Paying for a Chance to Suffer in Silence

By Margolis, Mac; Nemtsova, Anna | Newsweek International, May 26, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Paying for a Chance to Suffer in Silence

Margolis, Mac, Nemtsova, Anna, Newsweek International

Byline: Mac Margolis; With Anna Nemtsova in Moscow

Prunes, decaf, painful workouts and ice hotels--deprivation is the new trend in high-end holidays.

The day at Body & Soul experience starts at 6:30 a.m. sharp, with a rap on the door. The snooze button is not an option; by 7 o'clock guests are panting on floor mats, limbs pretzeled into positions usually favored by those extracting confessions. Next up: "breakfast"--a nanoportion of, say, porridge and prunes with plain decaf tea (no sugar or milk). Then it's off to the hills for a half day's forced march, spelled by a microlunch, and on to other strenuous activities like kayaking and mountain biking till dusk. By the next morning, guests will ache in places they never knew existed. And after spending five days and $2,500 at this radical fitness retreat in rural Ireland, aficionados swear, they'll be asking for more.

No one would mistake a stay at Body & Soul for a relaxing holiday. But lying around is the last thing many of today's discerning travelers have in mind. "The era of sitting by the pool with cocktails and cooking in the sun is gone," says Aidan Boyle, the owner and chief taskmaster of Body & Soul, which is attracting a steady stream of elite international health fiends. "People want something more for their holidays, and to do that they have to get up off their arses."

It's hard to say exactly when, but at some point in the past few years the concept of vacation as the working warrior's repose took a hairpin turn. Forget facials and a rubdown on some lonely patch of paradise; now some of the most demanding travelers want a getaway that takes them not just beyond the madding crowds but to the end of their own tether. "People who have everything in this life want to try everything, too, even putting themselves through hell," says Julio Aramberri, a scholar of travel and tourism at Drexel University in Pennsylvania. Whether it's spending a chilly night in an ice hotel, slashing calories to refugee-camp proportions, going cold turkey from caffeine and booze or battling a storm in a sea kayak, more and more travelers want nothing more than to suffer through their holidays. "Is it fun?" says Lili, an executive at Credit Suisse in New York and a devotee of Body & Soul, who asked to be identified only by her first name. "Some people I talk to say it sounds more like jail. I think it's great."

The badge of a deluxe deprivation holiday is not a suntan, a hangover and peace of mind; it's a shrunken waist, blistered soles and new fluency in self-castigation. SpaFinder, a New York-based clearinghouse for health tourists, has identified "luxury detox boot camp" travel as one of the hottest trends in the hospitality industry. Extreme fitness and detoxification spas, where guests undergo rugged workout regimens while forsaking sweets, alcohol, meat and often dairy products, represent some 5 percent of the $60 billion-a-year spa industry, says SpaFinder president Susie Ellis. And industry analysts expect that number to grow. "Travelers are tired of overeating, drinking and partying too much," says Ellis. "They've got their wealth and now they want their health."

From Turkey's storied Roxelana Baths to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, retreats for healing and spiritual renewal are as old as civilization itself, of course. But the healing was easy. "The premier resort of frivolity and fashion" was the teaser for Bath, England, the classic spa resort town. Most people in the industry date the rise of a more austere sensibility to The Ashram, a radical fitness retreat in California's Palo Alto Mountains that debuted in 1974 with a grueling weight-loss and workout routine. Since then, the concept has gone viral, with thousands of imitators spreading around the globe. SpaFinder's listings alone include 272 separate fitness vacations, and Boyle says Body & Soul has to constantly innovate to keep up with the competition.

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