Dom Joly’s 10-day Italian detox: Jet-washed, starved and tortured…it was lovely!
I must have subconsciously known that I was going to be overdoing it even more than usual over Christmas and New Year. Two weeks in Hong Kong and Thailand with fast-living friends left me shattered and run-down once I was back at home in the rainy, grey Cotswolds.
How fortunate, therefore, that I had booked myself into L’Albereta, the only Henri Chenot spa in the world apart from his famous Palace Merano. The only problem was that while the Merano is totally dedicated to detox, L’Albereta, in Lombardy, is also a gourmet destination and site of the Bellavista vineyard, source of Italy’s answer to champagne. This could go terribly wrong.
Tempting: L’Albereta is home to the Bellavista vineyard, source of Italy’s answer to champagne
I remembered when I spent three days at Castel Monastero spa in Tuscany as a ‘normal’ guest. Every evening I would tuck into divine meals from the Gordon Ramsay kitchen while trying to ignore the terrible groans of jealousy from guests who were fasting next door with only half a wall dividing us. I hoped L’Albereta would not be as tough.
I didn’t get off to a good start. On the way to the airport, I got stuck in gridlock on the M4. A car had hit a horse, making a terrible mess. I was supposed to be destressing and detoxing, but instead I was just delayed. I hate being late – it stresses me out more than anything, except maybe spas. They really stress me out. I hate being massaged, it makes me feel uncomfortable and I get bored stupid with yoga, candles and whale music type stuff. I’m really not the best sort of person to be heading off on a ten-day detox. The only time I’ve ever really detoxed was unintentionally for 15 days when I was in the jungle on I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here! I loved it and felt great afterwards, but perhaps that was just getting away from Gillian McKeith.
Travel weary: Two weeks in Hong Kong and Thailand had left Dom Joly shattered and run-down
My wife would kill to do it. She loves this kind of stuff and yet here I am heading to Italy, leaving her behind with the kids – husband of the year or what? I really needed this break, however. I’d been fasting on alternate days for two years and it had worked brilliantly, but I’d started to let it slide and I needed a reboot. But in Italy … land of fabulous food and wine? Who goes to Italy to starve? I had to trust my source – the place had come highly recommended.
Having just made my flight, I rewarded myself with a half bottle of champagne, my last treat for ten days. I was going to be on 600 calories a day, no alcohol, no coffee, no fun at all. I landed in Verona and was picked up by the hotel chauffeur who got me to the place in Franciacorta, near Lake Iseo, in 25 minutes.
I wondered whether I would play the role of the Two Gentlemen Of Verona, arriving as the fat, stressed gentleman and leaving as a slim, relaxed one. Only time would tell. I took a deep breath and walked into the hotel to begin my prison term … sorry, treatment. My first impression was that this place definitely knew what it was doing. I was welcomed warmly and shown to my room. It was lovely and had a great view down to a lake nestling below snow-capped peaks.
I was told my detox would start that evening and I headed off to the Valentina restaurant, where I was thrilled to discover no ‘normal diners’ were allowed. This was reserved for the detox bunch and a dietician hovered to explain what the meal consisted of.
To my surprise, I had a four-course meal (including a cup of tea). It was exceptional. It came in very small portions but was so well-made that I felt full by the end. I savoured every mouthful and ate very slowly. The dietician told me this was excellent as the body takes about 20 minutes to register that you are full and so, if you eat too fast (as I tend to), you take in way too much and end up feeling full and bloated.
Water feature: The hotel’s luxurious spa pool takes the pain out of detoxing
I went to bed early as I was already looking forward to breakfast, but when I arrived the next morning in my clothes, all the other guests were in dressing gowns.
‘Don’t worry about clothes – we are like a hospital,’ said the waitress. This made me nervous. I don’t like hospitals. Breakfast was a tiny portion of yogurt sprinkled with two types of fruit. But there was also unlimited tea and coffee. I was so excited. So coffee was allowed? Caffeine wasn’t the terrible demon everyone went on about? It was only after my third cup that I was told it was barley coffee. Whatever, it tasted great.
