too broad to my mind –but their detox packages sensibly focus on deep tissue massage, MLD (lymphatic drainage) and body scrubs. The massages I tried were professional, the touch assured.
Ti Sana is small (there are only 22 rooms and they will only take around ten people at a time for detox) so there’s usually a high degree of flexibility around your program. They will also tailor your diet to any health problems you have or any specific issues you need to address. If you don’t feel like showing your detox spots to the world, meals will be brought to your room.
But there’s not much chance of wriggling out of colon hydrotherapy. The team is evangelical about the need for deep cleansing of the colon and everyone takes a trip to the medical spa to sit in the ‘Angel of Water’ for a session. I’m not a fan of colonics but, to be fair, this is the least invasive I’ve had. You are in charge of the controls yourself (although a therapist is on hand and with you in seconds if you need help) and it’s all very discrete. Did I enjoy it? Not really. But it wasn’t unbearable by any means.
All in all, this is the perfect place for the spa pragmatist. If you hate anything wafty or touchy feely; if you just want clear, straightforward and scientific, this is your spot.
On the other hand, if you like feeling nurtured, or if you are a first time detoxer, I’d recommend you travel with a friend – or find somewhere which offers emotional support. Many people find that emotional issues surface when on detox and Ti Sana doesn’t really major in tea and sympathy.
You also need to be aware that you could be sharing the spa with Italians on corporate trips. It can be a little off-putting when on detox to find yourself at supper sitting next to people glugging wine, sipping coffee and even smoking the occasional cigarette.
Ti Sana, Arlate, Italy (www.1711.it). My trip was organized by Wellbeing Escapes (www.wellbeingescapes.co.uk) who offer an exclusive 7-day detox package at Ti Sana from £1,799 (all inclusive, including flights and transfers).
A version of this feature first appeared in Natural Health magazine.
© Jane Alexander