Health & Grooming | Chronicles of a Spa Junkie

Spa Junkie at… the Capri Palace Leg School

There’s serious leg work for our covert reporter at the Capri Palace Beauty Farm

Spa Junkie at… the Capri Palace Leg School

Image: Jay Yeo

July 01 2011
Spa Junkie

Part: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Friday, 8am. I left at the crack of dawn and have endured two trains, a plane, several automobiles and a ferry to enjoy the staggering visual spoils I’m feasting my eyes on as we dock.

“Capri on a diet? Surely that is to commit sacrilege?” said my mother when I described my weekend plans. And she has a point; like water and oil, the two surely can’t mix. In fact, I have never returned from this glorious little limestone island in the Bay of Naples not at least a few clicks up the scale. But it has never mattered, because to retox Capri-style is to live.

My final destination on this particular visit, however, is the Capri Palace, so I’ve one more short journey to make, up the hill in an open-air taxi towards Anacapri, nestled at the base of Mount Solaro. The road is so narrow we have to stop twice, as there is virtually no more than two inches separating us from passing buses, brimming with passengers.

The Italian (as I like to refer to my boyfriend) has masterminded the trip with military precision so I have handlers at every step. If you decide to travel to the Capri Palace, I strongly recommend you have the hotel organise your transfers from Naples onward, as that city, while a bit less dangerous than it used to be, is as chaotic as ever.

But the journey was worth it: whitewashed walls and a very grand reception welcome me here at the Palace. The art collection hanging on the walls as I’m led to my room is staggering. The rooms, too, are infused with art – from walls to coffee-table books, it permeates your stay.

“The plan is to have fun for your birthday, eat well and be happy [the Italian is detailing the itinerary, having just arrived] and then we check into the spa for a couple of days, OK?” It’s clear his patience with the macrobiotic diet I have been trying erratically to enforce at home and on “date night” has worn thin; and the brutta figura of me asking for a miso broth for breakfast in Capri, of all places, would be a shame too big for him to bear.

Si, absolutely; I will not deviate from the plan,” I answer, my mouth already watering at the thought of the crispy white-truffle pizza, formaggio fuso and spaghetti alle vongole at Aurora; then, at Paolino, the “bomba” – a big, deep-fried dough bomb filled with cheese; and to top it all, the famous chocolate Caprese cake at Da Giorgio. Then it’s definitely time to put my fork down.

DAY ONE: 9am

The morning after a very late night before.

“The Capri Beauty Farm is a medically minded health and beauty centre; but if you are asking me what we are famous for, well, that would be the Leg School.” Clara, the spa therapist, is walking me to a meeting with the centre’s dietician for my initial consultation and an explanation of the Beauty Farm’s methodology. “We literally reshape legs and bodies. I have seen cases where within a few weeks patients reduce their cellulite to nothing,” says Dr Cinzia Grassi, the dietician, as I sit in her very clinical office: “We promote a Mediterranean diet here at the Beauty Farm. Health rates in the Mediterranean, as in Japan, are some of the highest in the world. I work closely with Professor Evelina Flachi, who is a member of the Italian Nutrition Society.”

“So what diet plan would you recommend for me?” I ask, having read over the various programmes on offer. “Before we can decide, we need to do a series of tests so I can create a totally personalised diet and fitness plan for you. We call this the Metabolic Response Programme. Professor Canonaco [the venerated head of the Beauty Farm, who devised the MRP system] believes we need to arm each guest with knowledge of how their body works, so they can apply these principles at home and retain the results garnered here.”

I am asked to lie down, and an air chamber is placed over my head. “Don’t move, don’t speak, don’t fall asleep. I need you to be awake to accurately measure your metabolism – basically, how many calories your body needs to live each day. Then I can start working on the diet.”

Next I am given an armband to wear night and day, for the duration. If I were doing a seven-day stay, I would only be required to keep it on for three days (which in any case means no swimming for the first three days of any trip). The band reads how my body expends calories. “This gadget – which you cannot take off! – measures your sleep and the quality of your sleep. It tells me just how many calories you burn when you eat, walk, run – even when you have sex. We can determine what activities you should be doing more of to keep your body at your ideal weight.”

I’m blushing as she straps it on – if this intelligence gets into the wrong hands, I could be done for.

Then it’s back in the lift with Clara, who takes me to meet the doctor. “I have been here for 13 years, and I am so proud to work here you cannot imagine,” Clara says earnestly, in strongly Italian-accented English. I believe her. But what are these “incredible results” everyone keeps talking about? What exactly? I mean tangible results; what will I see? “How are you guys going to reshape my legs?” I ask. Clara points to the little “thigh handles” just beneath my bottom (or, if you were being kind, you might call it “my shape” – which has gone pear-shaped in the past few years. Let’s just say skinny jeans no longer feature in my repertoire). “It will disappear, madam. Gone, flat” – she uses her hands to make a slicing-up-and-down motion, then traces a long-and-lean one. “Like a gazella,” she says, meaning the animal.

