Mariella gives her body a much-needed Sicilian spa break
You don’t expect to leave a spa break with Stockholm syndrome, but the night before I catapulted back to reality from the bosom of the Verdura in Sicily, I dreamed that I had manacled myself to the gates of the resort and was screaming: ‘Not yet, for pity’s sake. Don’t send me back yet.’
Over the preceding five days I’d discovered that life under draconian supervision is not just tolerable, but actually pleasurable.
At this seaside resort hotel, divorced from my normal routines and safely out of the way of temptation, eschewing my normal erratic diet and rebooting my system proved not only easy but addictive.
Voted Italy’s best spa of 2016, the sprawling Verdura is already well known to golf fans. Home to the Sicilian Open in 2012, its two 18-hole courses, which tumble down low hillsides and across the plain to the Mediterranean, are spectacular.
But I hadn’t joined the burgeoning ranks of my generation donning polo shirts and shorts to hit the fairways.
My mission was to recharge my batteries while keeping my son Dan occupied during his half-term break. That, of course, is easier said than done, given that he is 11 and I am in my mid-50s.
Destinations where mothers can lie back and think of all the cocktails they’re missing while children are kept so busy that you’re begging them to join you for dinner are few and far between.
At the Verdura, staff seem to have understood that taking your offspring on holiday isn’t always a vacation for parents.
In the low-lying minimalist terracotta and ochre sprawl of Flavio Albanese’s hotel, I was intent on giving my beleaguered body a mini break, while also ensuring that Dan had a whale of a time.
Although it boasted five splendid restaurants and a location in one of the world’s great culinary hotspots, I’d masochistically been looking forward to this period of abstinence for months.
In anticipation, I worked hard to raise my ‘toxicity’ levels to impressive heights. Stress, alcohol, erratic eating and unhealthy food all contributed to my arrival condition of sub par health, if you’ll excuse the golfism.
Bloated, exhausted and grumpy, I set off for my fitness consultation – though I did cheer up when introduced to the handsome Venetian who runs the programme.
Marcelo is a perfect advert for his philosophy (a decade older than me but as buff as Brad Pitt).
Imagine my further delight when he declared, after I was tested on his state-of-the-art machine, that physically I’m three years younger then I am in actual years. That said, there was surface fat and quite a lot of water that needed to go.
My detox menu – no fat, no sugar and no salt – didn’t kick off for 24 hours.
So, in typically self-abusive fashion, I took a sacrificial last supper of spaghetti with bottarga, the delicious Sicilian speciality of salty cod roe in olive oil, and a glass of a local vintage.
One of the pleasures of this resort is the absence of cars. Journeys are made on bikes.
Day one of my detox began with a breakfast of poached eggs on a bed of tomatoes and cauliflower. That may sound incongruous, but it proved to be a surprisingly tasty combination (though eggs without salt is surely a crime against gastronomy).
Having declared when he sat down that ‘he wasn’t that hungry’, Dan ploughed his way through scrambled eggs and bacon, two waffles with honey, and a pancake-and-Nutella chaser.
Not that I was jealous – I was already suffused with the smug virtue of a zealot.
All through those long, wine-soaked days of summer I’d held firm in my belief that it wasn’t worth putting myself through the pangs of withdrawal if I hadn’t had a really good time leading up to it.
That’s not how I felt on day two. Not that I was hungry.
Generous helpings of smoked salmon, avocado, prawns, vegetables in myriad forms, quinoa, and two daily smoothies kept hunger at bay, but had my companion been anyone other than my easy-going 11-year-old son, there would have been blood spilt.
That’s if I could have raised my energy levels high enough to argue; instead I was drifting around like a narcoleptic, slipping into a snooze every time I sat down and trying to manage a low-lying headache from my caffeine withdrawal.
That’s when the spa’s four outdoor Thalasso pools came into their own, with the warm, salty water and gentle pummelling of the jets taking my mind off my physical woes as I watched golfers ‘exert’ themselves on the fairway.
Each day, as part of my programme, a tailored spa treatment was provided – a relaxing massage, a hydrating facial, and a body exfoliation using almond oil and apricot kernels that left my skin as close to baby-soft as it’s been for 40 years.
Later came a lymphatic massage to banish the toxins, already fleeing my body faster than Mo Farah at the Olympics. Meanwhile, Marcelo taught me some exercises for my glutes which left me barely able to hobble.
I played tennis with Dan, which again left me barely able to hobble. And I did an aerobics class that taught me how much work Italians put into their bikini bodies… and guess what? Afterwards I was barely able to hobble.
Two yoga-lite classes a week in my village hall obviously aren’t enough to keep my body in peak form. But my suffering felt worthwhile when on day three my tummy had flattened.
Examining its miraculous retraction in the mirror was the only pursuit compelling enough to distract me from the agony of Marcelo’s exercise regime.
As for Dan, I barely saw him, what with golf with Tom, tennis with Martin, water-skiing with Marco, and, in between, cycling the boardwalk that runs from the hotel along the coast. He joined a throng of half-termers putting in pedal power to get to the Torre Bar, where crusty-thin pizzas are available.
At a cooking lesson with Gianluca, the chef responsible for the spa menu, mother and son donned aprons and learnt how to make a tasty two-course meal.
Judging by how I felt on day three, my toxins had been starved into submission. Instead of craving sugar, caffeine and alcohol, I was now wandering from one delicious spa meal to another.
But I couldn’t keep my eyes open unless I was walking. My healthy eating had transformed me from insomniac to hopeless sleepaholic.
The Verdura makes it easy to want to stay healthy. I felt like a child with all the responsibilities of adulthood taken off my hands.
As we sped away after our pampered stay, across the dramatic, cliff-strewn wilderness towards the airport in Palermo, I felt awful, however. My palms sweated and my chest pounded. How would my re-entry programme to the real world go?
Could I function in society without an omnipresent glass of wine, or learn to pack in 20 minutes of exercise on days when I feel if as I am on the run from morning to night (even if, in reality, I’m at my computer)?
Is there a writer who doesn’t compose on a strict caffeine diet?
These were the questions as my idyll receded and real life came into focus. On the flight home, I tried to stay committed, eschewing wine for tomato juice, but I knew it wouldn’t last.
My only comfort was the thought that no matter how bad things get on the ‘outside’, I could always sign up for another term.