On a three generational wellbeing break at Borgo Egnazia
Caroline Sylger Jones reviews a Happiness wellbeing break at Borgo Egnazia spa hotel in Puglia with her mother and daughter and finds heady scents, exceptional staff and wondrous treatments.
I am sitting cross legged on a mat in our courtyard garden, facing a lemon tree and watching it start to catch the early morning light. I sniff the heady aroma of some basil-infused salt in a cute glass potion bottle which I’ve been given by a spa therapist and told to inhale regularly. The scent is uplifting and addictive – I have the bottle beside me now as I write back at home, and it’s still giving me a little daily buzz.
Upstairs, my mother Ann, in her late 70s, and my nine year old daughter Annoushka, are still sleeping. We are in a Casa Magnifica, a two bedroom house made out of the local stone inside the ‘Borgo’ part of the spa hotel Borgo Egnazia, where the entrance arches, narrow streets and dinky houses have been inspired by ancient rural Puglian villages. Our bedrooms are a tad small – but hey, we’re coping, three generations of women on a ‘Happiness’ wellbeing break, devised by the hotel’s Vair Spa as an intriguing mix of therapies and activities of which my morning smelling salts is only a part.
After my garden yoga practice, which ends with a headstand against a creamy garden wall that crumbles charmingly when my feet touch it, my companions are awake and ready, so we make our way to the breakfast restaurant to feast off an extravagant buffet packed with locally sourced goodies. I particularly love the fresh fruits, home made granola and healthy juices made fresh in front of me, while Annoushka forms a minor addiction to the hot chocolate and chef’s pancakes. Then it’s time for a session in the large family outdoor swimming pool, beside which Grannie reads over her morning coffee on one of the wide white comfy loungers while Annoushka and I practice hand stands and take turns giving each other piggy backs around the pool.
Later Annoushka finds her newly made international friends at the children’s club, which is conveniently located right beside the pool and where her favourite activities are making sand pictures and doing the daily cookery class – she loves in particular making Taralli, a Puglian pretzel type snack. Meanwhile, my mother and I have long swims or treatments.
My solo treatment highlights include brilliant deep tissue massage sessions with long standing therapist Thomas, who dispenses valuable meditation advice as well as digging deep into my tension, and a wondrous head massage and facial with Annalisa, who uses garden produce including fig and lemon to brighten and nourish my face back to life again.
My mother and I also share a rather wondrous Roman Bath experience, where we soak in hydropools, sweat in hot rooms, cool ourselves with a cold water walk, then relax with herbal tea. Midway, we get a foot massage each as we lie side by side, and both fall into a very deep blissed out sleep for nearly 40 minutes. The therapist leaves us be, then scrubs us with sea salt, tones us with a squeeze of actual orange, and rinses us with lavender water, which is all followed by a soothing session in the private float pool. My mother especially emerges beaming, and we head back to find Annoushka and play Uno over pre-dinner drinks.
I’m given mood-boosting nutritional guidance as part of the Happiness break here following a health and lifestyle questionnaire, and this includes what food choices to make at the restaurants. While we love the tasty seafood dishes at the beachclub, we find the traditional Puglian dishes on offer at La Frasca not especially to our taste, so we go off piste and order simple grilled fish and vegetables instead. Annoushka enjoys good pizza, in between playing mad hide and seek games around the property with her new found friends.
As part of the happiness break, my mother and I also experience a ‘Walk of Trust’, during which we take turns to lead each other blindfold around the property, looked after by a personal trainer, and experience what life might be like if we didn’t have our sight. Relying on the hand and voice of the other, we open up our senses as we are encouraged to touch an olive tree, smell some bougainvillea, lift a pumpkin and stroke a donkey’s ears (the hotel has a mini farm that Annoushka also enjoys). It’s bizarre and a little disconcerting, and I confess we get far more out of a ‘laughter workshop’, which all three of us take part in one afternoon with local actor, dancer and musician Giuseppe.
Based in a studio, we start off cautious, but soon get into the swing of things as the friendly Giuseppe has us moving our limbs to traditional Puglian music, improvising walks, imitating each other and dressing each other up in costumes he produces at the end of our session from a large red leather Mary Poppins bag.
The Happiness break is topped and tailed with an aroma test lovingly given by Isabella, a beautiful long haired smiling therapist dressed in a long blush Roman style dress. Drawing on the science behind fragrance, which says the smells we are attracted to reveal what’s going on in our brain, she interprets my love of pretty much all the oils she offers as testament that I’m ready for every opportunity in life. Result. But do we actually need the Happiness break What we love the most here is having the time and space to hang out with each other in a relaxed and unrushed way. One evening we chance upon a fabulous party and live band in the hotel’s splendid Borgo square, and join in the music and dancing together. And being waited on hand and foot by exceptionally lovely and unpretentious staff, as well as having good bodywork, one cannot help but be happy. Which is why it’s a bit of a shock when we have to go home to get back to school, work and domestic commitments, and make our own hot drinks. Until next time…