Holding back the years is hard work on your own, so the Nescens Better Ageing programme at the Victoria Jungfrau hotel in Interlaken aims to make the process as easy as possible. The chief selling point is the promise of improvement without the fasting, earnestness and general deprivation that accompanies so many health holidays; partners are encouraged to come too — and can eat from the regular hotel menu.
My husband would normally run a mile from a detox holiday, so when I heard about this I signed up for a four-day session and brought him along. We could eat together (albeit from different menus), ski and cycle together — and he could swim in the pool while I completed fitness sessions.
My programme allowed for three full and healthy meals a day, and daily exercise could include hiking and tennis, as well as compulsory gym visits. Being encouraged into better ways of exercising and eating through the comfort of five-star surroundings and a beautiful Swiss Alps setting provides the extra push many visitors need to improve their health as they navigate the rocky waters of middle age.
Outdoor dining and mountain views from one of the hotel’s patio areas
“The programme is really designed for anyone aged from about 40 — or even younger,” said Hans Peter Veit, the super-efficient spa director, who met us on arrival. “We aim to get you into good habits of diet and exercise to keep you healthy and help to avoid some of the pitfalls of ageing.”
Just arriving in Interlaken, which is set in a spectacular location between two azure lakes encircled by mountains, makes you feel about ten years younger. The Victoria Jungfrau is a grande dame of a hotel, part Victorian, part Belle Epoch, with high ceilings, art nouveau features and a prime position overlooking the green expanse of Höhematte Park. Beyond are views to the Jungfrau and neighbouring peaks, dusted with snow and capped with wisps of cloud.
Originally two hotels, the buildings are now joined by a wide, glass-roofed atrium, beyond which, tucked away in a quiet corner of the hotel, is the truly excellent spa. This is where Better Agers spend much of their time — the spa has its own little restaurant and some hotel suites are positioned directly above — making it very easy and private to slip up and down between treatments.
A Belair suite
While many of the traditionally styled bedrooms in the main hotel have recently been refurbished, the more modern Belair-category bedrooms above the spa are, to my mind, the most attractive option — large and light, with floor-to-ceiling windows, air-con (not all bedrooms have this) a balcony and big bathrooms with powerful showers. This part of the property is like a private hotel within a hotel. So private that I rarely glimpsed the other spa guests — mostly couples of all ages from across Europe.
Hans Peter and his team hold sway here in the most charming manner. There’s no doubt that Nescens Better Ageing is a serious programme. I had blood tests to check for any imbalances, a fitness assessment and tests for my levels of cholesterol and that nasty internal fat (important, as it isn’t apparent externally and even skinny people can have dangerously high levels of this). A local osteopath gave me a once-over and a local doctor came in for a chat about the results (nothing alarming, thank goodness).
The pool area
After this, I was given a personalised menu and a tailormade exercise regime, but there was no baring of the soul and nothing remotely colonic. In fact, I never once felt I was being pushed beyond my limits. To the limits, yes, particularly in the gym, which normally I avoid like the plague. But the daily one-to-one exercise — concentrating on stretching, strengthening and balance — was pitched just right, with the emphasis on mat exercises that I could continue at home. The fact that it was actually quite fun was a tribute to the young and enthusiastic staff.
There was nothing punitive about my menu plan either. Breakfast, served in the grand, sun-filled dining room with views of the Jungfrau, consisted of smoked salmon and avocado, or egg-white omelette, with a delicious smoothie and even a coffee. Despite this, Hans Peter admitted “sometimes we suggest that Better Ageing guests have breakfast in their room because the buffet breakfast is just too tempting.” (It was.)
La Terrasse restaurant
Lunch was the main meal, with soup for starter, poached beef fillet or veal and a lightweight pudding. There were three courses again in the evening, when fish was the main event — eaten either in the formal La Terrasse restaurant or the more relaxed Quaranto Uno Italian bistro.
While it was tough to watch my husband tuck into a dinner of perfectly cooked steak with sautée potatoes and a glass of red wine, I felt healthier after a few days of tasty low-fat eating. Though I could have done with an extra salad or two instead of vegetables, and some of the puddings were bland, the food was generally excellent.
The highlight of the exercise regime was undoubtedly a morning’s skiing at Grindelwald — just half an hour up the mountain by hotel car. Our ski guide had us zipping around the slopes under a clear blue sky, burning off calories and improving fitness in the most delightful way. Non-skiers can still make the most of the mountain scenery by snow-shoeing, or trekking with a guide, while in summer you can try the ropes course in the woods, paragliding or swimming in the surrounding lakes.
The Victoria Jungfrau exterior
The final — and cushiest — part of the better ageing programme was the massages and treatments administered once or twice daily — using those lovely Nescens products. Over the four days at the Victoria Jungfrau I was thoroughly scrubbed and exfoliated, cupped, detoxed, de-stressed, re-vitalised and and re-harmonised.
The programme takes up about five hours a day — so it was difficult to find time to get out and explore Interlaken and its spectacular surroundings. But on the last afternoon, we managed to slip out for a ride on electric bikes (provided by the hotel). Pedal power would have been more in keeping with the programme, but our burst of power took us further and higher — around and above the tree-lined shores of Lake Thun, the snowy peaks reflected in the clear blue water. While the Nescens Better Ageing programme undoubtedly gets you into better ways of eating and exercising, it’s the Interlaken scenery that provides the spiritual uplift here.
Unsurprisingly, I felt wonderful after those few days’ attention and care but the programme aims to give participants the tools they need to live a healthy life more generally — three months on, have I stuck with the regime?
Well, bits of it. My husband complains about having fish and steamed vegetables again for dinner — even if I’m not so hot on the egg-white omelettes for breakfast. I still do the balancing and stretching exercises — though not as frequently as I should. And the dog is bearing the brunt of my new-found zeal to exercise every day. In fact he’s so exhausted, he could benefit from some pampering himself.
A four-day Nescens Better Ageing programme at the Victoria Jungfrau hotel (00 41 33 828 28 28) costs CHF3,200 (£2,580) per person including meals and treatments but excluding accommodation. A Belair (spa) suite costs from CHF 750 (£605) a night. A seven-day better ageing programme is also available.