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Our European Spa Tour started in Switzerland and progressed to Austria where we learned about the 3 week “kur” (pronounced “cure”) and got to experience a spa relaxation style massage at one of the sauna and thermal bath complexes in the most beautiful town surrounded by the Alps, Bad Hofgastein. Like our tour of the Reha Clinic in Switzerland, the rehabilitation clinic at Alpentherme in Bad Hofgastein offered therapeutic medical massage alongside physical therapy, exercises, prescribed “fresh air” walks, sauna and hydrotherapy.
At Alpentherme, we learned about the Kur, or a 3 week wellness program that most Austrians qualify for about every 5 years under their government health insurance, depending on what conditions they have and their occupation (i.e. physically demanding jobs or injuries). During the kur, residents spend 3 weeks at the clinic receiving prescribed therapies, eating healthy foods (ideally) doing exercises, saunas, and hydrotherapy programs. Our tour guide stated that her taxes were roughly 50% of her income, which is how they fund such comprehensive wellness programs. Research has shown that for some conditions that are quite expensive to manage, an annual Kur helps to cut costs of medications and more costly interventions so some disabilities qualify for more frequent visits.
She also stated that recently, the government guidelines for treatments are requiring a bit less “passive” therapy like massage and more active therapy like physical and exercise therapy so their treatment providers must coordinate with each other to ensure they meet qualifications for reimbursement. Medical massage therapists seemed able to provide similar services to those at the clinic in Switzerland.
Anyone up for a radioactive dip?
One of my most memorable moments on the tour was when our guide explained that one particular soaking pool for pain and inflammation was available by physician prescription only and with close monitoring. At first we were positive we were missing something in translation. “This one is full of ‘rah-dohn'”
“What? Surely you are mis-translating ‘MAG-NES-IUM’, or something else, right?”
“No, no, it is ‘rah-dohn….radon’ pool. See? Look at the brochure!” Our guide pointed to the description in the pamphlet and sure enough, we were looking at one of the radon therapy pools…and once we picked our jaws up off the floor, we had a few questions. “What about the therapists working in the pools?” (According to our guide it is too little radon to hurt the therapists but just enough to help patients) “Has anyone researched this?” (Oh yes! It is very good!) “Should we remove our radon mitigation systems and open health centers in our basements?” (No. Use is closely monitored by physicians.)
I did do a bit more research at home. Interesting.
Spa Massage Therapy
Like in Switzerland, the massage therapist qualified to provide the medical massages have several years of training. I’m unsure of the training required to provide massage therapy in the spa, but if I understood correctly, it sounded like it might be flexible, with some apprenticeship programs available. The spa at Alpentherme was very well-appointed, but there are some stark contrasts from what people expect from a spa massage in America. Amenities like warm herbal compresses and hot stones, hydrotherapy tubs with color changing lights, plus a table used for body scrubs and a warming table used for body wraps were among the options for therapists.
My massage therapist was very professional, but the service was quite different than what Americans expect from a spa service. The rooms were bright (as bright as in the above photos) and the tables were very firm like in a medical office with paper covers plus towels. The music was static from a local radio station, more like a background noise like in a doctor’s office in America than typical spa music designed to enhance the experience. When my massage started, it was so hard to keep from laughing as Despacito crackled through the speaker.
My husband and I had had the same therapist and he stayed in the room while we got on the table, but turned his back. He asked us both to keep our underwear on. Others in our group who received different types of massage like hot stone were given a disposable thong. I laughed because they said they were watched by the therapists as they changed, not in a sexually inappropriate way, but in a matter-of-fact clinical way.
The massage I received was very light and rhythmic. It felt like a full body lymphatic drainage technique, lots of repetitive circles over and over. I know that in the countries we visited, they feel that lymphatic massage is very important. It was not a massage to reduce muscle tension or deep tissue by a long shot, but I know I did briefly doze off. My husband reported his treatment was the same.
One interesting and unique feature of the spa we visited is that one of the spa directors takes much pride in creating herbal, aromatherapy, and crystal blends to enhance the services. While I’ve never personally subscribed to crystal healing, I can appreciate the love and care he imparts into his craft so much that I bought two blends to bring home. For months, crystals, essential oils, and herbs soak infuse a base oil. The spa even puts large crystals into their drinking water for guests. It was a nice touch and an interesting point-of-differentiation that I think fans of crystals and gemstones would enjoy.
I was thankful for such a comprehensive tour and behind-the-scenes from our gracious tour guide. I love that so many of the pool and sauna complexes have spas or massage clinics attached because there is nothing like relaxing your muscles with heat and hydrotherapy before a massage and continuing the relaxation with a stunning walk in the gorgeous village.
Stay tuned, my last two posts on the trip will be coming soon! My next post will be about my Traditional Thai spa experience in Munich, Germany and my last post will be a few highlights.
Click here to read part 6: A Thai Spa in Munich