“Really? Legs like Gisele?” I tease. It takes her a few seconds, but then she eyes me up and down, smiles and says, “In two weeks, sure, why-a not?” I’m like a kid in a candy store; this lift can’t get me to the doctor fast enough.


The grey-haired professor greets me warmly. Francesco Canonaco graduated in medicine and surgery, holds specialisations in paediatrics, food science and medical oncology, and designed the now famous Leg School, which opened back in 1992, two years before he became medical director of the Capri Palace Beauty Farm.

There’s a lovely female therapist here to act as translator for this more complex diagnosis. For a few moments, we both stare at each other in silence. I decide to go first. He sits quietly and listens as I waffle on about the various things I would like to improve.

I mention that Clara had said he’s capable of making miracles happen, simultaneously pointing to my “shape” and imitating Clara’s hand gestures.

He gets straight down to business. “Let’s see… Why don’t you take your clothes off.” I spend half my life half-naked in disposable knickers, robes and slippers – no problem – but if you’re shy, consider yourself warned, and wear nice undies.

Canonaco starts the examination with my back.

“You have developed little wings; your back has actually changed shape from stress and bad posture. Do you use the computer a lot? You have these bulges of muscle that are detracting from what is a very lovely natural shape and toned back.” I’m straining frantically to see over my shoulder: what on earth is he talking about? What wings..? I hardly need another part of my body to start fretting over.

“You have water retention; do you wake up slimmer, and gradually bloat – like having a rubber tyre around your stomach as the day goes on?” Well, not quite that bad, but yes. “It’s not food; it’s mostly water. We have potent diuretics that can help with that.”

Next I am put on the scales. “You could do with losing three kilos.” Interesting. Italian doctors seem to skew to the skinnier side of the scale. In the Maldives, I was the same size as I am here, and the Ayurvedic doctors were adamant I did not need to lose any weight – just simply tone up. “I suggest the 800-calorie-a-day Delicatezza programme.”

Then he checks my face. “You have a few wrinkles, but I would not recommend any Botox – your eyebrows are uniquely shaped, so you would just look like you had a big fright. Instead, have hyaluronic acid injections to tighten and tone.”

Then we’re back to my “shape”.

“I would recommend Leg School for you every day and in seven days, as Clara said, your legs will change.” There’s a problem, though: I’m only here 48 more hours. So it will have to be a sample experience. “Some of the treatments will have immediate and visible results, but we need seven days to really reshape your body. And the older the patient… the longer we need.”

I’m almost inconsolable that the dream of a surgery-free reshaping of my thighs – my life-long bane – will not be happening. I regret not booking in for seven days. But in truth I wasn’t expecting this spa to be so impressive. I love the fact that it specialises – these guys firm, change and tone your legs and body. So often these luxurious spas offer either too wide a range, so few single treatments are actually impressive, or they offer only relaxation, which is perfect for a weekend away but not for serious results.

As I walk back to my room, I’m thinking The Capri Palace Beauty Farm is a gear change – it’s on another level. It’s old-school, has an established reputation and a long-standing repeat clientele, yet it’s retained doctors and specialists in universities at the forefront of health and medical innovation. Its association with universities, I think, gives it an edge I haven’t seen before.


Lunch at the pool is a white fish with borage, which is chosen for its detox properties.


The Leg School. I start with a 60-minute aqua aerobics class in a good-sized indoor pool. It’s usually a group class, but there is nobody else here, so I get a one-to-one.

Then it’s onto a machine called the Velasmooth. “You are going to feel like I am cooking you, but don’t be scared; it looks worse than it feels,” says my therapist. The Velasmooth is a large machine that works using radio frequency, infrared light, suction and massage. The therapist holds the two-handled manipulator and starts working on my “problem areas”. “It can be used on the stomach and thighs, where it breaks down cellulite, melting the fat and reducing water retention,” she explains. It’s not painful. “Guests usually achieve around 2cm reduction in key areas; we also improve muscle tone through exercise, which means less water retention; and that means less lumpiness.”

Sounds worth it to me. She keeps motoring away.


Now it’s time for the Palace’s signature treatment: Kneipp Therapy. A very active medicated mud is being spread all over my legs – it’s meant to invigorate, smooth out and decongest the skin. The mud feels as hot as it is cold, and I’m left to baste like a chicken in foil. After 20 minutes Clara takes me to the shower to wash off the mud, then my legs are firmly wrapped in bandages soaked in a similar concoction that increases blood flow, and I wait another 20 minutes. Bandages off, then it’s into the hot- and cold-water circuit – thigh-high hot water on the one half, freezing cold water on the other. Like a secondhand car rally, we go round lap after lap, oohing and aahing on the switch.

Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.