Taking a bath that smells of tar, lying on a wooden table fitted with strings, or getting covered in extract of hay while wrapped in a giant plastic bed – it would be easy to dismiss these treatments as the antithesis of relaxation and pampering. But you’d be mistaken.

Each has its own unique benefit and each is inspired by the mountains of Tirol in Austria.

Beautiful lake in Pertisau
Beautiful lake in Pertisau

Tirol is a perfect picture postcard area of pine-perfumed forests, low slung wooden houses decorated with baskets of flowers, mountains that tower protectively over the valleys and lakes that dance with sunlight. It’s an area that lends itself to physical and mental revitalisation. So it’s not surprising that it’s also home to a number of wellness hotels.

One of these, the Wiesenhof in Pertisau, in the Achensee area of Tirol has combined its alpine heritage with the modern quest for a holiday that sends you home relaxed and refreshed – a desire that, according to fourth generation owner Johannes Entner, has been steadily increasing since the start of the recession. Hotels offering adrenalin rich experiences are seeing a reduction in guests while those offering a chance to rest the mind and energise the body are seeing an increase.

So how can tar, tables and hay help?

Since 1902 the Albrecht family has been extracting stone oil from the mountains around Pertisau. This 180 million year old black gold is traditionally used to ease joint problems, sore muscles and skin irritations. At the Wiesenhof you can enjoy a stone oil treatment on your own or with your partner in a giant wooden bathtub with views of the RofanMountains. It may sound odd to relax in a bath that smells faintly of tar – after all most beauty treatments shout loudly about their sweet smelling essential oils – but if you’re fed up with the usual, want something that wont dry out your skin, and is truly unique to the region – then this is a great choice.

Pertisau - Stone Oil Pyramid
Pertisau – Stone Oil Pyramid

The nearby Vitalberg Museum  is worth a visit. It explains the history with a walking tour through the “mines” complete with explosions and fiery sparks! You can’t miss the museum – it has a large glass mountain on top of it that houses a cafe with views across the village and lake.

Back at the Wiesenhof it’s time to clamber onto the wooden table.

An ancient Tibetan treatment involves singing bowls that bathe you in sound and clear negative energy. Well Tirol isn’t Tibet and they don’t do singing bowls. Instead, inspired by the alpine tradition of stringed instruments, the Wiesehnof has developed its own answer to the Tibetan treatment – a sound bed. You lie on what looks like a large kitchen table, underneath there are 52 strings that can be plucked like a harp. These create a resonance around you (reminiscent of a didgeridoo!) that literally cocoons you in sound – almost as though you are inside a giant sound egg. You can hear the vibrations and feel them through the bed. It clears your mind, helping to banish thoughts without the effort or concentration of meditation.  If you trust your partner’s musical abilities you can play the bed for each other!

Wiesenhof in Winter
Wiesenhof in Winter

And finally, essence of hay…a hundred years ago when the meadows were cut by hand, the men folk would finish a hard days labour with their backs stiff and aching, so they’d climb inside the haystack for a nap. The heat of the fresh cut hay, combined with the alpine flowers and herbs that grow in the meadow grass would help to soothe their muscles. They’d wake up feeling refreshed, their aches and pains gone.

Tractors and modern equipment may have taken away the need (or even the ability) to crawl inside a haystack, but the benefits are still useful today with back ache being a modern curse. So the Wiesenhof  has distilled this locally cut meadow hay and then taken this concentrated essence to create a beauty treatment for the 21st century inspired by the 19th century. This modern hay bath involves you first being smothered in hay infused natural clay, then wrapped in a giant warm water bed, that allows you to float without actually getting wet. The heat and the wrapping help to draw out the toxins in the skin, and warm and relax the muscles. My only complaint – it was all over far too soon.

But the Wiesenhof is not just about unusual health treatments. They have a large, modern gym and cardio studio, a selection of steam, sauna and relaxation rooms, and a full range of facials, pedicures and massages.

Church in the valley of Pertisau
Church in the valley of Pertisau

There is no chance you’ll go hungry either – from the giant buffet breakfast (one morning this even included a chocolate fountain!) to the soup and salad lunch buffet, through afternoon tea and cakes, finished off with the four course dinner, and then if you can fit any more in, there are late night snacks – ideal if you have had a hard day in the sauna!

After all that food you’ll probably want to do some exercise… a stroll along the lake edge, a hike into the mountains, a horse riding lesson, or my personal favourite, the e-bike.  This is a bicycle with the added advantage of an electric motor when you need a little assistance – ideal for zipping up the mountain side! The e-bike takes the strain when the peddling gets tough, and allows you to cycle much further than you might otherwise. This opens up areas of the KarwendelNaturePark that would take hours on foot and be impossible in a car.

Whatever you choose, the Wiesenhof will be sure to send you home with a renewed spring in your step.


Chantal Cooke

About the Author:

Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.

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