Ice chambers, wooden baths and good health in Austria

IT is the depths of winter in Austria and what am I doing? Gracefully skiing down the Alps or snuggling up in front of a fire sipping Gluhwien? No, I’m dressed in my bikini and boots, awaiting instructions to go into a sealed chamber with a temperature of minus 130 degrees for three minutes. I smile nervously at my companion Victoria, who has accompanied me on this trip; I may not have fully explained this element of the invitation to sample the delights of the Tyrol’s health resorts. A lady in a white coat – how very appropriate – tells us to go into the first chamber, where our bodies can get used to the temperature drop.

It’s fine, and we are giggling; we try the second chamber and after 30 seconds we are leaping around trying to increase circulation while not touching the walls – who wants their muffin top frozen to an ice-chamber? A booming voice tells us to conserve energy for chamber three, into which we soon relocate for the longest three minutes of my life. The boom boom of Eurotrash music seems to make the experience last longer. I have never been so cold, and no surprise there – this is actually colder than the North Pole. We last for the full three minutes (I would have given up after two had it not been for Victoria). We are let out, exhilarated and buzzed.

We’ve come to the Tyrol to sample traditional winter activities and some of the more off-the-wall health and beauty experiences that are increasingly popular around here. These are good diversions for the reluctant skier, and a draw in the warmer months too.

After arriving in Innsbruck we head to the Wiesenhof Hotel & Medical Spa on the shores of Lake Achensee, a popular destination for summer hiking during and winter skiing. Our first activity is cross country skiing. Now it looks so easy, but after falling over a dozen times I am becoming a little grumpy; who knew those skis were so darned narrow? Victoria is faring better and our skiing instructor has the patience of a saint.

After two hours we give in and make our way back to the hotel, all rosy cheeked for a restorative hot chocolate and a warm bath. Lunch is from the healthy buffet – lots of salads, soups and the more hearty foods – but we know we have work to do.

The Wiesenhof spa has the usual facials and massage treatments to be expected, but a large emphasis is put on a healthy heart. There is a Cardiac Wellness Centre that sets up packages to cater for those with heart disease or in recovery from cardiac operations.

I start in a special wooden bath that contains traditional Tyrolean Shale oil, an oil that is derived from local rocks after thousands of years – it smells mineral rich and lush. From the bath I can look out at the part-frozen Lake Achensee.

Next is the Sound Bed: I lie on a wooden bed, underneath which are fifteen piano strings which the therapist strums on for half an hour. I am out snoring after ten minutes.

Dinner is served by women in traditional Austrian dirndls. In line with the wellness theme, it’s a lighter, healthier menu than you traditionally find in Austria.

The next morning, a half-hour car journey up the mountains takes us to a more modern hotel spa, the AlpenMedHotel Lamm in Seefeld. It’s here that Victoria and I end up standing in our bikinis and quaking with laughter having made it through the three minutes of Cryotherapy.

Apart from being extremely funny, the benefits are serious; it’s said to be able to help depression, rheumatism, muscle spasm in multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis, and it’s also used by professional athletes to help increase performance. It works by shrinking the molecules in the body – when one emerges from the chamber they expand, which increases blood flow, eases pain and swelling and fights inflammation.

This is not for the weak-hearted, however, and a medical examination is carried out first.

Feeling heady but giddy we go to the luxurious Alpenmed swimming and spa area where we watch snow fall onto the glass roof. The luxurious swimming pool has Swarovski crystals built into the base that light up when the water jets start up.

We wrap up and take ourselves for a good walk around the village, and head to the hotel’s sister restaurant. We dine on salads, fish and, er, chocolate covered crepes, washed down with red wine.

The following morning we put on our bikinis for one more session in the Cryotherapy chamber before our flight. This time I wimp out and only make it to two minutes. Let me assure you; whether it works on all the above ailments or not, it does wonders for a red wine hangover. We are driven back down to Innsbruck looking and feeling a good five years younger than when we arrived, and feeling on top of the Alps.

Three nights at Alpenmed Hotel Lamm Tirol, incl luxury half board, medical consultation, Cryotherapy, massage and more from €477. www.alpenmedhotel.com.

Three night Shale Oil Superior package at the Wiesenhof hotel from €412,
www.wiesenhof.at.

Easy Jet flies every Weds and Sat from Gatwick to Innsbruck