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Doing Wellness well

There’s a lot of empty rhetoric in the Wellness world, but what does it all mean?

According to the latest statistics, the mainstream travel industry grew by six percent last year, but the Wellness travel industry increased by a whopping nine percent, ie 50 percent faster. And the top country in Europe for Wellness? Germany, of course.

So Germany is the major player in a burgeoning market, but what does ‘Wellness’ actually mean? Clearly, something to do with health, although the ‘medical’ element within it is kept deliberately vague, because it is often so very hard to prove.

There’s a lot of empty rhetoric in this world of fluffy towels and even fluffier sentences, which is surprising in a country which is otherwise so methodical and science-based. Nevertheless in Germany you can pay a fortune to eat nothing in fasting establishments; you can bathe in beer, steep in hay, sit in a Radon Gas mine, wallow in a bathtub full of mud, etc etc, all in the name of improving your health. Maybe.

Actually, some of the above are really a form of spa treatment, and the words ‘Spa’ and ‘Wellness’ are often interchangeable. Usually, a spa treatment is pleasurable, intended to make you relax and feel better about yourself, whilst Wellness may make a slightly more ambitious attempt to actually improve your health, which means that along the way it may deviate you from a pleasurable state (ie make you hot or cold, muddy or itchy, as with the hay, Radon Gas etc).

But then there’s also the concept of the Kur, or cure, although the translation isn’t really exact. A Kur is a course of therapy, quite often in a dedicated destination or Kurort, which was historically recognised as making a valuable contribution to the nation’s health; and as such a stay in a Kurort could actually be prescribed by a doctor and paid for by the state/health insurance.

The latter still happens, although increasingly rarely, and it has been massively reduced from 20 or so years ago. But two key, very German, therapies are still attracting big numbers of patients, or clients, who these days are often dipping into their own pockets to pay for them. Those treatments are Kneipp, and Schroth.

I won’t attempt to set out the medical basis for either here, but Kneipp basically believes in the healing power of water and provoking the immune system, whilst Schroth focuses on nutrition, movement and temperature change.

The main town for Kneipp is Bad Wörishofen, west of Munich, a pleasant resort almost entirely peopled by the elderly, many of whom are clearly struggling with impaired mobility. You don’t start on a course in one of the Kneipp sanatoriums in Bad Wörishofen without first consulting a doctor, and many of the larger establishments have their own resident medical team.

For Schroth, the main destination is Oberstaufen in the foothills of the Alps, and this therapy involves early morning body-wrapping, drink and non-drink days, and very disciplined eating. Oberstaufen is a much more mainstream holiday resort, with lots of other stuff to do, and Schroth clients tend to be younger, and possibly more focused on controlling their weight.

Whatever the state of your wellbeing, physical or psychological, perceived or actual, there’s pretty much something for everyone in Germany’s Wellness war-chest. And as with everything else, they know how to do Wellness well.


For further details of therapies and destinations, go to the website of the German Spa Association

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