After breakfast I took the lift down to the ridiculously plush spa. I sat and waited for my appointment with the doctor. I had a brief medical check-up, was weighed (16st 7lb) and then sent to my next appointment – a very weird experience in which a woman wired me up and then left me watching pictures of pretty places on a computer screen. Nobody explained what this was for.
Then, inevitably, it was paper pants time. I knew they would be involved somewhere – they always are. I entered a room with a hugely complicated bath where a sternlooking woman in white gave me the pants and left the room. I had to hurry and get in them. There’s only one thing worse than wearing paper pants in public, and that’s being caught halfway into said pants.
Great outdoors: The patio outside a guest room
As usual they were a complete mystery. I went for a style of wearing them that seemed right but I was unsure all morning.
After a bubble bath, I was taken into another room, put on a heated water mattress and covered in special mud. I was then wrapped tight in plastic sheets and left to sweat for 30 minutes. In the background was what sounded like the opening bars to a Pink Floyd song that never went any further.
It was like some strange aural torture and I felt disorientated and ready to flee. Just as I thought I might die, I was unwrapped and marched into a long, tunnel-like room. I was put at one end while the woman in white sprayed the mud off me with a highpowered hose. I prayed my pants would hold and wondered if I had wandered into some elaborate practical joke. At least I knew I would survive day one of Guantanamo should the moment come.
Next morning I met the doctor again. It was time to go through the results of my being wired up the day before. The whole thing was based on Chinese medicine and measured the energy in my body. It turned out there was a lot of stress and energy build-up in the head. I had to admit I was currently very stressed but didn’t mention that this was mostly because of being at L’Albereta.
She said the rest of my body was lacking energy and she intended to redistribute it by massage and ‘energetic treatment’. I had to admit the Heath Robinson-looking machine had got it right and it had also diagnosed an old high diving injury on my left shoulder that I had left out of my medical notes. But I was still not convinced. Was she a ‘real’ doctor and why were most of my fellow patients Russians? Had I somehow mistakenly wandered into SMERSH HQ? All would soon be revealed.
I settled into my daily routine – the bath/wrap/jet thing in the morning to get the toxins out of my pores, followed by an hour’s massage before lunch. I would then relax in the afternoon before doing gym for an hour followed by a sauna, steam room and a swim. By day three I was starting to relax a little, helped by the fact that I’d already lost 6lb.
It’s a wrap: Dom during his treatment for which he was covered in mud and wrapped in plastic sheets
On the evening of day three I was told I would be fasting for a day – just mushroom and veg broth. You could have as much as you wanted and it was rather tasty. I enjoyed fasting … until the last two hours before supper, when I seriously considered breaking into the kitchen.
Next morning, however – the fourth day – I felt transformed. Calm, relaxed, happy. It was a very unfamiliar feeling and rather freaked me out. I spent my time watching the Russians. It looked as if an entire crime family had descended on the place for a health convention. There were two types: ones that spent the entire time on the phone ordering executions while their molls sat bored and hungry. Then there were the ones who turned up and seemed to not understand this was a health place. They would change their tables, order bread, be rude to staff – as if Michael Winner had been reincarnated as a Russian.
After ten days at L’Albereta, I felt fantastic. My skin looked amazing and I felt wonderfully calm. I saw the doctor on my last day. I had lost more than a stone and she said my energy was evenly balanced around my body. I had to take her word for that but I certainly felt good.
I am now hooked and intend to detox for ten days every year. I highly recommend it. Just make sure you take a lot of books and some movies to watch. There is only so much Italian TV one can handle.
British Airways (ba.com) flies from Heathrow to Milan Linate from £119 return. L’Albereta has double rooms from £215 per night. Visit albereta.it or call 00 39 030 776 0550.