Turning back time at Preidlhof

Anna Pasternak reviews a five-night Integrated Healing retreat at this family-run hotel in the cocoon of South Tyrol in Italy and finds exceptional healers, memorable forest bathing and a cure for her menopausal hot flushes.

The endless numbing domestic drudgery of lockdown had taken its toll. Like many menopausal mid-lifers, I craved nurture and space, precious time alone with someone looking after me for a change. Frustration had exacerbated my menopausal symptoms as my escalating nightly hot flashes rendered me permanently shattered. The moment that it was feasibly possible, I threw Corona caution to the wind and leapt on a flight to Verona. I was confident that if there was one person who could help me get back to myself, it was Patrizia Bortolin, curator of the new wellness retreat at Preidlhof, in the South Tyrol.

Apart from a Covid test on arrival, temperature checks before each treatment and mandatory masks at the buffet, this felt like a proper escape. Yet when I arrived at this hodge podge hotel nestled between apple orchards in the village of Naturno, I didn’t have that inner collapse of relief that I was in the perfect space for me. You are reminded that this is family-run hotel of 50 years, dedicated to their fervently loyal, mainly German and Italian clientele. The whole ambiance is less soothing destination chic, more slightly bonkers Austrian chalet meets Italian glitz.

There are 70 rooms – the older part sports a dated, patterned carpet and pine vibe – while in the modern wing, the rooms have trunks that hide mini fridges, copious levels of lighting and fluffy raspberry coloured rugs. Once I had got my inner style fascist under control, I came to love my room with its unabashed dedication to comfort. The terraces have a day bed outside (that they offer to make up for nights under the stars) with an infrared lamp for winter, so you can enjoy early morning tea with the view of the crumpled mountains opposite. It’s pure Sound of Music; the reassuring clang of church and cow bells, the bitter dark of the forest punctuated by electric green meadows dotted with pretty chalets.

My Integrated Healing Programme kicked off with a consultation with Dr Angerer. This Italian doctor is a pioneer in holistic health, having introduced acupuncture to Italy. He tested my HRV (heart rate viability) as I held electrodes for 10 minutes. This discerns the body’s response to stress, energy state and efficacy of metabolism. Heartened to learn that I had barely any stress – my little pie chart was almost all green, close to perfect – my smugness evaporated when I discovered that my body was functioning like a 58-year-old’s – five years older than my real age of 53.

For the next five days, I enjoyed a carefully calibrated routine of healing with a crack team of world-class therapists, who confer after each session to monitor and enhance your experience. This combination goes straight to the heart of where you are in your life and what needs supporting.

After a barefoot meditation, with grounding foot and toe work, outside amidst wafting scent of lemon blossom, I felt calm and sleepy. The bliss of Preidlhof is that there are plentiful indoor and outdoor relaxation areas, so there is always a perfect comfy chair/waterbed/swing seat/spot to snooze.

‘By the time I had my check-out session, I was ecstatic that my biological age had dropped 11 years in five days; that this rest and healing had turned back time and I was now 47’

One of the highlights of my stay was my mindful eating session with Professor Silvia Villani. This beautiful psychologist, who has studied with the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, is an expert in mindfulness techniques and eating disorders. She described to me the seven types of hunger, explaining how body cravings are often confused with desire; our hunger of the heart. I had an ‘a-ha’ moment of awareness about how rigid I am with my diet, often overriding my body’s genuine cravings. Silvia advised me to go to the lunch buffet and chose as I normally would. Then, go back and ask myself, mindfully, what do I really want to eat? My second plate surprised me – it had more fat on it – cheese, oily bruschetta. Her prophecy came true – eating that, I felt sated. This lifestyle tweak felt revelatory.

On the second day, I had ancient healing with Martin Kirchler, a master in Chinese medicine. His session was like a cross between body acupuncture and reflexology. Afterwards my torso felt as if it had been crushed by a steam roller – in a good way. That evening, a stupendous crystal singing bowl session wafted through my consciousness as I sank into deep relaxation. The following morning, I went wild swimming in the glacial Vernago Lake, whose colours are so vivid, it renders it unreal. Heavenly.

Later, I had a Glowing Flow Session with Stefano Battaglia, a shamanic osteopath and trauma therapist with hands like hot irons. When he touched certain points of my body, electric currents shot through my arms. It was as if he plugs flagging bodies back into their own natural grid of energy.

At Preidlhof the connection with nature is profound. Forest bathing was especially memorable. Like a mountain sprite, Irmgard, my septuagenarian guide, took me to thundering waterfalls, made us tea with forest herbs that we picked, then smudged me with warm herbs in a touching ritual.

By the time I had my check-out session and acupuncture with Dr Angerer, I was ecstatic that my biological age had dropped 11 years in five days; that this rest and healing had turned back time and I was now 47. Archangel Patrizia packed me off with Preidlhof’s special vitamins, prescribing more magnesium for enhanced sleep. The best going home present was that this outstanding transformative package cured me of my hot flushes. In every aspect, the combination of Patrizia and Preidlhof was exactly what I needed.