Is seawater therapy the secret to long life in Sardinia?
They say the most stressful moments in a persons life are divorce, bereavement and moving house.
Thus far, Ive managed to avoid the first two, but I went through the mortgage process for the first time this summer. Needless to say, they were right and no ordinary beach break was going to revive the anxious, property-owning husk I had become.
So I sought out alternative relaxation in the form of thalassotherapy. Thalassa in Greek means the sea and therapeia unsurprisingly means treatment. The theory goes that were all essentially fleshy bags filled with guts and water. As 70 per cent of us is water, we feel most at home when were immersed in the stuff, especially at different temperatures as it would have been when we were merely amoebas floating about waiting to grow legs.
The water jets are intense; they can easily push full grown men off their feet
The best place in the world to get this kind of relaxation is Sardinia, the Italian island in the Mediterranean with about 2,000km of coastline – thats a lot of sea. Not only that, its wonderfully windy, ensuring you get lungfuls of that pure, salty air.
One resort in particular, La Marinedda, is famed for offering this treatment in its 2,500sqm Elicriso Thalasso, which the staff claim is the largest spa on the Mediterranean coast. Tucked away in the wilds of rural Sardinia, its part of the family-run Delphina hotel collection dotted around Gallura, a region in northern Sardinia thats famed for its wine and cork, two exports that go hand-in-hand and stock the local souvenir shops with more cork purses and handbags than youve ever thought possible. Its also in one of the worlds few Blue Zones, where centenarians are rife, so clearly, stress does shorten life spans.
But its mainly famed for the thalasso and La Marinedda, the only five star hotel on this stretch of scarlet coast known as Isola Rossa, is all over it. They pump the good stuff in from hundreds of metres out to sea, then only add the minimum quantity of chemicals required by law to keep the water hygienic.
Spread between four pools, this seawater is then passed through a series of whirlpools and fountains at different temperatures. Youre meant to start with the warmest then brave the coldest depths at the end. Do this in a devised thalassotherapy programme over two, three or six days, and your red blood cells will go nuts, zooming around like theyre on the last lap at Silverstone, aiding circulation and breathing.
Elicriso Thalasso spa at La Marinnedda
The warmer pools are outside, under the hard glare of the Sardinian sun, so it feels more like youre slipping into a warm bath. The next pool is about the same temperature as your skin and the one after is refreshing. The last is an absolute shocker and only bearable for the time it takes you to say, “Wow, [insert your favourite expletive here]”. And the water jets are intense; they can easily push full grown men off their feet.
Part of the heat therapy also includes a trip to a seriously toasty Turkish hammam, then the sauna, then back to the pool. While it was happening, all this moving about, dripping, then shivering, then dripping again, didnt seem like the most relaxing way to spend a holiday. But as soon as I took a bed in the central relaxation area – a circle of beds in the centre – I was out in less than five minutes. It might have helped that the gym was within eyesight and just watching someone run in the searing heat was making me tired.
For this sleepy pleasure, guests are charged €30 on top of the room rate for entry to the spa. To get to the private beach, you also need to fork out €12 a day on top of your room rate for a bed in the first two rows. The back row is free but does require guests to get up at silly oclock and put a towel down, which is far too close to outmanoeuvring the Germans at Benidorm for a five star hotel. Walk a few paces along the beach, however, and an unforgettable adventure awaits; hire a canoe for €6 an hour with which to explore the stunning volcanic peninsula.
The night air is punctuated with puffs of rosemary, myrtle and helichrysym that grow naturally around the enormous resort and are used in many of its organic lotions and potions during treatments. This is the case across Delphinas eight resorts in the region, although only three have earned a coveted five stars. After visiting one other, Valle DellErica, which is just over an hours drive away from La Marinedda, its clear that the other focus away from thalasso is food.
Il Tramonto at La Marinedda
Valle dellErica, while not as remote as La Marinedda and in possession of a more expensive ($40 entry) yet inferior spa, found its place in the culinary heavens. A much bigger and more family friendly resort near the sleepy village of Santa Theresa, with its picturesque church and quaint trattorias, the best food is to be found on resort (which is rare in Italy).
All Delphina resorts are available half board, which means you get a plentiful yet simple continental breakfast and a choice of restaurants thrown in. The buffets are usually a generous mixture of seafood canapes, fresh pasta bars and plentiful vegetarian options. The good stuff is a la carte, however, which may require another supplement, depending on where youre staying.
La Marinedda has a rustic rooftop pizzeria thats excellent value, with drinks thrown in and a rosta of local appetisers in with the room rate. But it is worth forking out another €30 for Li Ciusoni for a taste of real Sardinia. The pasta chef is a member of the Delphina-owning family and they lay on an entire suckling pig for the occasion, in addition to bottles of the hotel collections homegrown wine.
Once youre well-fed and watered in the thalasso way, its hard to imagine a more remotely relaxing place than the breezy climes of northern Sardinia.
Need to know
Room rates at La Marinedda are £118 per person per night in a double room on a half board basis. The season is open from the end of May to the end of September. Visit delphinahotels.co.uk.
The resort is equidistant from Olbia/Alghero with a helicopter transfer possible. Flights are available from most UK airports.