SHA, the ultimate wellness destination
Set up three years ago by the Argentinian born family of Bataller, SHA Wellness Clinic is a unique concept which redefines embracing a healthy lifestyle through medical SPA, nutrition, relaxation SPA – all guided by a sense of discipline which is instilled subtly in the minds of the guests. Like in every other walk of life, whether at work or family life, discipline is a must in order to achieve the best performances. The same applies to the care that each and every one of us should take, about our own body and about our soul. It’s almost like the natural gesture of taking a thicker coat when it is cold outside or to sleep when we feel too tired. The consumer society and the hectic pace of our lives nowadays have been having an indirect negative effect on the way we take care of ourselves.
This is the ‘’wake-up call’’ or I might even say ‘’alarm’’ the instant effect that the SHA Wellness clinic had on me.
I arrived on a beautiful and sunny early February day. I was charmed by the extraordinary views and the setting of SHA, on a hilltop, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the beautiful city of Altea (Spain’s ‘’Cannes’’), Costa Blanca and the city of Benidorm. The panoramic views of the mountains of Valencia reminded me of Marrakech’s Atlas Mountains and the same hypnotic and the same time relaxing effect. Gazing to the mountains from the rooms (floor to ceiling glass windows, some suites with panoramic views) also gives you a unique feeling of protectiveness and one would feel safe.
SHA Wellness Clinic is also a five star all-suite hotel, and arriving after a week of heavy snow and freezing temperatures in Eastern Europe, I felt tired. Too lazy to go for dinner, I realized the hotel had no room-service. Then, in an almost automatic gesture, I grabbed for the minibar, to find, to my surprise, a pack of organic nuts and some cereal crackers, along with juices, waters and German beer (organic!). All I could have were the green apples and the red berries on my welcome amenity – which I have to admit, never tasted better. In all luxury hotels I usually stay at, I would go for a drink (‘’ideally’’, soft drink) and at least, a chocolate bar. As I tucked myself into my comfy king size bed, I realized I didn’t feel that urge to eat. On a subconscious level, SHA’s approach seems to have already generated a positive effect on me. After a very good night sleep (did not wake up during the night, as I used to) I felt rested and , surprisingly, without being hungry. The macrobiotic diet is carefully devised and adapted by the SHA Wellness Clinic – almost like a vegetarian diet, there are no meats (except fish), no eggs, no milk, no sugar (instead honey) and no regular bread.
Do not expect eggs or cappuccino for breakfast, however, the high in fiber selection of toast and even a cake, coupled by the freshly squeezed organic orange juice did not leave me hungry for the day. At breakfast, they would inform you on the options for the lunch menu and at lunch they would inform you about the options for the dinner menu. To me, it’s more like a selection from a Business Class of an airline, where there are just two main courses to choose from, however, in SHA’s case, the options would be the healthiest! Or maybe I came up with this comparison out of my own need fo of a motivational factor and it did work like magic.
Upon the careful medical health check and consultation which are provided upon arrival, each guest is prescribed a specific diet (according to the needs and wishes of each guest) which is then transmitted to the restaurant and the club lounge, which is also the tea room of the hotel. The staff would know the exact type of tea you have been prescribed and would also politely advise when and how to drink the tea. And we all know how important drinking liquids is to the human body…
SHA’s very own Chef, Pablo Montoro Fernandez, trained at el Bulli, has embraced macrobiotic foods as well as the preparation recipes, together with Michio Kushi, adding his own personal touch by making each and every dish not only tasty but also great looking. Some of the dishes have a special ”local touch” , for instance, on one of my lunches, a local Spanish pasta recipe was served, using the the macrobiotic philosophy.
The SPA facilities are flawless and boasts a unique blend of Eastern (especially Asian) and Western natural therapies. The hydrotherapy area (water beds and jets, pebble bath, caldarium, tepidarium and hydro pool, overgrown taps gushing water to massage etc), the oxygen bars in the SPA lobby (for instance detox), the flotarium with Dead Sea water are just some of the highlights of the SPA, which also features a very wide range of body treatments, both anti-aging and relaxing. All the SPA beauty treatments are carefully integrated with the prescription which is personalized and which includes daily exercise (fitness, outdoor walks, water aerobics) as well as holistic such as yoga and meditation. There is even a chapel, where Catholic messes are held once a month, but which most prefer as a meditation room. I had a relaxation massage and a reiki massage, on both occasions I was truly impressed by the and dedication passion of the therapists – I could feel the connectivity with the therapist, which is so rare to achieve.
