Juan, Basque born and 97 years old, has own idea for longevity and looking great. Sitting at Balneario de Arnedillo Spa/Hotel in Arnedillo, Spain, situated in the mountainous setting of the La Rioja Mountain range and the fertile Cicacos valley, this area is considered one of the most beautiful in Spain and one of the best locations for relaxations and quietness.
Since 1800 Balneario de Arnedillo has never closed but certainly has been updated over the centuries. Although the rooms are simple, the one truly modern addition are the flat screen TV set in each room, however don’t bother looking for English channels. But décor is not the reason to be here as Juan mentioned over the few days I spoke with him.
Pure white fluffy robes and slippers plus tight Esther Williams’ type swimming caps are in the package for each guest and for those excursions into the various parts of the building. At first glance it looked very much like a group of aliens all in white shuffling through the halls.
These are some of the reasons that my ‘new best friend’ has come to this spa for decades, 8 days each year. His idea of staying young certainly seems to have worked for him.
“Every day stand under cold water for 7 minutes. It’s wonderful for the circulation,” he told me through my interpreter and guide Susana. All I could think of is the punishment of our Canadian winter and early morning cold showers. Isn’t that the English school public boy’s wakeup call? However as he observed our small group at our lunch table, he looked at my balding colleague and chastised him for not knowing about this miraculous great circulation cure.
“Imagine,” he said, “how much younger he would look if he had more hair.” As for wrinkles, his recipe is to forget creams and just splash icy cold water for the above mentioned time. He may have found the cure since his skin was as smooth as the proverbial baby’s tush. Susana also added that another age preventer issued from our newly discovered Spanish guru was that regular visits here are essential and most curative.
As I looked around the dining room with its huge table tops ladened with a varied buffet, nothing much has changed with European type spas since I started to visit in the 80s. But we North Americans have come to expect exercise and low cal food . Here the food fare is filled with potatoes, rice, ice cream and custardy desserts while the entrees are dripping with olive oil (buts that’s the healthy part). Sure there’s paella, ribs, noodles, salads and typical Spanish flan but generally by the time I arrived at the servers, the food was soggy as the other guests seemed to have a difficult time deciding on which or all they should heap on their plate.
When I started to go to European spas in the 80s I realized the great difference between North American and European ‘spas. The latter are really wellness clinics but just as we have integrated a bit or their curative ideas, there’s now some of North American moxie in their schedules besides eating and being massaged. There are early morning yoga classes and indoor aerobic water classes.
My first foray after the long flight and drive to Arnedillo from Madrid (about 4 hours) was to the outdoor thermal wave pool. These are not the gentle, polite waves but more like tsunamis as they tossed me and the others from side to side and from one end of the pool to the other. Although chilly on this early autumn day, with this activity, warming up wasn’t difficult. For more warmth there are the steam rooms. And since much of the original spa is built into the mountain rocks there are small indoor areas that are naturally steamy from the moisture of the rocks.
For many Europeans with breathing problems, probably mainly so many are still smokers who l light up everywhere, there’s an inhalation room where eucalyptus leaves are generally used. And for those with nasty arthritis, rheumatism or skin ailments, the local mud is slapped on after which you’re covered like a sushi roll with plastic and finally warming blankets left for about twenty minutes before a very serious hosing down. However outside the 18 treatment rooms I really did enjoy the inside warm water pool with the various strong jets and in pool benches.
Since the general age is not young, I’d say mid 60 and up (let’s call them late boomers), there were a few scattered young romantic couples either on their honeymoon or trying it out. Smooching didn’t seem to disturb the elders. My 97 year old friend was so appealing that he had us laughing as he let us know that a few 80ish grey haired, square shaped damsels were ‘hitting upon him’ (this from a translation). Still attractive, he was indeed a catch.
At exactly 6PM (strange since the Spanish are notoriously late which is considered polite and expected), I was taken into a small treatment room for a famous wine facial. La Rioja is the most noted wine area in Spain hence the attempt to use the grapes for cosmetic use. The young esthetician certainly seemed to know her stuff. She vows by Vinoterapia products.
Firstly the vino exfoliate was spread and gently rubbed over my face neck and chest, I was waiting for a whiff of wine but none seemed to have the slightest odor with this product. After the usual rinsing off with a warmish cloth and followed by a slightly cooler wipe, the wine oil was then massage into my shoulders, upper arms, upper back and chest and face. With great dexterity, after massaging she deftly and gently stretched my neck a la chiropractic technique, this for mobility, which was much needed and very enjoyable. Then gently moving my head from one side to the other, she continued to massage this odourless product. So where’s the wine? Certainly not in these bottles and jars. Lastly, she gently rubbed some of the oil into my scalp and there went my hair style which was to see me through the next few days. The oil didn’t make me look like a ‘rocker’ but gave my hair a new shine and certainly a completely different style. All this was done in 30 minutes. Far too short for the facial I expected to sleep through to catch up on my jet lag. No such luck but then the village is worthy of a long trek which could be organized at the desk. There’s a quiet solarium and lounge, a play room for the young kiddies who had accompanied their parents. Besides, I was content to know that soon I would be tasting the best wine at prize winning vineyard in the La Rioja area.