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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Peters

Digital Detox in Vichy, France

Wilted in mind, body and spirit, Vichy Spa Hotel Les Célestins appears like a mirage in the desert, except that it actually exists. And this destination on the banks of the Allier River in France is a far cry from dry. The region’s nine thermal springs, courtesy of volcanic eruptions, have been inactive for a century.

Grateful is an understatement in regard to the nourishment I receive from the moment I ceremoniously forfeit my laptop and iPhone into a drawstring pouch and say my goodbyes, to the moment I hesitantly retrieve these tech items upon my departure. I can honestly say that a Digital Detox is not only an amazing break from the reality of a tech-driven, hectic lifestyle, but a necessity for everyone to partake in at least once a year.

“We don’t treat the addiction,” I am told of the program geared more toward prevention of tech burnout and less on lifestyle changes. This program focuses on alleviating the stress of a strained neck, back and arms, incorporating time spent outdoors to move the body, and lessons on how to breathe deeply and effectively.

Initially, adjusting to the program can be a bit unnerving, especially if your primary language is English. Once I receive my itinerary in French, my kneejerk reaction is to fish in my handbag for my iPhone to Google Translate. Alas, my device is on hiatus; I am left to my own devices and must apply my French lessons.

Stress is not in the equation, though, as I am surrounded by practitioners with open hearts and expert massage techniques. These wellness professionals perform magic utilizing Vichy mineral waters with the goal to attain good health, palpable to all in attendance.

My room offers a calming view of the Napoleon III Park, where swans float by as if waving hello, and a fountain of water serenades me to relaxation. A fresh bouquet of flowers welcomes me, as does a pineapple stuffed with slices of the same, plus kiwi and strawberries to which I wholeheartedly help myself to at lunchtime. I survey the offerings of an art therapy anti-stress book and four colored pencils, as well as several books to read, a CD player with meditative music discs — but no television. Since I am on a Digital Detox, my television was confiscated.

Lunch at the bistro on the lobby floor of the hotel is where I enjoy a bowl of carrot soup made with Vichy water, as are most recipes, which add to the vibrant vegetable colors in many dishes served here. A Saint Jacques (scallops) cassoulet accompanies my soup, served over a light yellow sauce made with cream, white wine and butter with more of that Vichy mineral-rich water.

I do feel tired after lunch, but have a meeting with the spa director to go over my itinerary, which lists 13 treatments over the course of three days. I was told to wear exercise clothes for the start of my experience, so following a tour of the well-labeled treatment areas of the circular spa, I experience an hour of personal coaching in the modest gym. I hadn’t expected a workout, but I get one that begins with time spent on a treadmill, and then some focus on legs, butt, stomach and arm exercises. Legs wobbly, I trudge back to my room to change out of my workout clothes and into a spa robe.

Connected by an indoor walkway, my luxurious and comfortable, spacious room is a mere minute, robed walk to the spa. I slip into my thick rubber sandals for ease in maneuvering on wet floors in the treatment rooms. My reward comes following the physical exertion: a bath infused with lavender and massage jets extraordinaire. A dance of lights surrounds me in show while I bask in a Vichy tub for about 20 minutes. Sounds of a distant tornado offer a clue to the swirl of pressurized water massaging me as I enjoy the light show.

The rest of my afternoon is spent moving from treatment to treatment, getting slathered in volcanic mud before being wrapped in a corn wrap, and then massaged under a rainstorm that is the 1896 invention of the famous “original” four-handed Vichy Shower.

I am catered to by practitioners who perform so thoughtfully and expertly that I am almost brought to tears, except I am too relaxed to cry.

Dinner at N3 offers more Vichy water in lieu of wine, although the Auvergne region does produce some wonderful AOC wines. I indulge in everything Vichy, including dessert of Vichy-water infused ice cream. I am here to hydrate with the mineral-rich waters of Vichy and persevere in my avoidance of alcohol. Instead, I eat the tasty and digestive-focused menu items before heading back to my room for a restful slumber. But wait! I am used to sleeping with my white noise app from my phone, which has been confiscated as part of my Digital Detox.

Sleep is a bit difficult, as thoughts of who might be emailing me consume my thoughts. Somehow I manage to drift asleep and awake to a sunrise reminiscent of the pinks and blues of my previous day’s color therapy bath; day two begins in full spa and relaxation mode.

Upon my examination by the doctor on staff at Vichy Célestins Spa, I am prescribed a thrice daily dosage of digestive thermal healing water. To fill my prescription, I have to walk down the street to the location of the thermal spigots pouring minerals that include magnesium, manganese, silicum, calcium and iron.

When the doctor reveals my blood pressure, I am not surprised to hear it is lower than it has ever been in my adult life. Today I feel as if I have plenty of time for relaxation and realize there might be something to this Digital Detox after all. My hearing is sharper to the sounds of birds flocking to a tree, and my imagination soars. I envision the patio tables I view below from my window filled in the summertime with guests who want to enjoy breakfast with nature’s best views. I realize there is nothing to focus on other than nature and relaxation in between treatments.

More treatments include a hose-down of Vichy spray while I stand victim to the therapist’s direction, guessing that this must be good for my circulation, and then I head to another room for my second cocoon wrap before another Vichy table massage, a head massage, and a UV sauna bed treatment. Lunch, exploring and dinner follow before sleep beckons. Today I feel the distance of my technology addiction.

My final day is spent with more treatments, including Luxopuncture (best in a series of treatments) to reduce stress by alleviation of the fascia by a charge on acupressure points. Finally, another colorful and roaring jet bath and final mud wrap before an hour is spent learning breathing techniques one-on-one in a Sophrologie treatment.

My farewell to Vichy leaves me knowing that I will be back, as I now have a sense of the Vichyssois way of life. I may have arrived wilted, but upon my departure, I am drenched in minerals and balanced in mind, body and spirit.

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A tour through Vichy

Stroll through the streets of Vichy and marvel over the scrolled ironwork and balconies Coco Chanel must have at one time looked out from. You can take a guided tour through the Tourist Office which will highlight the Art Deco architecture of Vichy, and the Saint-Blaise-Notre-Dame-des-Malades, one of the first churches in reinforced concrete, built in 1925 and designed by Chanet and Liogier, today classified as a Historic Building. Inside the church you can admire paintings, mosaics, iron work and stain glass windows. More historic buildings include the Balmoral, the Plaza, the Amirauté, the Célestins College, a former hotel and majestic building in the shape of a ship’s hull.

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