Time moves differently in the small, lakeside town of Clarens on the Swiss Riviera. As an aged paddle steamer glides across the still surface of the lake, the only other signs of movement are the eagles that circle high above the town, drifting lazily with scarcely a wingbeat.
This sense of time slowed, delayed or denied, even, has provided Clarens’ most famous institution with its lifeblood over the past nine decades, as those in search of a profound change in their health and wellbeing have journeyed to this most discreet of towns in search of its best kept secret – the longer, healthier, fuller life promised by Clinique La Prairie.
A byword for exclusivity, luxury and a holistic, results-driven approach to longevity and wellbeing, the clinic has earned the ultimate accolade over its 88 years: almost seven out of 10 of its clients return time and again for its exclusive cures and treatments.
On top of its more recent innovations, which include diagnostic genetic testing and a beauty stem cell programme, Clinique La Prairie’s fabled status continues to rest on its legendary cure, Revitalisation.
Pioneered in 1931 by Professor Paul Niehans as cellular therapy, the cure garnered Clinique La Prairie international headlines in 1953 when the Vatican credited it with saving the life of the ailing Pope Pius XII. Secrecy has always surrounded the precise details of the cure, but its claim to increase vitality and regenerate cells while boosting the immune system and combating the negative effects of ageing soon attracted a steady stream of clients to the clinic, all of whom were keen to live better for longer.
The historic list now reads like a 20th-century Who’s Who of the rich and famous. Clients included film stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Konrad Adenauer, first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, and Cary Grant, who visited the clinic just before he started filming To Catch a Thief.
After retiring in 1966, Professor Niehans died in 1971 aged 91, leaving behind four decades of research and refinement of his cellular therapy and a philosophy of vitality and wellbeing that is now based on four fundamental pillars: world-class medical services, wellbeing, nutrition and movement.
Following a strategic decision to make scientific research Clinique La Prairie’s focus and priority, an on-site medical centre and laboratories were constructed in the early 1990s, anticipating the current vogue for medi-spas by more than two decades.
As well as serving the medical needs of its clients – the 50 specialists at the facility cover every field from orthopaedics, endocrinology and cardiology to gynaecology and rheumatology – the clinic now also acts as a fully functioning medical centre for the local community.
For Simone Gibertoni, Clinique La Prairie’s CEO, this combination of cutting-edge aesthetic and clinical medicine, five-star luxury and wellbeing, coupled with what he describes as hyper-personalisation and exclusivity, is a blend that continues to make Clinique La Prairie unique.
“In our business you always have to consider a client’s age and their nationality, from a 30-year-old who comes from the United States to a 70-year-old from China, but the idea is always to provide an experience that is life-changing,” Mr Gibertoni says.
Not only are clients provided with their own dedicated nutritionists, who develop bespoke dietary plans according to each client’s medical requirements, they also have direct access to clinicians, coaches, chefs and experts in wellbeing, massage and aesthetic medicine.
“We are helping people to live a longer, healthier and better life. It’s about longevity, yes, but it’s about a balance between mind and body and about adding life to those years, not merely adding years to somebody’s life,” he insists.
The chance to make a lasting change to your health, vitality or longevity requires significant investment, as much in terms of the commitment and self-discipline that’s required as in expenditure. In recognition of the ongoing support they may require after their stay is over, Clinique La Prairie is currently engaged in a project to build an international network of centres to support its clients between visits.
While Clinique La Prairie’s international expansion plans look to the future, it’s a development rather closer to home that best describes the approach that has always defined the Clinique La Prairie experience.
With only 39 rooms, Clinique La Prairie might already be considered the very acme of exclusivity, but with its private chalet the clinic has reinvented the idea of a personalised medi-spa experience.
Hidden away on a high mountainside near Verbier, the chalet enables clients to experience week-long programmes in the utmost privacy while being attended by their own on-site chef, waiter, driver and spa therapist.
“We have always focused on the needs of our clients, who are quite unique,” Mr Gibertoni says. “This is why we don’t want to open clinics with 100 rooms – quite the opposite, in fact. We aim for hyper-exclusivity because the idea is to create a totally personalised clinic, just for you.”