Travel to Gastein Valley

The vale of HEALTH

How far would you go to cure a niggling injury? Lucy Fry travels 2km into an Austrian mountain to visit the healing caves of the Gastein Valley.

I’ve never been good at taking a break – either from training or work – but at the five-star Grand Park Hotel in Austria’s Gastein Valley, nicknamed ‘the healing valley’, all my excessive tendencies are overpowered by a blend of natural and man-made healing rituals.I don’t know why I’m surprised; Grand Park has a reputation for burnout, so my straightforward case of busy-mind-busy- lifestyle shouldn’t be too problematic. The hotel’s 2,000 sq m spa alone is magical and, during my stay, at least half my hours are spent here. Not only do the private treatments range from the unusual (the ‘Tibetan bell’ ringing that creates vibrations in the body, constituting an inner cell massage), to the rejuvenating (a 20-minute private thermal bath) and the nurturing ( hour’s skin-soothing facial).

Travel to Gastein Valley Photo Gallery


The public spa area, with its vast array of rooms, is also very special, and includes pink steam room, blue steam room, tepidarium – for ‘boosting the immune system’ – laconium {a relaxing place to ‘detoxify your body’), plus a hot tub and cooler tub. And, yes, there are saunas; oneof which even includes entertainment when, at 5.30 and 6.30pm daily, a man called Walter enters wearing a fake bow and mixes up some delicious-smelling potions to pour over the coals with a finesse that would leave even the best cocktail waiter worrying for his job. But watch out, it gets super hot during the 15-minute event (though, thankfully, Walter Is prepared, handing out clumps of ice to participants every five minutes), after which you can cool yourself (and temper your giggles) in the -5°C cold room, opposite.


Out side, there’s a whole mountain range to explore, with 200 km of ski pistes in winter and plenty of outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, rock climbing and rafting during the autumn, spring and summer. Best of all, just 20 minutes’ drive away, are the Gastein Healing Caves, said to be the world’s most effective natural pain management centre. Attracting thousands of visitors each year, the caves were opened 60 years ago after workers (searching for gold) reported feeling extraordinarily well. Scientists discovered that, due to naturally occurring radon gas – coupled with high humidity – spending as little as half an hour in the unique atmosphere of the caves could help treat conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis, as well as improve skin conditions such as psoriasis and promote faster recovery from sports injuries. In fact, scientific research shows 90 percent success rate in the reduction of chronic pain.


It’s these impressive statistics that led me to take my painful left hamstring for someGastein curative therapy in the hope that I might be back, literally, up and running much sooner than my physiotherapist suggested. After a check-up with the doctor (blood pressure, breathing and afew standard questions), I’m cleared as healthy, and head off to change into flip-flops, swimming costume and robe. Next, a group of us are hoarded into a tiny train for a 10-minute journey in very enclosed, humid, conditions deep into the rock (claustrophobics need not apply). And then, for just half an hour, we lie back on sunbeds in a narrow cave breathing in odourless radon gas.It’s a unique experience, but do I feel different afterwards? Perhaps not just from the caves visit – time will tell there; most people report a difference between two to three weeks after – but certainly my mind is quieter and I’ve managed to rest, thanks to calming alpine views, crisp mountain air and, of course, regular visits to the sauna, challenging myself to remain a minute longer each time (you can’t keep an overachiever down forever, after all)…


Three nights, including the Gastein Curative Treatment, costs from €399pp in a double room (grand park The six-night Grand Detox programme, starts at €1,266 per person in a double room sharing. Prices include airport transfers, breakfast, dinner and afternoon snacks. Flights not included.

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