The Wellness File – Switzerland

Lawn chairs on hill overlooking lakeSpas take you to new heights

ZURICH – Listening to the soft chime of cowbells and swaddled in a heated terry robe, I was perched on a sun lounger high above Lake Zurich – recuperating, rejuvenated and reflective.

Less than 24 hours before I was half a world away in Los Angeles boarding a Swiss bound flight – now I expected to see Julie Andrews and the Von Trapps running over the hillside singing lyrics from The Sound of Music. My location was the town of Feusisberg – it’s less than 45 minutes by train from Zurich and home to one of the country’s noted wellness centers – the Panorama Resort & Spa.

“Wellness” is a European term with respect to the spa scene. It translates to personal well-being – the total harmony of one’s body, mind and soul. The Swiss are committed to this philosophy – one they consider a wise choice, not a selfish quest.

And after my visit to Panorama’s Akari spa, I agreed.

Hugo – a friendly, skillful German spa technician – was instrumental in my conversion to wellness. “Make yourself comfortable,” he said as I entered the room where I would experience the Japanese Luxury Bath (60 minutes, $180) – it’s one of Akari’s elaborate bath specialties.

I began the treatment draped in a towel while seated on a black mosaic tiled lounge in a private aroma steam bath – to prime my body for the remainder of the application. A foam massage followed – Hugo gently but firmly used loofa-like gloves to scrub and massage me. During this mesmerizing step of the treatment I heard, but paid little attention to the faint sound of water running into the oversized tub situated in one of the room’s alcoves – it was for my lengthy Jacuzzi soak.

“What would you like in your bath?” quizzed Hugo in his limited but proficient English. My choices included lavender (for relaxation), rose (to promote harmony) and peppermint (for rejuvenation). I was beginning to combat jet lag – so while I longed for both harmony and rejuvenation, I opted for relaxation.

The scent of lavender fulfilled its promise – I emerged from the tub soothed and ready for the final step of the Japanese Bath. Hugo guided me to the adjacent room with the simple décor of woven-matted flooring and screen-like walls. As I lay on the mat, he applied rich body oil onto my skin. Though physically depleted, I was peacefully serene. Then the lights were dimmed and I was left alone.

“Good morning,” Hugo softly whispered. I awoke from a sleep that couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes, though it felt as though I’d taken a lengthy nap. As I opened my eyes and sat up, I realized that I’d made the transition from fatigue to tranquility.

Akari, the resort’s three-story wellness center, is situated on a plateau overlooking Switzerland’s unspoilt countryside.

The expansive, pristine white indoor pool/Jacuzzi area is the gathering spot where all – elderly couples, young twosomes entwined in one another’s arms and singles – collect. Its floor-to-ceiling windows showcase the unparalleled view and open to the outdoor pool, the grass lawn that stretches to the hill’s edge and to the recliners that beckoned me.

During my train return to Zurich, I lamented that my “wellness” opportunities were over. Earlier in the day I had checked into my lodging in the heart of Zurich, Hotel Lady’s First, too quickly to explore its offerings. I knew the hotel allowed men but catered to women. However, I didn’t realize its top floor was a women’s-only spa that offered a vast menu of massages and body and beauty treatments.

But for me its rooftop terrace was the draw. The opportunity to relax – and sun or read or sleep atop a small hotel while the city bustles below – was irresistible.

“It’s like an island in the middle of Zurich – an oasis of relaxation,” said general manager Daniela Balmelli. “Well-being is our first priority.”

Once again I was on my way – to Lugano, a town south of the Swiss Alps and just north of the Italian border. My stay was at the Swiss Diamond Hotel - Olivella in the small village of Vico Morcote. The hotel is tucked into the hillside on the banks of Lake Lugano. Its staff speaks Italian, a restaurant specialty is risotto, the floors are marble and the chandeliers crystal, but it was its wellness area called the Venus Wellness Center that captured my interest.

Adorned with columns and colorful mosaics, the co-ed facility is designed like an ancient Roman thermal bath – its interior pool is the centerpiece. Its menu is full: massage, Turkish steam bath, hammam, tropical shower experience and a solarium (for tanning).

After exploring, I retreated outdoors to the lakeside pool. Listening to the Italian chatter of nearby fishermen, I contemplated my newfound commitment to well-being.

“Buon girono, signora,” greeted one of the men. “Come siete?” (“How are you?”)

“Molto bene,” I replied.

For additional information or to book Panorama Resort & Spa, visit MySwitzerland.com/wellbeing. The resort may be directly contacted at akari@panoramaresort.ch. Hotel Lady’s First may be reached at info@ladysfirst.ch.

The Venus Wellness Center at Swiss Diamond Hotel, Olivella can be contacted at info@swissdiamondhotel.com or visit www.swissdiamondhotel.com.