Villa Stéphanie’s royal spa retreat

A new medispa in an über-chic former royal bolthole lures our spa columnist to the Black Forest for an intense weight loss and detox retreat

The plunge pool
The plunge pool

Paris’ Le Bristol and Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc are two of my favourite escapes. So when the Oetker Collection, which owns both hotels, announced a new addition to its stable – on its Brenners Park-Hotel estate in the centuries-old spa town of Baden-Baden on the fringes of Germany’s Black Forest (where Queen Victoria came to take the waters with her daughter, the Empress of Germany) – my ears pricked up. And when I heard that the new Villa Stéphanie was to be a medispa – combining beauty, detox and nutrition with emotional and medical care – in a former residence for royal guests, it was just a matter of when, not if.

Day 1

Arriving for my four-day detox and weight-loss retreat, I find that Villa Stéphanie immediately has the feel of a huge stately home; on first appearance, there’s nothing clinical about it at all. Although there are three huge suites, each with its own sauna, steam and massage room, I have booked one of the 12 double rooms, where Farrow & Ball paint, Porta Romana lamps, stylish art and Bamford bath products set a welcoming scene.

A standout feature is the ability to digitally disconnect in each room. Every wall has been equipped with triple‑insulated cables to shield against connections to WiFi networks, and with the push of a button I can completely cut myself off from emails, Instagram and WhatsApp. Perfect.

Villa Stéphanie, Baden-Baden
Villa Stéphanie, Baden-Baden

I am ushered to meet spa manager Hans-Peter Veit, who sees every Villa Stéphanie guest on arrival. I begin with a full-body analysis using the InBody 720 Analyser, and am instructed to stand on its scales barefoot and hold the bars. Bioelectrical impedance uses electric currents to measure the body fat, muscle and water composition in my upper body, trunk and lower body. Veit recommends I gain muscle and lose fat in my lower body, and, while my arms are toned, there’s a little too much fat around my midriff.

He asks how hardcore I want my programme to be. My goal is to lose 1.5-2kg of weight in four days. He limits me to 1,200 calories. My fitness regime includes yoga, morning walks and mountain biking.

To help refine the treatment plan, I meet Dr Harry F König, a doctor specialising in naturopathy, who heads up Villa Stéphanie’s 20 specialists. He notes that I’m tired and stressed from working hard and playing hard, achy from arching over my computer for too long, and a little overemotional. He begins a full medical analysis, and during an ultrasound finds a dark mass on my left kidney – a benign cyst that he suggests I monitor, but that should be nothing to worry about. He finds a similar mass on my left breast and so refers me to a colleague, who I can see in the morning. I can’t help but panic, but he assures me the likelihood of it being something serious is low. Blood tests show an iron deficiency; he says it can be helped by IV infusions, which he’ll work into my four-day plan.

Dr König and Veit create a tailormade treatment and diet programme for the rest of my stay, which is handwritten by my assigned assistant and then delivered to my room.

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It’s time for a massage with one of the 20 therapists. I would have liked to book in with Othman Challouf for his combination of deep tissue, shiatsu and Thai massage, but he is booked up. Instead, I choose a simple but satisfying hour-long aromatic, full-body, deep-tissue massage using heavenly Bamford hot oils warmed in a marble bowl. It takes place in an ultra-chic room replete with black-rose Hervé Gambs flowers and is excellent, using strong pressure.

In the evening, I am given the menu for my stay. It has been created by Michelin-starred chef Paul Stradner and Veit, who have discussed both my aims for the week and what I like to eat. Lunch and supper are three courses, different each day, and stick within the daily allowance of 1,200 calories. I notice many of my favourite foods, but also that several have been swapped for healthier options – oil and balsamic vinaigrette for yoghurt dressing, for example. There is a note saying that, if I like, I can be taught how to prepare any of these dishes. Kicking things off is a delicious supper including grilled pike-perch with spiral of violet potato, roasted wild broccoli, baby leeks and a tomato pine-nut vinaigrette.

Day 2

I wake at 7am. Breakfast is gluten-free porridge, 10g of nuts and a green veggie smoothie. I’m not sure if it is because of the food, the air or the fact that I was shielded from the onslaught of technological connections, but I slept like a baby and feel ready to climb a mountain, which I book for later in the day. I decide to start with a water aerobics class at 8am. This is a full-on class combining challenging exercises that test endurance, strength training and stretching.

A double room at Villa Stéphanie
A double room at Villa Stéphanie

Before I can explore more of the environs at leisure, I am summoned to meet gynaecologist Dr Petra Dehm, one of the leading natural hormone experts in Europe. In Germany, gynaecologists are responsible for breasts too, and she diagnoses the mass found yesterday as an area of tight muscle. Exercise, stretching, Pilates and acupuncture are the remedy. Phew. I take her written diagnosis with me and, on her advice, will relay this to my doctor in London.

