Lefay Spa Resort review | spa retreat, Italy
Super luxury eco-spa in lovely Lake Garda location
The Quick Read: Tucked into the hillside with unrivalled views across to the craggy peaks of the Dolomites and down to the western shores of Lake Garda, Lefay Spa Resort really can boast an exceptionally lovely location. It was purpose built as a environmentally-conscious spa with a hotel, and not the other way around. Set within 30 acres of a national park, it offers rejuvenation programmes and a menu of wellbeing and beauty treatments based upon traditional Chinese energetic medicine as well as Western. Despite its new age philosophy, it retains a strongly Italian flavour which is best sampled in its gastronomic restaurant.
Who is it best for: Lefay is ideal for a romantic pampering break (the private Royal Pool & spa suites, inspired by Roman mythology, are regularly booked by Italian celebrities), as an energy booster for retired couples, or anyone in need of a reboot. It also caters for family breaks (there’s a crèche for over threes). Despite having two qualified staff doctors, it is not a medical spa or a retreat centre with a strict regime. It is for people looking for a relaxing short break with all the comforts and trimmings you would expect from a five star resort (excellent food, a late bar, several pools), all woven together with a bit of eastern philosophy.
What you can do: You can fill your day with therapies and beauty treatments picking from the extensive a la carte menu, or you can ‘do as the Romans’ and lounge by the pool, hang in the pool bar, heated whirlpool or the indoor relaxation areas which include five types of sauna and hammam, waterbeds and a meditation dome. For the active guest, there’s a state-of-the-art gym, a running circuit and free classes day of Tai Qi, yoga, Pilates or meridian stretching (think yoga at a snail’s pace). Or if you want to leave the cocoon of Lefay and its rambling energetic gardens of the ‘Four Seasons’, there’s a free shuttle bus to the local town, Gargano, free mountain bikes and boat trips on the lake can be arranged.
Alongside the 2-day taster ‘Discovery Programme’, which we experienced, there are health programmes for fitness, detox, sleep management, posture, beauty, weight-loss, osteo-physiotherapy, ayurveda and pregnancy, plus programmes for men and children from the age of 4.
In addition to the Wellness Programmes, the a la carte therapies include an Energy Body and Face Massage, naturopathy, moxa, phytotherapy (herbs), osteopathy, acu-lifting, Thalassotherapy and Thalgo rituals, pregnancy body and face treatments and corrective body treatments.
Where you stay: Lefay is the passion project of the Leali family, local millionaires who successfully sold their local airline and invested the proceeds into their dream of opening a sustainable, luxury spa. The building is inspired by the local Limonaia, giant greenhouses for lemon trees. The concrete buttresses resemble the modernist architectural terraces of London zoo – but that’s a compliment. It’s modern, but fits in to the rocky, terraced terrain.
Elsewhere Lefay has the trappings of a typical spa resort: plush signature carpets, white leather sofas, bowls of crisp green apples there for show and vases of dried twigs.
All 93 suites (which range from a 49 sqm Junior up to Exclusive at 83 sqm), branch out from the central spa and are never too far from the sauna or pools. Set into the mountainside, they all face outwards with views across the lake and a semi-private terrasse. The temperature in the rooms is naturally regulated by thermal water panels in the floor and ceiling, so on hot nights you don’t have to choose between stifling and airless or icy cold air con. The rooms have been decorated using local materials like olive wood for the floor and the fabrics have been sourced within Italy. Even the Junior suites have a large comfortable bed, big round bath and separate shower, a separate loo closet, a walk-in clothes closet. The attention to detail you see in the rooms, the spa (the women’s hammam is a wonder) and themed gardens is apparently the work of Mama Alcita Leali, who was trained as an architect.
How was it for us: Stepping out of the taxi, I was greeted by a dreamy view down to the oriental water garden and across to the Dolomite peaks which looked like great dollops of gelato. The first ritual of the holiday was to wash away the budget flight in the fabulous salt water infinity pool, which juts out over the mountainside and appears to spill over into the lake 450 metres below. I then wallowed in the heated salt lake pool, floating weightless under a big paper moon. And after rehydrating, there was nothing for it but to flop about in the hammam and Tuscan-style sauna until dinner. This was served in the Limonaia, the rooftop restaurant, which offered a surprisingly gourmet selection of Italian and local specialities like snail and wild mushroom en croute. Not a bad start.
