La Clairière Bio & Spa hotel review | spa retreat, France
Calming, can-do spa retreat in the Vosges mountains
The quick read: La Clairière Bio and Spa hotel is a small but perfectly formed spa retreat offering programmes in detox, weight loss and de-stressing, hidden deep within a forest in the foothills of the Vosges mountains outside Strasbourg in France. Relaxing and well equipped, it provides excellent healthy food and decent treatments with an emphasis on Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Who it’s best for: Single travellers happy to retreat and relax will enjoy La Clairière Bio & Spa hotel, but those hoping to make friends may find it a bit lonely as couples make up the majority of the clientele. That’s mainly due to its rather remote and romantic setting in the pine forest – tailor made for strolling hand in hand along its many trails, or indeed for simply lolling on your private balcony and taking in the views. It works for foodies wanting to eat well but healthily, but also for detoxers who don’t want to sacrifice taste in their quest for purification – if you can avert your eyes from the non-detoxers’ sumptuous, laden plates, that is. It’s probably slightly better for those wanting to relax accompanied by just a little exercise than it is for manic gym bunnies, although those forest paths could probably also be tackled in more challenging and energetic ways if fitness is a goal.
What you can do: Come and do your own thing while enjoying the setting, the facilities and the a la carte food, or sign up for one of their three signature packages – de-stress, detox or weight loss – which provide a bit more structure, and specially designated menus. Either way there is a lot of free time, and opportunities for relaxing inside or outside the resort are many.
The spa is the main focus, with a couple of saunas and steam rooms, a whirlpool and one outdoor and one indoor pool. Infra red saunas are an optional and very effective extra, and are included on the detox package.
Every day brings the option of 2 or 3 different group activities – qi gong, yoga or meditation, perhaps, a meditative walk in the woods or an introduction to nordic walking. These are dotted throughout the day, but the timetable is otherwise unstructured, so you can plan on doing as much or as little as you like. A small fitness gym holds the usual treadmills and stationary bikes, while a billiard table, and chess and backgammon boards are on offer for the less actively inclined.
Treatments on offer include an impressive array of massages and bodywork. The resident TCM expert does Tui Na massage and sessions focusing on specific complaints like heavy legs or poor digestion, and you can get more classical massages, salt scrubs, and facials which use Dr Hauschka products. If you are on one of the packages then some treatments will be included and tailored round your desired aim – detoxifying salt scrubs, infra red sauna sessions and drainage massages if you are on the detox, or more relaxing and energising treatments for those on the de-stress.
The forested, hilly setting lends itself to hiking, and mountain bikes can be hired for longer journeys. The local village boasts a 12th century chateau, and slightly further afield is Alsatian architecture and the Lalique factory and museum.
Where you stay: This instantly calming 50-roomed family run spa retreat in France is set in a rather perilous position on the side of a mountain with terraces and balconies that make the most of the views. It has been slowly renovated since the 1980s and is mainly modern in design. It’s small, which is fine in summer when clients can spill out on to the terraces, but it might feel a bit cramped in the winter.
Bedrooms are large, and those up on the top floor are almost suite-like, with separate areas for a small sofa, and another area for a desk and table. Ours had a long balcony, accessed by two different doors, and home to table and chairs, large plants and two sun loungers. The view was of tree tops, hills and the blue blue sky, and it was a little bit like being in an eyrie, with enough privacy for naked sunbathing, should that need arise.
The spa area is relaxing and well laid out, with good quality whicker sun loungers that can tip you backwards into a supine position without any of that annoying faffing around with levers that you so often find. The rest of the internal spaces aren’t as nice as the external – the lounge is compact, and feels a bit like a corridor, while the ‘English bar’ seems incongruous to a Brit, although other nationalities may find it quaint. The dining room is more spacious, and relatively formal, but all interior communal areas are a little on the dark side and so a bit oppressive in the summer heat.
How was it for us? I arrived fresh from an exhausting week’s cycling around Bavaria and the sense of relief I experienced on arrival was huge. I immediately liked the place – the forest setting and the instant calmness it evoked was just what I needed, and being halfway up a hill, with views across tree tops to blue skies, meant there was none of the claustrophobia that forest retreats can sometimes provoke. I’d booked the detox package while my husband, Bill had booked the de-stress.
Everything was very well explained and I felt in safe hands, especially after a welcome meeting with Olivier Hebteng, a TCM practitioner who took a detailed history and asked about my goals. He seemed completely unfazed that the only goal I could come up with was to relax and sleep, and I was particularly impressed that rather than try to sell me his own herb concoctions, or talk me into expensive treatments, merely recommended that I drink goji berry tea to aid my sleeping problems.
