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Telegraph / Life - Entertain

How I beat the January health hysteria at Germany's ultimate wellness retreat



According to the strictures of the travel calendar, January is the designated month of self-obsession. This is supposedly when we awake collectively from a month of hangovers, frown at the grey faces before us in the mirror and resolve to kick our new vol-au-vents-for-breakfast habit and exercise more than just our wine arm.

We duly curl up with our laptops and a miserable powdered protein drink, and immediately book juice cleanses in Portugal, or yoga weekends in Devon, or sign up to the Bhutan marathon.

These past few years, perversely enough, I’ve chosen instead to stage my emergency health intervention in December. And last month, at the Buchinger Wilhelmi (buchingerwilhelmi.com), a wonderfully no-nonsense German medi-spa on the shores of Lake Constance, every guest room was occupied.

A post shared by Buchinger Wilhelmi (@buchingerwilhelmi) on Oct 30, 2017 at 4:44am PDT

“A few years ago, December was dead, and we could take a nice long break over Christmas before the January rush,” said director Raimund Wilhelmi.

Poolside at the Buchinger Wilhelmi in Lake ConstanceCredit:© Simon Wegener Alle Rechte vorbehalten/Simon Wegener

Today, it never closes. On one of the daily group hikes, I met a charming 50-something couple who spend Christmas here as their annual gift to each other, returning to Edinburgh for Hogmanay and raring to go. A spry 66-year-old shipping magnate who stays every December said, with a wink, “I leave looking five years younger, which means I still don’t need to retire.” 

Fit for 2018: Buchinger Wilhelmi guestsCredit:copyright TOBIAS DOEHNER/tobias_doehner@web.de

I met a young Silicon Valleyite who intended to fly back to his family on December 24, rested and recuperated after a gruelling year launching a new business.

Everyone cited the same reason for coming sooner rather than later: they didn’t want to wait until January to start feeling better. Every December, we’re jostled towards bars for rounds of rioja wine and handed set menus where everything has Baileys in it. Then, the moment January strikes, we start glaring suspiciously at wine, like it’s a Brexit negotiation. And pulverising kale, until, well, it resembles our national pride.

I’ve never been a fan of the binge-purge cycle that we seem to find ourselves in every winter. I also know that I am made of dense human matter that will continue through time and space on a stubbornly upward or downward trajectory, depending on which way I point myself at the start of December.

Beautiful luxury spas around the world

“In psychological terms alone, the morale boost that our December guests report certainly helps them make better decisions over the holiday,” agrees the Buchinger’s Dr Siegfried Bäumler. “And this is winter, when we should be nurturing and nourishing ourselves, yet many of us embark upon our busiest period of the year.”

In previous years my pre-emptive strike against the Christmas rigmarole has taken the simpler and cheaper form of ditching booze for a couple of weeks in December, or a weekend walking in Wales. But the ways to inject an element of well-being into your month are growing in number.

I’ve noticed mediation apps doing 21-day giveaways throughout the month of December, yoga workshops to combat the Christmas chaos, and fitness classes running right up until Christmas Eve.

I even know a bakery business in Hackney that celebrated its Christmas with a staff spa away day instead of a boozy bash. January better watch its Lycra-clad back; December might just climb on the well-being bandwagon.

Because the thing about indulgence is that it stops feeling like a treat if you do it every damn day of December. Our greatest luxuries are our health and our downtime. 

And we’re increasingly tired of lurching into the Christmas holidays feeling fit for nothing but Netflix. My parents deserve better than the flu-ridden, hung-over creature who limped on to their sofa every Christmas Eve throughout her early 20s.

Best of all, this means I don’t need to get caught up in all the January health hysteria. And I can permit January to be what it should be: relaxed weekends of long walks, pub lunches, eerily uncrowded museums and catch-up cocktails with friends.

All things that will outrun kale when it comes to chasing the January blues away. 

Anna Hart’s travel memoir, Departures, is published by Little, Brown and Company on Feb 15 2018; for more of Anna’s columns, see telegraph.co.uk/tt-annahart

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