Until recently, I associated the words “wellness clinic” with images of colonics, rabbit food, weird algae body wraps, and hiking for days on end – not exactly glamorous. But as it turns out, I was wrong. Very wrong, actually, because I got to visit the celeb favorite SHA Wellness Clinic, where the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria’s Secret Angels go to reset. Enough said.
The definitive getaway for the stressed, burnt out, and those in need of a break, SHA has been attracting celebrities, CEOs, and even royalty since it opened its big glass doors in 2009. This is all thanks to its unique vision and all-round wellness program that blends Eastern and Western approaches to bring together cutting-edge technology, genetic testing, traditional Chinese medicine, and macrobiotic food – not to mention a list of top doctors, reflexologists, nutritionists, and naturopaths.
It’s the creation of Alfredo Bataller Parietti, an Argentinian businessman who suffered health problems and, following the diagnosis of a stomach tumor, helped cure his body after adhering to a macrobiotic diet devoid of all processed foods. The proof is in the pudding, so the saying goes – so long as it’s made with no gluten, dairy, or refined sugar (of course).
In dire need of some help on all levels of life, I set off to SHA a puffy-eyed, sleep-deprived, running-on-coffee-and-croissants hot mess. Arriving into Madrid only reaffirmed that (let’s just say the flight didn’t help), but my SHA experience began as soon as I landed. With a short while to wait for my connecting flight to Alicante, I checked in to SHA’s in-terminal pop-up Esenza by SHA, where I enjoyed a healthy meal, a back massage, and a fresh lick of paint on my nails. So far, so good.
Things went from good to amazing fast. A super slick car picked me up and whisked me through the winding roads from Alicante to the clinic, which stood grand, gorgeous, and oh-so-chic atop a hill. There really is no better way to describe this place – it’s so chic, it hurts. All grand open spaces, white walls, water features, and cryotherapy saunas – breathtaking infinity pool included. Not forgetting the cinema, tea room, library, and oxygen bars where you can inhale pure O2.
Complete with sleek and modern guest suites where you’ll rest your weary head after a health-filled day, SHA feels more like a five-star luxury hotel than a medical and wellness clinic. Since my visit, it has also opened its stunning new SHA Residences, a destination designed by renowned Spanish architect Carlos Giraldi and prestigious interior designer Elvira Blanco, and made with environmentally friendly and sustainable materials.
Starting at 300 square meters, the residences bring the best of the SHA world into your own state-of-the-art private paradise, complete with private pools, hammam rooms, and even cinemas. Oh well, I suppose I have to go back and try those out now, right?
But let’s not forget why I was there. Prior to my trip, I had filled out a health questionnaire, so I start by meeting one of the resident doctors who assesses everything from my general health and diet to my energy levels and sleep (or lack thereof). I’m then assigned a coordinator who talks me through SHA’s ‘Discovery Program’, a well-rounded selection of the clinic’s signature treatments including acupuncture, a personal training session, a top-notch facial treatment, and a deep tissue massage to name a few.
I’m also given a weekly timetable with the complimentary group activities and classes, which lists everything from Pilates and dance classes to meditation sessions. Guests staying for over a week undergo a blood test, so SHA can really fine-tune your personalized program. Some guests stay months, one even for a year. It may sound extreme, but after just a few days, it wasn’t hard to see why.
Whatever treatments or tests you focus on, every stay stems around the main central focus of SHA: a macrobiotic diet. Yes, the one that Madonna and Gwyneth apparently swear by. In a nutshell, it’s lots of grains, vegetables, fruits, sea greens, a tiny amount of fish, no meat, zero dairy, and a whole lot of miso soup.
And sorry, Starbucks addicts – coffee is a no-no and replaced by nutritional and detoxifying teas. Saying that, if you’re really struggling and ask extra nicely at breakfast, an organic Americano may just appear…
I also met with a nutritionist who talked me through SHA’s three different macrobiotic diets: Kushi for detoxification (the most hard core diet that consists of only 700 calories and lots of soups), Biolight (which is around 1,200 calories and has been designed to aid weight loss), and the SHA menu of 1,800 calories – which I can only describe as a gastronomic delight. In fact, whichever plan you’re on (as advised by the doctor), you will not feel deprived and the food is insane.
I indulged in monkfish tataki with spices and coconut meringue milk, buckwheat and beetroot ‘pancakes’, quinoa and veggie salads, and Indian-inspired risottos. Breakfasts were bursting with healthy cookies, gluten-free granola, dairy-free yogurt, and fresh fruit – I even got to tuck into guilt-free desserts of cacao-carob brownies and spiced baked pear with liquorice ice cream and mesquite cake. Needless to say, I got a little too excited about meal times.
The diet did exactly what the nutritionist said it would. I was instantly sleeping better, I felt energized, my cravings for Ben & Jerry’s vanished (an actual miracle), my stomach was flatter, and everything just felt right. There are a whole host of cooking classes on offer at SHA, too, making it that bit easier to incorporate macrobiotic principles into your hectic home life.
Over the next two days, I alternated my time between having massages, relaxing in the clinic’s impressive hydrotherapy circuit (a thermal bath, sauna, and steam facility), being put through my paces with a PT, enjoying beautifully prepared macrobiotic meals, and attending beautiful morning walks at the nearby Punta Bombarda Lighthouse. With SHA split over four floors, there’s always something going on and something to learn, whether it’s a consultation to check how healthy your hair is to a visiting the Cognitive Development Unit, where cutting-edge gene testing enables everything from memory loss to disease prevention. There really is nothing these people can’t do.
I’m proud to say that since my SHA experience, I’ve hugely cut down on meat and dairy, and my fear of carbs is a thing of the past. I think about food as medicine for my body, not something to inhale without thought. I’ve just had a healthier spring in my step since my days in Spain. That puffy-eyed mess that arrived stood no chance against SHA’s prescription of health and happiness, and I left feeling like a new woman – inside and out. SHA-mazing.