Time for the IV infusion to help with my iron deficiency – a cocktail of amino acids, vitamins and minerals that peps me up before an afternoon of hiking and biking. Personal trainers take us out into the Black Forest, which is truly stunning; vigorous cycles up hills and pacy walks are combined with a picnic at the peak and a stop to visit a castle. Our bikes have motorised engines on them; some of our party switch these on during strenuous parts so they can keep up. Pride stops my fingers from inching down to the switch.

On my return, I’m longing for some relaxation and head to the sauna for the recommended Hammam Signature Treatment by Othman Challouf, whose training 15 years ago in the traditional hammams of north Africa means his reputation goes before him. His treatment is not for the faint-hearted or the modest, however – I’m scrubbed, pummelled and soaped to within an inch of my life. It’s incredible.

In the evening, the team creates a movie night for me in Villa Stéphanie’s pretty library. Tomato consommé, followed by grilled chicken with spinach and then a lactose-free take on pannacotta, is laid out for my supper. I hit play on The Grand Budapest Hotel as I settle by the fire in my dressing gown. I could get used to this…

The spa’s wet area
The spa’s wet area

Day 3

I wake to slightly aching, tender muscles – I might have overdone it a little yesterday – and, after a breakfast of salmon and gluten-free toast, decide to go for a gentle hour-long walk. Villa Stéphanie is located on the Lichtentaler Allee – a beautiful and historic park running beside the river – so I head out along the embankment, passing architecturally impressive houses and museums, including the great modern art gallery Museum Frieder Burda.

I return for a Sisley facial. I’m already a fan of the brand – especially of its new black-rose oil, which I use in the evenings underneath my night cream. Sisley is based around the concept of phytocosmetics – the art of integrating natural plant extracts into beauty products – and I choose the 80-minute phyto-aromatique facial. Its energetic massage techniques using blossom-extract products leave my skin feeling gloriously supple and smooth. The therapist recommends the Sisley All Day moisturiser to help my ever-increasing number of fine lines.

After a delicious lunch of mini courgettes braised in olive oil, puree of aubergine, stuffed courgette flower, couscous and Ras-El-Hanout and Pecorino froth, I relax and ready myself for an hour-long private yoga class. The teacher is thorough and, although the pace is fairly gentle, she is incredibly precise and helps me get my positions pitch perfect.

The double treatment room
The double treatment room

I finish the day with a 60-minute shiatsu treatment by Pierre Clavreux – the shiatsu master who, in 1992, came up with the revolutionary massage treatment kiyindo shiatsu. This name translates as “pain relief by touch” and focuses on manipulating the body’s energy to relieve tension and sore joints. Using his fingers, he combines hard and soft pressure on key points of my body, as well as stretching out my limbs. It’s exceptional, and I leave feeling like an unknotted pretzel – supple, calm and balanced.

I end the day with mouthwatering Lebanese country salad, and smoked tofu coated in sesame with red and yellow lentils and riso nero, followed by fresh papaya with yoghurt ice cream.

Day 4

I enjoy a breakfast of watered-down mango smoothie and some porridge, and then meet Henri Charlet – a six-time German kickboxing champion – for a vigorous 60-minute outdoor session. God knows how many calories I burn, but it really feels good.

Preparing for a Hammam treatment
Preparing for a Hammam treatment

A 55-minute physiotherapy session with Katharina Heck is up next. She is another expert in her field and works to correct my alignment, relieve joint pain and ease any stiffness by moving my legs in circles, stretching my limbs and performing craniosacral therapy (skull massage) and various osteopathy techniques. As I leave, I feel like I’m walking taller – she recommends I continue with a few more physiotherapy sessions back in London.

Time for my medical checkout with Dr König. I certainly feel stronger and more alert. I jump on the scales and he checks my weight, plus my overall appearance – he’s happy with my progress and tells me to keep in touch should I have any issues over the coming weeks.

The Bottom Line

Villa Stéphanie is not just a boot camp, it’s not just a clinic – it’s the place to make a healthy lifestyle shift. The setting is characterful and luxurious, the doctors top notch, the tests thorough, the food delicious and the treatments expertly performed – I’m still dreaming of the hammam (though I recommend booking ahead for this if you can).

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During my stay, I felt like time had stopped – maybe it was the absence of a WiFi connection, but I never felt rushed, though I packed in a considerable amount. I lost 2.2kg, my posture improved and I felt enlivened by all the exercise and fresh air. My skin lost its dull grey appearance and even the whites of my eyes gleamed. I’d highly recommend it as the place for a health MOT.

Spa Junkie, aka Inge Theron, is the founder of FaceGym. She pays for all her own travel, accommodation and therapies.

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