I was booked onto the two-day Discovery programme, which includes massage, an anti-ageing facial treatment and exercises to stimulate the meridians. My treatments began with a consultation with Dr Barbieri, a doctor trained in both occidental and Chinese medicine. Having identified my ‘season’ and energy type, he tailored the programme to include acupuncture and a special herbal tea to rejuvenate the liver. Within minutes I was horizontal and having needles and a suction cup applied to my back to treat the pelvic pain I’ve been carrying around since giving birth. He also prescribed a massage of the ‘Green Dragon’ with Orange and Rosemary oil to revive the liver (which was wonderful) and Moxibustion, a Chinese form of acupuncture which involves heat being directed to the body’s meridian points.
On Day 2 it was time for my face to get in on the action with an ‘inner energy facial massage’, which began with stimulation of the meridians on the feet and hands, working up to the face. It was so relaxing I drifted into sleep; whether or not that was the intended effect, it was very nice. I also opted to have the “anti-ageing facial” which my companions had raved about. This was 75 minutes of sheer Tiāntáng (heaven) and included another foot and facial massage.
By the end of the programme I was feeling fitter, perhaps a little fatter (on account of the irresistible puddings), but certainly very Gaoxing (content). The gourmet menu presented a genuine dilemma for me: I wanted to get in shape but it seemed churlish not to indulge while in Italy. And my pelvic pain? It was barely there and it stayed that way for several days.
Food Watch: Lefay takes its commitment to sustainability into the kitchens: all the food is organic and locally sourced where possible. There’s a formal restaurant (Il Grande Limonaia) and a brasserie which both serve very good Italian food and wine, so there’s really no need to go elsewhere. The main kitchen is run by a rated young chef who composes inventive gourmet dishes and spectacular puddings, so you can be an epicurist, choosing from dishes like river prawn ravioli followed by fresh lake Perch or cuts of wild goat. Or if you’re on a weightloss or detox, there’s a Spa Menu which offers low calorie and raw dishes such as carrot and ginger soup, light fish and roasted veg. It is really up to you whether you combine the spa experience with gastronomic indulgence. In fine Italian tradition, there’s even a cigar room for chaps and (chapesses) after dinner.
People Watch: Affluent Italians are the main clientele, who fly in for the weekend from Milan, Verona, Rome and further afield. It’s also a hit with the Germans and Scandinavians, who are attracted by Lefay’s eco-credentials, and is increasingly popular with Brits, Russians and guests from the Middle East. Overseas guests tend to stay for longer and do the five day programmes. During our stay it was a mix of ages from loved-up couples to family groups, new mothers and older couples. People do come on their own for treatments, but perhaps they weren’t as visible.
What’s queenly: Lefay strives to be as sustainable as possible: its substantial energy requirements are almost entirely generated from a biomass processor in the grounds and photovoltaic panels, while water for the pools and spa comes from recycled rain water. Lefay’s beauty products are all made from organic, local produce where possible, and the staff are all locally sourced and trained.
What’s lowly: The Four Seasons gardens, based on the Chinese seasons and body types, were a bit of a let-down after all the hype. They are intended as meditation sanctuaries set around the grounds at the four poles, but they looked a little bit neglected.
What we took home: The liver reboot certainly seemed to work for me and I arrived home feeling cleansed and energized. Two days was not enough to deeply relax, but I carried with me the extraordinary views and the beauty of the region, which sets Lefay apart from the average spa hotel.
Insider Tip: Lefay is an upmarket Italian spa and most guests dress for dinner, so leave your tie-dye and fisherman’s pants at home and bring something smart, not forgetting a nice pair of shades and wide brimmed hat for lounging by the pool.
Would we go back: If money was no impediment, I would definitely go back. I would recommend it wholeheartedly to my retired parents and any spa-going friends.
Price per person: The two night Discovery programme costs from Euros 650 per person based on two people sharing a room. It includes breakfast, lunch and dinner with the Lefay Spa menu, initial examination to determine energy levels, personalised phyto-aromatherapy, one energy facial, one personalised energy body massage, one energy hydro-aromatherapy session, one activity for rebalancing physical energy and entrance to the pools and saunas. Transfer to airport not included.
Value for Money: Lefay sits firmly in luxury bracket, but the spa experience is unique and worth the money.
Sister retreats: The Lefay Resort on Lake Garda is the first of a trio. The second is being built in the Dolomites mountain range, and will offer an après ski spa in 2017. The third will be set in the Tuscan countryside.
Reviewed by Imogen O’Rorke
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