Despite his refreshing lack of sales talk, I still wish I could have booked his Tui Na massage, but sadly his schedule allowed for no additions, so I would recommend booking him in advance. I did however drag myself upright long enough to take his Qi Gong class, whose slow and meditative pace perfectly suited my dopey state, and even energised me enough to get me out for a walk in the forest. La Clairiere has long boasted of the meditative and healing benefits of being amongst the trees – a theory that is starting to be taken seriously by scientists and psychologists – and I certainly found it to be true on my own slow amble through the pines.
The detox package comprised several treatments, all of which were administered professionally and enjoyably, but I did find the detox menu hard to stick to. It had a (delicious) 5 courses but it still didn’t quite fill me up – though I think I would have fared better had I not arrived already starving and unhealthy after a week of cycling and eating German potatoes and ice cream. It was also quite hard to stick to such a rigorous regime when all those around me were tucking into bottles of wine and huge bread baskets, and my very own husband facing me across the table was loudly proclaiming the virtues of his French, gourmet 3 course delights.
I like to think it would take a will of steel, or certainly something more robust than my will of marshmallow, to stick to a detox in the face of such temptation so, unsurprisingly, I fell off the wagon after a few meals, and joined Bill in his less restrictive, but still healthy, de-stress menu. The team are surprisingly laid back for such a well run operation, and nobody minded or admonished me for my fall from grace, and they were also happy to switch my meals and a few of my treatments around – and to be honest, it is this can-do attitude which is really the thing that makes you relax and want to come back, which I certainly do. You can read all about Bill’s experience here.
What we took home: A healthier, less toxic body (cheats notwithstanding) and a calmer more serene mind. And a great tip about goji berry tea being a good cure for insomnia.
Would we go back: I would go back on my own to have another go at the detox and not be distracted by a partner’s envy-inducing plates opposite me. Also because I love that part of France which is so un-touristy and untouched compared to the south.
People watch: My ginger salt scrub with Fanny was wonderful. I was feeling stressed from a long journey but just 25 mins with her made me feel I’d really arrived. Other exfoliating scrubs I’ve had have always felt a bit functional – they slap on the salt, rub it in a bit, then you waddle to the shower to wash it off. Fanny made it feel more like a relaxing massage where the oil just happened to be very granular.
Food watch: This was the first hotel restaurant in France to be designated 100% organic, and all food is sourced as locally as possible. Buffet breakfasts are an absolute delight whether you are there to detox or to bulk up. The detox options include lots of little gluten and sugar free cakes, even healthy crepes made from buckwheat and rice flour, and several types of honey, much of it local, some still on the honeycomb. Or there are different types of homemade mueslis and granolas with yoghurt or milk of the soya, goat, cow or nut kind, or even savoury options of dahl and gluten free bread.
Non-detoxers have a wealth of choice of breads of all varieties, cakes, crepes, jams, cheeses, eggs – really enough to keep you going all day if necessary. The range of herbal teas is also impressive, although they will happily serve coffee too if you can’t go without.
Lunches and dinners are 3 courses, a typical menu being marinated prawns with herbed quinoa charlotte to start, monkfish medallions with vegetable risotto to follow, and a mascarpone based parfait with fresh berries to finish. If you follow the detox or other programmes the choice will be between 2 or 3 options, otherwise the a la carte holds a splendid array. The special detox menu is delicious and very well balanced and varied considering that it is vegan, sugar and gluten free. A typical menu started with a summer berry and mint smoothie, was followed by a salad of cabbage and endive, then a clear vegetable broth with millet dumpling, a main of mung bean galette and green veg ratatouille, then melon balls with lemon balm as a desert.
What’s queenly: Amazing organic food that manages to walk that delicate tightrope between the best of French gastronomic expertise, and healthy wellbeing, served in the freshest of air and the calmest of surroundings.
What’s lowly: The terrace is delightful, but in the mornings in summer it is often swarming with wasps, which made an al fresco breakfast just too stressful, while the alternative indoor dining room is a little bit on the dark side.
Insider tip: Toiletries are not provided so take your own, and you might also want to take a decent ordinance survey map of the area if you want to hike or bike, as those provided by the hotel just aren’t up to the job and it is very easy to get lost and lose all benefits of any de-stressing you might have achieved (this didn’t happen to us – honest).
Price per person with a companion: £75 room only, £198 for the detox programme per night.
Price per person going solo: £102 room only, £230 for the detox programme per night.
Value for money: This is on the pricey side, but worth it for the quality and the seclusion.
Reviewed by Sasha Bates
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