Coming back to education and discipline, speaking to Alejandro Battaller, one of the younger sons of the founding family, who is in charge with sales and marketing, I understood the idea of setting up SHA came from the dramatic diagnosis his father received over 10 years ago, most doctors who consulted him predicting a fatal outcome. All of this was overturned when his father met Michio Kushi, a guru of Macrobiotic diets. As I am not a nutritionist, therefore I would not take my review any further on nutrition, however, I would suspect that since 90% of guests are returning, they must have been seeing results, whether they were visiting SHA for detox, weight loss, stress, sleeping disorders, eating disorders etc . Beyond the exact, measurable effects, such as weight, in the case of those seeking weight loss, I am sure there are other ”invisible” results such as one’s newly embraced healthy approach to every day life, from eating, exercising and managing stress. Upon check out, all guests are given dietary guidelines and means of how to best implement, on a long term, the newly acquired healthy lifestyle.
As for the hotel, the suites are huge, all, with separate living areas and a generous walk in dressing as well as large cupboards. Service throughout the hotel is of a good five star standard, staff being polite, responsive and attentive, however, at times, the fact they concentrate more on the diet each guests should follow, especially in the restaurant and tea lounge, may, at times, be perceived as patronizing. Given that most of the guests may find the diet, at least during the first days, at challenging, if not difficult, a hotel type of service would be more advisable, this way, guests could ‘’forget’’ the little ‘’hardships’’ they need to overcome.
The way certain services and rules are highlighted can certainly be improved, especially the lack of room service and the specific timings for each course may be presented in a less ’’restraining’’ way. Sometimes, instead of this excessive ”diet approach”, hotel and restaurant staff could engage with guests on a different level. For instance, they could very politely, draw the attention to guests shouting out loud on their mobile phones, to place them phones on silent mode and explain that stress can be as harmful to one’s body as food can be.
In my view, the effectiveness of embracing the SHA lifestyle approach, would be greatly enhanced by lessons and activities related to time management and how to tackle daily stress generated by smartphones, laptops and tablets.
Ideally, guests should consider travelling to SHA with a friend or a group of friends and the best time of the year is from April to June an September – October. The infinity pool and the pool deck area looked so inviting and I am sure in warm months, sunbathing and outdoor swimming adds to the beautiful SHA experience.
For the singles travellers, I would suggest the SHA to take a more dedicate approach to improve the in-room experience, so that guests could enjoy the time on their own more – aromatherapy bath menu, aromatherapy in rooms with essential oils and candles, movies (instead of the wide choice of TV stations), organic body beauty products and fresh flowers (even if a small bouquet or just one flower). In -room Concierge tips with suggestions on sightseeing in nearby Benidorm, Alicante or Altea, or simply ideas for shopping or strolling around the beautiful beaches and parks could be a very welcomed approach. The idea with the communal table, which I understood is already implemented in the main restaurant is a great idea (a special stone is placed on such tables) could be better highlighted or explained to guests, on arrival. A daily newsdigest (news from home) in the language of each traveller, especially, the larger nationality groups, would be a great amenity for the guests.
Speaking to Alejandro Bataller, I realized that much of the success of the SHA is actually based on the passion and energy the entire family is putting into the project. I was impressed with the way they listen to each comment and strive to respond to guests’ feedback in the fastest and most efficient manner. They have developed a concept, the uniqueness of which they are very well aware off, that is what, possibly prompted them to refrain from ‘’expansion’’ propositions. From my own business assessment, SHA is a very complex concept which cannot be successfully replicated through franchising, licensing or standard hotel management.
The fact that SHA is launching this year their first SHA Master educational program with the reputed Spanish University of San Pablo, for therapists or practitioners who wish to advance their skills is the perfect next step, in a truly long term strategic approach. This way, SHA owners address the number one, most challenging factor about expansion, and that is human resources. They might find specialized medical staff or SPA professionals worldwide, but making these professionals embrace and implement the SHA philosophy is the most sophisticated and at the same time, complicated, business task.